The list of companies trying to cash in on what some are still calling “Web 2.0” is only less impressive than the number of companies claiming to have figured it all out for you and packaged it up for sale. If the goal of your business is to be successful, social media must play an important part. However; do social media programs provide any direct marketing opportunities? Is it better or worse than other channels, traditional or digital? That is what remains to be seen in the digital age.

Years ago advertisers based their decisions off of focus groups, financial reports and gut feelings. In today’s world focus groups are the last thing to come out of the advertising company’s bag of tricks and only serve to prove out what the data has already shown. As the purchasing public has moved online the data collection stream has become incredibly deep. We no longer have to guess what clients will buy. We know.

This is where social media can prove useful. Social media like Facebook or Twitter are like an instant, well organized, free focus group. Any time you have a product idea all you have to do is present it to the masses and gauge the response. If your Twitter followers like it, odds are they will buy it. If your Facebook fans hate it, you will be bombarded with exactly what they hate about it and you can adapt. Decrease the price, change the feature set, improve the support; whatever it takes. You can adjust your product offering to meet the needs of your customer base before a single unit rolls off the line. It isn’t perfect but it can save thousands or even millions in research and development.

However, the real value of social media in today’s business world isn’t to be found in using it as a glorified survey; the real value is customer service. Feedback is invaluable for more than new products. Your existing company is either improving or it is being left behind. Right now there are millions of customers and potential customers out there with plenty to say about your company and your products. You can ignore them at your peril, or you can embrace the new capitalism. Information has long been seen as valuable and some of the most difficult information to harvest can be customer perception.

With the help of social media communities, customers are organizing themselves and sharing their opinions, their needs and their advice to help your company improve. Take advantage of this wealth of information. Connect with your customers in the element of their choosing where honest communication is most likely. Knowing what your customers think is priceless information and social media is where it is being given away for free.

Successful businesses won’t ignore such a precious gift.



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