In our Big Trends for Small Businesses guide, which we first made available on our site earlier in the year, we noted that social media is not going away.  Now a just released report from global information and measurement leader Nielsen and NM Incite signals just how much social media activity is accelerating.

In “State of the Media: the Social Media Report 2012,” Nielsen and NM Incite indicate that consumers continue to spend more time on social networks than on any other category of sites—roughly 20 percent of their total time online via personal computer (PC), and 30 percent of total time online via mobile. Furthermore, time on social media sites in the U.S. across PCs and mobile devices just continues to grow – from to 88 billion minutes in July 2011 to 121 billion minutes in July 2012, which represents a 37 percent increase.

Key to the report is the importance of mobile. While the computer remains the predominant device for social media access, consumer time spent with social media on mobile apps and the mobile web increased 63 percent in 2012, compared to the same period last year.

Social media impacts your brand

These figures underscore the importance of social media for small business owners to build brand awareness and engage with customers and prospects.

Social media also has taken word of mouth to a new level. The study points out that ‘social care’ has transformed customer service. Nearly half of U.S. consumers now reach out directly to brands and service providers to express their satisfaction, voice complaints or ask questions. Social media is becoming so popular as a social care venue; one out of three social media users indicate they would prefer to use social media rather than the phone for their customer service issues.

If you are not already part of the social media conversation, you need to be. When consumers ask their social networking friends to recommend a particular product or service in your market, you want your company name to come up along with favorable comments.

There are many ways to be effective on social media.  Here are the basics I believe any campaign needs to do be successful:

  • Invest the time and energy. Posting something about your product on Facebook once a week is not going to build an engagement with your customers. Aim to post at least several times a week.
  • Make a meaningful contribution: Share meaningful, relevant information; ask questions; and offer advice.  Keep up to date on the topics that mean something to the people following you.
  • Be real: Show who you are and what you value. Your customers want to talk to a real person. Share your experiences, your humor and your insights.
  • Respond: If someone ask a question or posts a comment, respond as quickly as possible.

The Nielsen and NM Incite study asserts that social media has given a new power to the consumer.  That power is transforming business. Harness that power and make it work to your advantage.

Suggested additional reading: “Get the most out of your business Facebook page”