The benefits to business of embracing social media are much lauded. Some 500 million people are estimated to use the social-networking site Facebook to update friends on their whereabouts, hobbies and what they ate for breakfast.
More than 2 billion people will use the internet this year, according to the UN. Theoretically, businesses can engage with a quarter of the world's population of browsers through Facebook. If a company can persuade a user to become a fan of their page, they have immediate access to that person's personal details - their likes and dislikes.
In the Middle East, use of social-media sites has soared, with 5 million people in the GCC registered on Facebook. This has prompted marketeers and consultants to continually push businesses to tap into this growing market.
But is Facebook all it is cracked up to be? A number of experts in the Middle East are now questioning the site's value as a marketing tool.
Digital advertising in the region is certainly increasing, with overall revenue estimated to have been US$96 million (Dh352.5m) last year, up from $60m in 2008. But there are no official data on the return on investment companies can expect from advertising on Facebook.
Furthermore, there are few statistics on how people are using the networking site and if they are engaging with businesses on a regular basis.
Akanksha Goel, the chief executive of Socialize, a social media training and consulting company in Dubai, concedes many people talk about the number of users on Facebook, but few ask what those users are doing on the site.
There has been so much research on how Facebook is a key instrument for businesses, Ms Goel says. "But no one has actually found out how people are using it and how many people actually interact with brands."
The typical Facebook user does not know how to become a fan of a company, she says, so businesses hire public relations and marketing agencies to allure users into "liking" a brand.
Agencies will often run ad campaigns that offer discounts or special deals if browsers press the "like" button of a company's home page.
"Step one is to hire a PR or marketing company to get 10,000 fans," Ms Goel says. "For example, an advert might say 'like this page and we'll give you x. Get your friends to like it and we'll double x'."
Though once a user has "liked" a page, there is no evidence to suggest that he or she will … have a continuing dialogue with a brand or company.
Zed Ayesh, the managing director of Flagship Consultancy, told a conference at Dubai Knowledge Village that only 5 per cent of small to medium-sized enterprises in the UAE use social media as a marketing tool to boost profits.
"Marketing through social media and Facebook allows small and medium businesses to communicate, educate and share information directly with their current and prospective customers," Mr Ayesh said.
But he also conceded the number of people that continue a dialogue with a brand after becoming a "fan" was "minimal".
Mr Ayesh estimated only 1 per cent of fans are active participants on a page after pressing the like button, while a further 3 to 4 per cent are passive participants that will read the page's regular updates.
Few regular participants does not necessarily mean a brand or product will not become a commercial success, though.
A study in the Harvard Business Review, titled Branding in the Digital Age, found that for many products "the single most powerful impetus to buy is someone else's advocacy". So if the small number of people who are engaging regularly on Facebook are also very vocal, then the brand could become a commercial success.
Companies try to hook so-called mavens, popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point. Mavens are the "information specialists" of the population who seek to pass on information to others, and according to Mr Gladwell, start "word of mouth epidemics".
The Harvard article echoed this theory that discussion and a buzz about a brand are crucial to success.
"The coolest banner ads, best search buys and hottest viral videos may win consideration for a brand, but if the product gets weak reviews - or worse, isn't even discussed online - it's unlikely to survive the winnowing process," the article said.
Businesses should certainly embrace Facebook, argues Ms Goel, but they should also be wary of the level and manner of participation, not to mention the time and money invested.
The more a company's marketing team is educated that social media is not so key, she says, the better. "If your strategy on it works, then grow it. If not, then scale it back."