Us CMSWire kids have been making a pretty strong case for social this month, but just in case you need a little more convincing, consider this: over 80% of Americans use at least one social network, and more than half of those users follow a particular brand. Not only should a piece of that pie be yours, it has to be if you want to compete in today's market. put together a nifty infographic of various social media usage statistics, but before I hand it over (really, you can just scroll down for it if you want) let's take a moment to double highlight a couple of reasons why you absolutely cannot afford to ignore the social storm. 

Social Media Can Live With or Without You 

For starters, it's going to happen with or without you. Outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Yelp are basically sounding boards for all kinds of customers -- happy ones, sad ones, angry ones, etc. And because these outlets are free, the likelihood of a customer using one of them to share their experience with your product, service or what have you, is more than just high.

Paul Adams, a Global Brand Manager over at Facebook, spoke at this year's Social Media Week event cluster about the details of how such outlets are being used. "People don't talk about facts, they talk and share feelings," he said. "This is critical because most marketers are pushing facts."

In other words, don't think that going social means joining a network and posting about the awesome features you're adding, or why your product is better than everyone else's. These are real conversations with real emotion that are being generated from behind the protection of a screen. People are going to be candid and often brutal. Genuine engagement is critical and it has to be empathetic, not automated ignorance. 

Loyalty = Protection

There's a wealth of benefits that can come from forming social bonds with customers. One in particular is customer loyalty, which can serve to protect you during tough times. This includes economic downturns as well as unfortunate situations like the one Toyota saw early last year. After the company had to recall millions of vehicles due to brake issues, several of its customers stepped up to the plate to help save face. 

"This is just a blip for Toyota," said Denise Mangini, a Florida resident and owner of a vehicle on the recall list. "They still make the safest vehicles on the road."

"I believe the media has been unfairly critical. Machines sometimes don't work the way they were intended," added Paul Lozzi of North Carolina. "It is not like this has never happened to GM, Ford etc."

To the Visual!

Check out the visual below for other interesting statistics (spoiler: 48% of small business owners and entrepreneurs boosted their sales through social media and 58% of small business owners saw a drop in marketing costs by moving to social marketing) and convincing arguments. 

And when you're done with that, here's a couple of other pieces from my team that you might want to visit: