Social MediaThe results are in and (drum roll please) social media continues its hot streak of growth. According to Nielsen’s “State of the Media: The Social Media Report,” the likes of Facebook and Twitter are “no longer in their infancy” and instead are a “truly global phenomenon.” The popularity of social media and its pervasiveness point to its maturing role as a way for people and businesses to connect. And what was once the basic question of whether businesses should adopt social media is now rather a question of how to best engage and take advantage of the opportunities social media has to offer. Nielsen’s verdict? The trends of social word-of-mouth, hyper-informed consumers, and opportunities for engagement are the three crucial developments businesses need to be aware of as social media continues to evolve.

Social media’s trajectory today

To begin, Nielsen estimates that 20% of time spent on PCs is done at social media websites, while mobile users spend 30% of their time on social networking sites. Social media is thus by and large the single greatest computer activity, with Facebook representing a whopping 17% of PC time. Considering that Facebook did not exist a decade ago with the fact that consumers today spend 230,060 years on social media in just one month, Nielsen’s argument that social media is a “truly global phenomenon” is undeniable.

Harnessing social media for business

So, what does this development mean for businesses hoping to harness social media’s rise? First off the importance of word of mouth has become increasingly important. People have always shared their experiences with businesses, but with social media, a good or bad review is one step from going viral and impacting much more than just one’s close group of friends. Allowing users to share your content and their experience on social media can help to foster this positive word of mouth.

Next, directly related to word-of-mouth is the increasing tendency of consumers to educate themselves about products through social media. It is no secret that the information age has allowed for consumers to look up any product or service online before purchasing. But now with social media, the information one acquires about a business is much more review-oriented. Social media invites the sharing of experiences with others, and consumers are increasingly visiting business homepages to educate themselves along these lines.

Finally, the maturing nature of social media means that advertising strategies continue to evolve. Tying the themes of word-of-mouth and hyper-informed consumers together, businesses on social media can create a loyal and engaged following that will speak on the business’ behalf. And considering that one is more likely to pay attention to and purchase a product that another recommends, the opportunities for engagement like deals, campaigns, and direct interaction provide a valuable way for businesses to continue branding itself.

So, while consumers spend more than 200,000 years (and growing) per month on social media, there is little doubt as to the opportunities this presents to businesses to brand, market, and most importantly, connect with consumers through the likes of Facebook and Twitter.