It can be easy to ignore Facebook as a marketing tool and simply see it as a place to chat with friends, argue about people's bad parking and share videos of people falling over in the snow.

However, over the past few years, there has been a shift in how people communicate using social media, and Facebook has kind of "grown-up" a bit.

The user demographic has changed, and the greatest user share is now by those aged 25-34, all the youngsters have jumped ship to TikTok.

This is an important age bracket because these are people settling down, buying houses, having kids and hopefully, considering where they buy their goods from.

They're also a tech-savvy bunch.

They've grown up with technology. They don't remember a world where they didn't have a phone that could also take pictures, and most of them will be used to ordering online.

So how can you use this to your advantage?

Staying local

The past year has been anything but normal. Restrictions have impeded on our day to day life affecting pretty much everyone.

However, social media has helped to bring communities together, offer a helping hand and step in when family can't be there and enhanced the need to stay "local".

Whereas many out of town shopping centres have been hit hard by the restrictions bought about by Covid-19 and lockdown, many smaller towns and villages have seen a boost.

People seem to be making more of their local amenities and shopping nearby.

It's no surprise, really. Travel restrictions and the general fear of the virus has meant people have had to reconsider what's convenient and what's essential in their life.

But, these restrictions have also meant shops have had to adapt.

In the past, it would be hard to justify a grocer having anything as techie as a website; in many cases, they haven't even got a till you need to plug in.

But now, you go and buy a kilo of apples, and they ask if you're paying by cash or card, proud of the shiny new Square terminal they have installed.

And in some cases, a website has become essential.

Click and collect – the new normal

While the virus is still around us, adaptation in the way people buy has meant things that were in the realm of large businesses only have suddenly become commonplace.

Customers can't browse around a shop as easily now, so websites allow them to view products, contact the store and then place their order online.

They can then elect to have those products delivered, or arrange a time to pick up.

But how do you tell people?

Finally, to the point of this – selling stuff!

The first thing to think about is where you are. I know, sounds crazy, but it's important to check out what's around you and make some enquiries.

If you're new to Facebook, this might be a scary new world, but if you've had an account for a while, dip in and try to find local discussion groups.

How Facebook groups work

A Facebook group is essentially a forum where people chat, moan, praise and generally discuss things that are pertinent to that group.

The important thing here is the subject matter. If you're in a group dedicated to the Ford Focus, you won't get much help and will probably be kicked out if you ask people how to change the head gasket on a Vauxhall Nova.

There is likely to be a group around your local area, focussed on local issues.

Type your local area name in the search box and see what you find.

Here's what I get if I type "Penkridge" in:

The first one there, "Penkridge Matters" looks pretty busy – 7,000 members and 30 posts a day.

But is it any good for you to advertise your business?

Click on it and check the rules:

That's a "no" then, but still, it's worth joining because even though straight advertising isn't allowed, you might find conversations happening that you can take part in.

For example, if some Scrooge type fella decides to be embued with Christmas spirit at the last minute and buy a turkey, he might ask in the group. If you're a butcher just closing up for the day, you could come to the rescue!

You helped someone, you didn't overtly advertise, but people will know about you.

Advertising is often not allowed – that usually doesn't matter

You'll find that in most cases they don't want people posting adverts – this is normal.

People are fed up of having adverts thrust in their faces every day, so it's no surprise that group admins try to keep a lid on it, but it doesn't mean you can't take part.

You see, the whole point of social media is being social, and if you can help people without resorting to advertising, you'll get known anyway.

The benefit of this is you're reaching people at the time they need it, and that's about the best type of advertising available.

Be respectful, be kind, be professional

Of course, some of these groups can be a hotbed of local intrigue and scandal.

My advice? Stay out of it.

It can often be very tempting to get involved in a local issue and want to put your point across, after all, you live here too, but it's incredible the damage it can do to you and your business.

I'm minded of a story of a local decorator who had a fairly low profile in a village and was the first to be called when someone needed a room painting.

Then he discovered Facebook and the apparent availability of free speech.

Over a week or two, he made his point very clear on his opinions of political party affiliation, immigration, schooling and Brexit.

Suddenly, he lost customers.

Social media magnifies what you say. A throwaway comment in a pub may be forgotten quickly, but on Facebook, it's there for all to see for a long time.

Don't be tempted – step away from the argument and remember the bigger goal.

When used correctly, you can utilise Facebook to help your business grow and thrive, especially during times like these.