It is hard to believe, but ten years ago the social media channels currently dominating the market were not even in existence.

That is a difficult fact to comprehend if we consider how commanding they are today.  Facebook boasts over 1.1 billion users, 7 year old Twitter is now valued at approximately £15 billion and YouTube receives 4 billion video views per day.

These are impressive statistics, but the way in which social media has changed the way we live is even more eye-catching. The recent findings published by the National Bureau of Economic Research show that, since the social media boom began, people have doubled the amount of time they spend on the internet and substantially reduced their time socialising offline.

The huge impact social media has had on society does not show any signs of levelling off. It is only just now reaching into the older demographic, with the help of new user friendly devices. Earlier this year, Twitter reported a 79% rise in users aged 55 to 64 in just one quarter. Similarly, the development of new and exciting social media channels means there will soon be a social media platform for everyone. Who knows where we will be in another ten years?

However, recent research in the Harvard Business Review 'Analytics Services Report' suggests that whilst individuals are embracing social media, businesses are lost in the mists of uncertainty surrounding this new form of communication. They researched 2100 businesses of all shapes and sizes and discovered some remarkable facts. For example, 79% said they are either using social media or are planning to, and only 1 in 10 executives thought social media was a passing fad. Yet, quite remarkably, only 12% of those businesses said they were using the medium effectively. Furthermore, 61% thought they needed to overcome a learning curve before adopting any kind of social media strategy.

All of these numbers beg the obvious question: why are businesses not embracing social media in the same way individuals are? Research suggests this is caused by a number of factors. Some businesses refuse to embrace it because they can't measure their return on investment; some feel it is an ineffectual tool for their client base; some think they will just be a small fish in a huge pond; whilst others can't find the staff who both understand their business, and are able to communicate about it through these new mediums. Some organisations have simply been scared off by the bad press received by others for their improper use of social media.

Perhaps this is understandable when we consider how quickly social media has become the star of the internet stage. If a business was not paying attention to the latest trends, it would have been very easy to miss the social media bandwagon. We must also remember that the world experienced the woes of 2008, right in the middle of social media's rise to fame. At this time most businesses were more concerned with survival, rather than embracing new forms of communication.

However, the numbers don't lie; social media is a powerful tool and it is not going to fade away. Businesses must embrace it - or risk looking like an embarrassing father figure who refuses to move away from his 1960's dress sense. Tools are now readily available to calculate the return on investment for social media and we have moved past the dark days of 2008. There is no more room for excuses - it is time to get on board.

This is easier said than done. There is far more to social media than "tweeting" and "liking". First of all, a business must create a social media strategy, outlining objectives and future plans. For example, an objective could be to create an online user group for customers, to collect and track customer reviews, to research responses to a competitor's product, or to monitor trends amongst current customers. Every business is unique and that means there is no one way of doing social media. Some businesses should embrace all channels, while others should focus on those most relevant to them. Businesses trying to communicate to executives will not use social media in the same way a retail business would.

Once a strategy is in place, new media must be dealt with consistently. Having a presence on social media is good; but having a presence and not communicating through it can be more detrimental than no presence at all. Being consistent with social media means posting regularly and at a similar time each day. If this is done properly, a business will increase traffic to its website, engage with its audience, build a more favourable attitude toward its products or services and, most importantly, increase awareness of its brand.

The opportunities provided by social media are vast - and growing with every new channel that arrives on the scene. Businesses will do well to analyse their current social media strategy, develop objectives for the future and start conducting consistent communication. We are living in an age of new and varied communication and businesses must find out how they can take advantage of it.