Billabong has over 1 million followers on Facebook. VB beer uses Twitter for competitions and weekly trivia posts. With 25% of Australian businesses logging onto social media platforms to engage with consumers, it is becoming an integral part of local companies’ marketing strategies.

With 72% of socially-connected businesses spending at least 10% or more of marketing budget on social meida, the Nielsen-Community Engine 2011 Social Media Business Benchmarketing Study reveals that this trend is on the rise, with an increase from only 57% of businesses in 2009.

Last year, organisations shifted allocated expenditure from traditional media to social media, while in 2010, marketing budgets have been expanded to include a social media strategy. The most popular form of social media marketing by local firms include display advertising on social platforms and maintaining a presence on Facebook.

However, usage of social media has also seen a significant shift, where most online activity in 2009 was used for branding, 2010 saw social media being used to build customer and stakeholders relationships and interacting with fans and followers.

“Attitudes are changing towards social media with more businesses embracing it and becoming more knowledgeable about online platforms. A shift from last year now shows only 35 percent of businesses lack knowledge and expertise to implement social media activities, down from 53 percent in 2009,” says Stephen Johnson, director of social at Community Engine.

Johnson credits this increase use of social media to local brands developing a deeper understanding of what social media is and appreciating the power it give brands to connect with and build bonds with their audience.

“At the end of the day social media is about engagement. Through social media businesses can create an emotive link with consumers and build a two-way relationship with them in a way they have never been able to do before.”

Social media has also been used to track conversations about the brand online, and responding to consumer feedback and comments.

However, according to Johnson, deeper engagement can still be developed by dedicating staff efforts to handling a brand’s social media presence. At present, only 8% of businesses have dedicated, full time staff for social media activities.