By Rieva Lesonsky

You undoubtedly already know the many ways social media can help you market your small business, from boosting your company’s profile to linking you directly to customers and prospects. But are you taking advantage of all the other things social media can help you with? Here are five of them.

1.    Learning about business and your industry. In a survey by TNS reported by MarketingProfs, nearly eight in 10 small and midsized business owners say that industry-specific news and articles they find on social media are valuable. Small business owners also frequently discover articles on business leadership and marketing through social media. For example, I love how LinkedIn sends me articles that trusted people in my network are reading. And 67 percent of small business owners say social media helps them learn “best practices” from other companies.

2.    Doing your research. Small and midsized businesses also use social media to make purchasing decisions. For instance, when making financial decisions or purchasing financial services, more than two-thirds of small business owners turn to social media. Seven in 10 small business owners say they use social media to find testimonials, reviews and opinions about products and services.

3.    Finding employees. Social media is a great way to let your personal and professional contacts know that you’re looking to hire. Even if you’re placing an ad for the position, social media is a great adjunct to round out your search. What’s more, social media lets you tap into the underground network of people who aren’t actively searching for jobs…but are open to being wooed away from their current jobs to work for you.

4.    Staying on top of news and trends. I don’t know about you, but more and more I learn about hot news, pop culture and trends first through social media. For busy small business owners, it’s faster and easier to check your Twitter feed than to stay on top of a bunch of different news websites. Being in the loop with watercooler buzz can help you make connections or jump on the “next big thing” before someone else does.

5.    Getting the inside scoop on prospects. Nervous about making a big sales presentation to a potential client? There’s really no need to be—not with all the information you can dig up about the person, their boss, their direct reports, their company and their background on social media. A few Google searches and an hour or two on LinkedIn, and you’ll be able to sail into that meeting with a pretty clear idea of the problems the client, his or her team and his or her company is facing and what approach the person is likely to respond to. (You might even find out you went to college with her sister.)

These are just a few of the ways social media can help your business gain an advantage over your competitors. Can you think of more?