Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are already grabbing the attention and time of countless people across the world. Over one billion people have Facebook accounts, with both Twitter and Google+ following not too far behind. These networks are massive, and it’s because of their growing influence on users that businesses are beginning to compete strongly in these compact digital collectives and not stick to the traditional media outlets that have served them for the so many years before.

Magazines, newspapers, radio, and even television have become all but replaced by the Internet these days. Many present-generation teenagers and young adults grew up without ever knowing a world where computers weren’t at least available. Smartphones and tablets are practically a need for many people for both professional and personal use. These devices are typically used to use social networks to deliver quick (and relevant) information to the user.

If someone wants to find out what’s going on in the world, they could always browse one of several news sites. It might take a while for them to weed through the filler material and get to the topics that matter most to them. Alternatively, they can check out their Facebook news feed and see the most popular links, videos, and photos that matter to them and their immediate friends. Google+ has become a favorite among its users as both a source of news and opinions related to the events of the day.

A Modern News Medium

When Michael Jackson passed away, the news wasn’t broken by CNN, Fox, or MSNBC. It was spread primarily through social networks like Twitter or Facebook while these large organizations were updating stories, getting approval for publishing, and awaiting their server’s caching cycle before the world could find this information on their sites. Not everyone was within arm’s reach of a television. This was one of several stories that would show a shift in the 24-hour news cycle made possible by the Internet. For best or for worst: The power of information was now in the hands of the users, and not the corporations.

Today, social networks are where your customers go to find out what’s going on. There are still some significant players outside the social space, but with an entry price of zero, there’s no reason your company shouldn’t have a presence on these networks. If anything, these networks give you perhaps the most powerful tools ever conceived for customer service, marketing, and information discovery.

Results Require Effort

It isn’t enough to simply create a profile page and hope your customers are eager to comment on your latest product. You need to interact, engage, and form a community around your brand. Companies that do this properly generally see a return on their time investment in the form of customer loyalty, brand recognition, and increased word-of-mouth about it and its products and/or services. Your company can become one of your customer’s friends. A reliable source of information, inspiration, and perhaps even humor.

Think about this next time you sit down with your board and discuss where your online budget should be spent. Are you throwing your money at a billboard campaign in hopes that people are still paying attention to them, or are you spending that money executing a plan to build relationships with your customers on the very networks they prefer to engage with you through?

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