Social media is a great tool; it’s a route to new and different customers and a direct way of communicating with your existing customers. It’s also a free way to build brand recognition and create a name for yourself in your field.

So it’s surprising that many businesses still don’t have a social media presence. Sometimes this is a conscious decision, but quite often it’s due to people not always understanding the benefits.

The reality is that social networks can bring a whole new dimension to your business – and they’re definitely a marketing tool worth using to your benefit.

So, how can social media benefit your business?

1. It allows you to build and differentiate your brand and reputation

What makes you different from the rest? Who are you? What do you do? Social networks emphasise the areas you specialise in and make it easy for your audience to relate to you.

You can share knowledge relating to your industry and client base, and you can build a picture through customer reviews and responses to queries and comments.

2. Your local business can be a global superstar

Your business might be small and you may lack the advertising budget of larger businesses. But social media can even out that playing field.

Social media gives you the opportunity to really market yourself and build a brand around being local, small, agile and responsive – all great traits that consumers will admire.

3. You can keep an eye on the competition and on industry trends

You can follow other organisations in your area of business on social media, and you can keep up to date with trends, news and key information. You can also keep an eye on what your competitors are up to.

4. You can get direct feedback from your customers and prospective customers

Two-way platforms like Twitter and Facebook let you interact directly with customers and prospects, helping you to understand the services they need, and to research new ideas, ask for their thoughts, and their feedback (what they like and what they don’t like).

They’ll be happy to tell you, and in the meantime you’re keeping them updated with what you’re doing.

5. Manage your reputation

Social media allows you to see what’s being said about your business and gives you the ability to respond to comments or complaints quickly. Demonstrating a high level of customer service has a powerful effect on your reputation.

Social media is a cheap way of marketing your business, but does require a time commitment.

So before you open a business account on a social network, read about the key ones: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram.

Form an opinion on which networks are best suited to your business, ask your customers what they use, look at what presence your competitors have, and once you’ve decided on the best suited networks – crack on and start building your brand!