Living in the age of social media must be a lot like when rock 'n’ roll emerged. What is this noise? Only young people like this stuff! Although we more than five years into our social media experiment, you’d be surprised to learn that there are many who still discount social media’s impact.

Social Media Young, Misunderstood

Like rock 'n’ roll, social media has begun to influence the world around us. Whether it’s the way we relate to others or how we share information, social media’s impact on engagement is far-reaching. Choosing to ignore it on a personal level may not affect you dramatically, depending on your circle of friends, but blatantly ignoring it as a business isn’t just foolish -- it can be detrimental to your company’s health and growth.

According to a recent poll, nearly half of small business owners do not use social media, feeling that it’s not necessary to their business. Only 12% of businesses described social media promotion as a must and nearly 50% of respondents aren’t using social media at all.

Additionally, those using social media don’t exactly understand what they’re doing or how to use it effectively.  In IBM's report From Social Media to Social CRM: What customers want, the primary reason companies think consumers interact with them on Facebook, Twitter and forums is to “learn about new products” and to get “general information." When you ask consumers why they engage with companies on Facebook, it’s because they’re looking for discounts or promotional items.

Such a disconnect between whether companies are using social media can lead to poor engagement between consumers and companies. After all, serving the needs of users is usually most effective in converting customers into consumers.

Don't Risk Your Firm Out of Fear of What You Don't Know

Just like it’s no longer acceptable for us to say that we don’t know anything about computers, it’s not okay for us to dismiss social media just because we don’t understand it or because we think it’s just a fad. The reality is, if it’s where your customers are, it’s where you need to be.

The perils of misusing or ignoring social media can be costly to your brand and your revenue. Here’s why:

It’s Where Your Customers Are: Like it or not, your customers are using social media. Regardless of their demographic, chances are they are on one of the many successful social media platforms. Chances are also good that they’ve gone looking for your brand, and if they didn’t find you, or found a page that hadn’t been recently updated, it turned them off. Users want to promote brands they enjoy. Your absence makes it much harder for your fans to spread the word.

It’s an Easy Way to Communicate: News alert! Your customers -- prospective or current -- are not visiting your website out of the blue. They are more likely to visit your site because of content shared by a friend or a review written by a family member. As a result, news travels fast. Have a promotion to advertise? Have a new product to boast? Have important information that you need to share immediately? Social media can help get that message to the right people faster and more reliably.

It Helps Build Loyalty, Respect and Authority: Brands that engage with users across social media platforms can establish their authority within their industry. As well, companies can earn their users' trust by replying to their inquiries, providing solutions and supplying useful information in real time. It’s not creepy when a brand meets the needs of their followers. It’s called listening.

Research, Understand, Engage, Evolve

For social media to benefit companies, they must first understand that it’s not in place of anything. Your presence on social media should be in addition. Your website, your blog, your online marketing strategies are just as important as ever -- and shouldn’t be abandoned. Instead, they should be promoted via social media.

However, all social media isn’t the same. You have to know where your fans are. Facebook users differ from Twitter followers, who are different from those who use YouTube and Google+.

  • Do your research before picking a platform, but also keep in mind that your users’ habits and behaviors may evolve over time.
  • If you want to be on a network where your users currently aren’t, then you’ll have to strategize to get them there.
  • Incentivize whenever possible. Give your users a real reason to participate and engage.

Finally, don’t be afraid of social media: Embrace it. Make it what you want it to be. Social media is still young enough that it is malleable. Users’ behaviors are still flexible. If you are able to provide what they want, when they want it, you can affect and influence the way they behave, and you may just shift the marketplace as a result.