With over 19 million UK users, Facebook can’t be ignored as a tool to reach your target audience. But you need to have a social media strategy in place rather than just rush in and create a page for your company.

Is Facebook actually the right place for your business? In the early days people were keen to have work colleagues as friends and to mix business and pleasure. These days it’s less the case. You might be better off building your brand at Linkedin where you can join relevant groups and start discussions, used their targeted InMail service and give relevant status updates.

If you’re convinced Facebook is the right route, remember content is king. Consumers won’t revisit your page unless you provide a reason to do so with daily updates and content that interests them: videos, competitions, offers.

Before you create your presence, take a look at what other companies are doing, particularly those in your sector.

You can learn valuable lessons from big brands. Starbucks is a textbook Facebook success story with over 5 million fans. BT has just over 52,000 fans on Facebook and posts daily updates and good content. Tesco, with 75,000 fans, shows the hazards of presenting yourself to the consumer. Some of the comments are negative.

Tesco is to be commended for not moderating these away. Content moderation is essential to avoid undesirable language or statements and people posting spam adverts. But if you try to suppress every negative comment about your company, you’re missing a great opportunity to get your point of view across. Many companies have learnt to their cost what happens if they don’t respond to criticism. Consumers will set up their own sites to flame offenders.

Then there is Twitter. I was pleasantly surprised to mention broadband in a tweet recently and immediately receive a message from @BTCare who wanted to check that everything was OK. Each day @BTCare gives you the names of the employees ‘on duty’ which presents a very human face to BT.

If you use Twitter for customer service and you also want to use it to give updates on your products, create a different account and make it obvious which account does what. Get your employees trained and well versed in how to use social media, and play to their strengths. If they don’t use it in their personal lives, you’re probably not going to make them see the light in using it for their employer.

Make sure everyone is adding your Twitter ID to their digital signatures and using a consistent set of hash tags and key words so that you can track your tweets. Twitter is a great tool to gain competitive insights too.

You don’t necessarily need a website to drive your followers to. Some companies have chosen to use different channels – Flickr, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook for example – and not have the overhead of having to create a website. But if you’re actively selling from a site, it would make sense to drive your social media traffic to that site.

In summary, you need to be using social media. Done well, it can get impressive results and build loyalty. But don’t think of it as “free” and something that can be done by one or two people in their spare time. You need to build a strategy for social media and provide enough resource for moderation, content updates and creation of content.