Will 2015 be the year we finally understand social media?

Social media may be a relatively recent phenomenon, but already it plays a key role in the everyday lives of millions of people worldwide. However, the days of social media being viewed simply as a vehicle to share holiday pictures and banal thoughts are long gone.

Social media, in its various forms, can provide genuine added value to any business, as long as the inherent risks to using the platform are well guarded against.

Read more: The social media dangers you need to watch out for in 2015

In fact, a recent study by Hiscox suggests that more and more businesses are beginning to appreciate the potential benefits of using social media. In 2011, just seven per cent of businesses allocated more than 20 per cent of their digital media budget to social, but this had risen to 28 per cent by 2014.

Regardless of your field, businesses can use social media outlets like Twitter and LinkedIn to better engage with their clients, customers and employees. In external marketing terms, social networks can help spread a brand identity or get an important message out to millions in just seconds. However, businesses also need to be aware of the benefits that social media can bring when used internally.

Yammer is a social network specifically aimed at enterprise firms, offering a Twitter-like service that is only available for business employees. Like Twitter, Yammer allows individuals to share short messages and you only see content from those that you follow. Unlike Twitter, Yammer is private so a valid company email address is required in order to access it.

It’s this added layer of privacy that makes Yammer a perfect tool for sharing and collaboration in the workplace. If individuals have discovered, or indeed created, a piece of content that is of benefit to the company as a whole, Yammer provides the perfect medium to share it. When used this way, Yammer becomes a kind of company hive-mind, where a vast collection of useful resources can be shared, stored and easily accessed at all times.

Yammer also helps facilitate team work, letting employees create private and public groups online so they can communicate and share content easily with those anyone they need to.

While services like Yammer help businesses to manage their internal communications, businesses can’t afford to neglect social media channels like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook for their marketing needs.

However, deciding on which social network to use can be crucial, and often depends on what kind of consumer or client your business is looking to target. Whether it's IT leaders or housewives with children, social media can be an effective way of engaging with them. A report by the Internet Advertising Bureau UK found that nearly 80 per cent of consumers would be more inclined to buy services or products more often if they were found on social media platforms.

For many businesses, however, social media offers not only an opportunity to advertise, but also to drive engagement. More and more companies are asking for feedback and responding to questions via social media. Networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and no longer merely marketing channels but platforms for business and customer interaction.

Read more: Majority of UK workers check social media during meetings

Individuals and businesses looking for the best ways to harness social media can find expert opinion and the latest software-based solutions at this year’s UC Expo, which will take place on the 21-22 April at Olympia, London.

Register to attend UC EXPO 2015 FREE today.