By John Morris, COO, UK2 Group

The number one leisure activity after watching TV you ask? Social media of course and June 30th marks the sixth annual Social Media Day. An event aimed at celebrating contributions made in social media by developers and users, as well as encouraging more people and businesses to embrace it.

So, could this be the day you begin engaging in social media for your business? It can be a bit daunting for many small businesses and sole traders since there are so many social media platforms out there including Instagram; Twitter; Flickr, Facebook and LinkedIn. All of which have individual nuances and ways of engaging with audiences, which can make it a bit overwhelming.

Just to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of the power and influence of social media, I’ve put together a few of the many statistics released by the various social media platforms and the figures are jaw-dropping. In just a single (internet) minute the following happens:

260 million email messages are sent;100 hours of new video is posted on YouTube;4.1 million searches take place on Google;3.3 million new Facebook content shares occur;500,000 images and 20 million messages are sent via WhatsApp;Twitter enables 347,000 tweets38,000 new photos are uploaded onto Instagram… and 5kb of data is stored about you!

What do we know about these people who are using these social media platforms? What is it they are all talking about? And, what is business doing about social media?

Well, in many cases business is making a mess of it, generally speaking! There are so many stories I could choose from. The time when The Gap tweeted to victims of Hurricane Sandy, who were crowded in shelters all along the Eastern Seaboard while their homes were being ripped apart, that they should ‘stay safe’, and then followed this with “we’ll be doing lots of shopping today, how about you?”

Or the time when HMV famously rounded up all their marketing people to fire them en-masse, forgetting these people had the ‘keys’ to the company’s Twitter account. The whole event was relayed in real time on Twitter, and finally ended with a Tweet saying “the marketing director (who is keeping his job by the way) has just asked how do we turn off Twitter”.

So, as a small business, how do you go about doing some of this social media stuff without making monumental mistakes, here are some top tips?

1. Don’t try to be good at social media…be good at business because of social media. Keep this in mind and you’ll more than likely make wise decisions.2. Decide which of the social media platforms are best for your objectives, then choose a maximum of three so you can increase your chances of engaging well.3. Think like a customer and be mindful of customer expectations - on average people expect a response within one hour across all social media platforms, and research suggests, an answer or solution within six and a half hours.4. The ultimate goal for your social media programme should be engagement with your audiences in an effort to win their advocacy of your products and services. So make sure when analysing your results that you don’t just measure your outbound activity, as this might give you a false positive.5. Your social media engagement approach and tone should be an extension of your brand proposition – be sure to identify your single sustainable differentiator and highlight that regularly.6. Use visuals as part of your ‘storytelling’ – according to Twitter, people are 5 times more likely share your story if it’s accompanied by an image.7. Social media is not an exact science, mistakes will happen – keep listening, learning and modifying your approach to achieve continual improvement.8. Finally, don’t forget security – letting others have complete control of your social media channels is risky – be aware of what’s being posted and keep overall control.

If you are engaging with social media for your business, you’ll need to be in it for the long-haul. If you’re lucky, you may get immediate results but more than likely it will be a slower process with tangible benefits taking time to be realised.