Social media is not very old. Twitter started in 2006 and now boasts 302 million users; Facebook was launched in 2004 and by 2015 has 1.18 billion monthly users; LinkedIn, a venerable old man of social media launched in 2003 now has 364 million users. How well are they being utilised by business? Brian Runciman MBCS reports.

Businesses quickly latched onto the IT-driven phenomenon of social media - with motivations ranging from better measurement of interaction to simply taking advantage of a bigger shop window. One attraction is its ability to measure things that were more intangible in times past such as customers’ sentiment about a product and also for more time-honoured business pursuits such as analysing the competition and helping determine strategy.

What is more difficult to assessing real return on investment (ROI). Revenue data is difficult to come by, if not just irrelevant in some social media contexts. It has seen success, however, in measuring conversion of a potential customers from passive users into a subscribers. And, according to Women’s Wear Daily, a line can be drawn between engagement on social media and effective predictions of ROI. Just the goal of increased interaction with a brand could indicate increased purchasing potential.

A very interesting academic paper in KSII Transactions on Internet & Information Systems looks at the potential inherent in the large amount of unstructured text data in social media that show consumers' opinions and interests. The writers attempt to formulate a comprehensive and practical methodology to conduct social media opinion mining and then apply it to a case study of the oldest instant noodle product in Korea.

The way they represent the output of this study shows the variety of information types available - they use graphical tools and visualised outputs that include volume and sentiment graphs, time-series graphs, a topic word cloud, a heat map and a valence tree map. The sources mined are public-domain content such as blogs, forum messages and news articles, which are analysed with natural language processing, statistics, and graphics packages.

This kind of business intelligence is becoming more and more important - going beyond simply measuring thumbs on a Facebook campaign to give actionable data.

Inside the enterprise, too, social media tools are helping. The Journal of Business Communication presents results from a survey of 227 business professionals on attitudes towards the use of social networking for team communication, and its frequency of use and perceived effectiveness compared to other communication channels.

Whilst it shows that traditional channels still hold more sway at present, they also point to a sea change for Gen X and Gen Y business professionals, who are quite likely to consider that social networking tools will be the primary means of team communication in the future.

Another recent academic paper looks at the concept of continuance - which, in the IT context, refers to sustained use of a technology by individual users over the long-term after their initial acceptance. It shows that social media may continue to grow in the business context simply because it is enjoyable to use.

Other advantages are seen in the field of cocreation - a strategy where customers and providers participate in the innovation process. Social media is a perfect tool for cocreating value because it promotes communication between the organisation and the customer.

Successful application of social media can be demonstrated in many areas such as transport planners, operators, policy makers and the travelling public. In air travel Air New Zealand, for example, has gained thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook by offering customers the chance to post wishes, and then granting at least one of them every week.

Although the social media boom of 2010 to 2012 has slowed to some extent degree, there are still new products coming in all the time. The last part of this BCS report looks at newer additions to the marketplace such as video live-streaming mobile device apps such as Periscope and Meerkat.