Less than half of the top Australian and Asian companies listed on the Wall Street Journal’s Asia 200 Index have a corporate social media presence, according to a new study by global public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller.

The study examined the social media presence of some of Australia’s most well known brands – including Woolworths, Qantas, Westpac and Westfield – alongside the top companies in eleven other countries across the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia compared favourably with the Asia-Pacific region as a whole in terms of the use of social media where companies do have a presence. The study found that, of those Australian companies that do have a presence, more than fifteen per cent of their social media profiles are inactive, compared to over fifty-five percent for Asia-Pacific. Only thirty percent of those Australian companies have integrated their social media profiles into their corporate websites, but this was compared to just eighteen percent in the region as a whole.

By contrast, Burson-Marsteller’s Fortune Global 100 Social Media Check-Up study, conducted in February this year, showed that seventy-nine percent of major global companies used branded social media sites as part of their corporate communications mix – demonstrating that the top companies in the Asia-Pacific region are lagging behind the rest of the world.

The study found that corporate use of social media in Australia, and across Asia-Pacific, tends to focus on the ‘viral’ potential of pushing information out rather than engaging with people.

“True engagement involving two-way dialogue remains limited for Australian companies and those across the Asia-Pacific region,” said Stephanie Aye, Director of the Technology practice, Burson-Marsteller Australia. “Instead, companies are using social media to portray a ‘softer’ corporate image in a way that is less likely to invoke interaction or negative commentary.”

Jamie Silver, managing director of Clear Light Digital, says companies need to do their homework before they dive into social media.

Social media will work for many different types of businesses, but it has to have a sound strategy behind it if its going to succeed, he tells Marketing magazine. Just throwing up a Facebook page and publishing press releases is not going to work. Companies need to go into social media with a clear understanding of issues like: why they are doing it, the level of engagement they are comfortable with, how they are going to manage it and how it integrates with their broader marketing activity.

There are several ways companies can use social media. Many of our clients start with social media monitoring, which allows them to track and analyze social media conversations. This allows them to listen in to their consumers, understand the sentiment of those discussions and channel the information into their business and marketing strategies. For others, advertising across social networks has been the right path. Social networks provide great opportunities for targeting advertising based on user information, and much of the activity can be purchased on a cost per click basis, so its relatively low risk.