Over the past few years, social media has quickly grown from a social pastime to an essential part of building a successful business.

The Social Media Report 2012, released in collaboration between Nielsen and NM Incite, explains that social media has become a key communications tool across many platforms. Facebook remains on top, following closely by Blogger and Twitter, with content sharing website Pinterest seeing the largest increase of users.

With each passing year, the number of devices and the number of ways to stay connected continue to grow, thus encouraging people to stay online for longer periods of time.

Choosing Your Device

No longer do people have to sit at a desk or use a laptop to browse the internet; with smartphone technology and other mobile devices, such as tablets -- the internet goes where they go. According to the report, from July 2011 to July 2012 the amount of time spent on social media sites went up 21 percent; but the methods of reaching the sites is changing, with more social media users favoring mobile devices over PCs.

Despite the pending takeover of mobile devices, PCs are standing strong. 94 percent of people use desktops and laptops when visiting social media sites, 46 percent of social media sites are visited using mobile phone devices, while tablets and e-readers were used six and three percent of the time. 

Despite all of these devices, television is becoming an important part of social media engagement.

While the computer is the still the primary device used to access social media, the last year saw significant increases in usage, most notably through tablets and internet-enabled television,” says the report.

Although internet-enabled televisions are still relatively new, their impact on social media is already being felt with an increase from two to four percent. For those who don’t have internet based televisions, the role that television plays in their social interaction is still strong. 41 percent of tablet users and 38 percent of smartphone users end up looking up something they've seen on television, such as information about a show or a product in a commercial.

Social Media as a Business Tool

With this mind, businesses have started to embrace social media as a way for them to not only market their products and services, but connect with current and potential customers. For example, 70 percent of social media users said that when looking at products over social media they do so to see what others are saying, 65 percent do so to find out more information about the product and about half said that they post comments, questions or concerns.