Connect with customers or they will go elsewhere

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Social media is the term to describe the current state of the Web. If you don’t believe in social media, well, it’s not really the Easter Bunny.

“If you hear somebody saying they don’t believe in social media, that’s somebody saying ‘I don’t believe in the Internet,’” said Gary Vaynerchuck, social media guru and founder of Vayner Media on his YouTube channel. “If you bet against the Internet in 2012, you’re going to lose.”

The power of social media can make or break your business, and that’s why Vaynerchuck and others like him say the fundamental principle of success online is customer service.

If you’re not yet convinced, look at how social media crushed Rush Limbaugh advertisers.

From Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, Tumblr and YouTube, the current state of the Web is about sharing. Whether you are sharing this article online or writing a restaurant review on Yelp, online communities drive real-world transactions and not the other way around.

I can send an email to a friend touting the great food offered over at Breadtime in Alpharetta, or I can post a review on Urbanspoon or “Like” their Facebook page with a comment that hundreds of potential customers will see. (Breadtime does not have a Facebook page – Tsk. Tsk.) Had Breadtime checked their Urbanspoon review, they would know that a patron is unhappy with their customer service and management could take measures to remedy the situation.

Customers have been given powers that are unprecedented. With check-in sites like Foursquare, CheckinSave and MyTown, customers are also given the chance to earn instant savings and promote the service to their network of friends in an instant.

It’s no longer a one-way conversation with the product talking to potential customers. The key is to engage your customers. Many companies have hired social media managers to monitor what people are saying online. But I don’t recommend this to smaller companies. Simply stay on top of it by constantly listening to your customers and checking what they are saying about you with Google searches.

“Companies have reported net benefits from their social campaigns – a quarter of businesses have seen a gain in website traffic, 31 percent reported increased customer engagement and one in five (21 percent) reported a direct increase in sales that correlated to their social media presence,” MediaBistro’s reporter Shea Bennett found in an EPiServer study.

However, not all companies are taking advantage of social media, missing out on potential new customers, customer retention and product branding.

How are you communicating with your customers?

Engage me on Twitter @aldonahed.