Social media has become a "phenomenally important" element of online marketing in the past couple of years because it allows consumers to "bond" with a particular product on their own terms, it has been claimed.

Tristan Garrick, PR manager at the Direct Marketing Association, said incorporating portals such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter into a company’s internet marketing services allows potential customers to "take a brand in their own hands", rather than having information pushed on them.

Nevertheless, he added, there are "certain inherent dangers" in this approach because companies are leaving their brand equity "at the mercy of consumers", who can start up their own discussion pages or social media channels to broadcast their opinions to a large audience.

Mr Garrick’s comments come after research from software security firm Clearswift showed that over half (52 per cent) of companies believe Web 2.0 tools such as Facebook are critical to their future success.

Furthermore, nine out of ten firms said these applications are useful for increasing brand awareness.

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