Increasingly, savvy marketers know that social media is far more than an entertaining pastime for the majority of consumers. The content you post on your social media properties (thought leadership, news, ideas and customer support) is also growing in importance as a source of lead generation and sales.

It's become perfectly acceptable to promote through social media (gently) via the visual ideas you share on Pinterest and Facebook and the artful pics you post on Instagram of the beautiful meals at your restaurant or the fashion products you sell.

For maximum advantage, however, social media should be an increasingly big component of your 2017 advertising strategy as well.

I recently came across an infographic titled "115 Must Know Facts About Social Media" from the web development research website Skilled.co, and thought it had a few interesting takeaways--so I've analyzed some of the stats in the infographic a little more deeply.

As you plan your budget allotments, consider these facts (all statistics below are from Skilled.co, unless otherwise noted):

1. Not all social media is equal

Facebook boasts 1.59 billion active users. Instagram has 400 million; Twitter, 320 million; and LinkedIn and Pinterest 100 million apiece.

If your product appeals to men more than women or has high traction with teens, be sure to include YouTube. These are the groups that view video content the most. According to digital marketing firm Digiday, while YouTube attracts an even split of women and men, it is still fairly male-dominated. Men spend 44 percent more time on the site per month, and in 51 categories of content, men make up the majority of viewers in 90 percent.

Instagram, in contrast, boasts more women than men (65 percent) as does Facebook (57 percent). As you plan your programs, keep these demographics in mind.

2. Social media is becoming the first point for news

With apologies to Fox and CNN, an increasing number of internet users are looking to social media as their first source of news.

Reddit is particularly strong as a breaking news source at 70 percent, closely followed by Facebook (66 percent) and Twitter (59 percent). In fact, the news networks themselves will increasingly fess up to getting their news tips from social media (particularly Twitter) first.

This nuance is particularly important for the Millennial market, as 68 percent of Millennials consider Facebook their primary resource for incoming news.

3. Social media influences purchases

Here's where the buying influence is most likely to happen: Facebook 31 percent, Instagram or LinkedIn 27 percent, Google+ 20 percent, Pinterest 12 percent and 8 percent for Twitter.

Clearly, those Facebook ads count (particularly when micro-targeted to users in the demographics and regions you most want to obtain).

4. Marketing budgets for social media continue to rise

In 2015, marketers spent $9.74 billion. In 2017 they'll spend $13.51 billion. By 2019, they'll spend $17.34 billion--nearly double the budget in 2015.

This means two things:

  1. Social media marketing is working.
  2. Vendors will need to be more creative than ever as new entrants jump in and the saturation point for advertorial material rises.

5. Do you know which social media platforms provide the best return on investment?

It's Facebook by a long shot right now, at 95.8 percent. Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are good investments as well, with 63.5 percent of marketers reporting favorable outcomes for these marketing spends.

What this means: Social media is more important than ever before to your thought leadership, marketing and advertising programs. It should be one of the highest priorities on your marketing list.

As for what you do--and how you do it--assess your programs carefully against these newest discoveries before you proceed.

Published on: Dec 5, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.