New and social marketing philosophies are doing more than changing marketing, they are changing the rules of business. In this environment, the ubiquitous, partici-patory Internet is giving small, nimble companies the ability to tap passionate groups of people for their knowledge, trust and ultimately their business. For some the concepts are the best, most exciting change they’ve ever had. I encourage you to begin to learn about how this might affect your business, and through this proficiency, uncover new, profitable opportunities at far less cost.

Preconceived Notions

I have struggled to find words to explain social media without getting mired in tactics or preconceived notions. Luckily, Seth Godin solved my problem by writing Meatball Sundae late last year. Those willing to spend two hours in this terrific book will emerge with a functional understanding of social media’s implications and I strongly encourage it. It rewards readers with a common language free from many tactical distractions as a springboard for discussion.

An increasing number of businesses dependent on traditional methods to “buy their way” in front of people using interruption-based advertising methods are finding those methods less effective than before, especially if they sell mediocre products or services.

Customers Have Stopped Listening

Customers have been trained to expect high quality and selection at extreme speed and to distrust most marketing messages. Brute-force mass-media advertising, and is incredibly small response rate is becoming less justifiable in the one-click-away world of Blogs, Tivo, iPods, Satellite Radio and Ad-Blockers.

In social networking groups, fast-spreading messages and consumer trust are earned over time largely through marketing built-in to the product or service, and reflected in every move the company makes.

In February, I spoke to a multi-million dollar home security company with problems. Inexpensive, imported knock-offs of business safes were flooding the market. Confused customers searching the web didn’t know the difference and despite trying, this company couldn’t “advertise” their way out of the situation.Right there in the room were three people who knew more than 99.99% of the US population on safes and vaults, yet they were behind a wall that divided them from their customers. Unless someone called or took the time to read their website, the conversation about quality disparities never happened. Social Media tools can help scale these walls.

Getting Started

The first step is to become part of the conversations already started. They need to learn the steps required to efficiently monitor their market and reputation online, using tools such as RSS and email alerts. They need to add genuine value to these conversations without any expectation of immediate sales through participation. They should create a multi-author blog to share information, and post track-backs to other blogs on the web. They should create a collection of inexpensive, desktop-edited videos to be posted on services such as, tagging them so they’re easy to find and link to. How-to photos, posted to the Flickr photo sharing service can be similarly organized – all with a very small extra effort. This way of thinking should become as natural as unlocking the door and turning on lights each day. If you have the knowledge, give it away and earn customer’s trust – then align your business with their needs.

In this case, the people could make the company remarkable. While the product is high quality, the people and their passion make it possible to spread easily and cause many to forget the price difference. To see an example of what I mean, check out the social media phenomenon started by BlendTec commercial blender company. Their sales increased five-fold and made BlendTec a household name among tens of millions of Internet users using these techniques.

Each social media idea, given time, can grow a company’s authority in the industry and open opportunities driven by that community. Such authority helps prepare the company for public relations issues and disgruntled customers that are likely to use the web to voice their issues. It also encourages web links to your material resulting in higher search ranking for their website – something money cannot usually buy. Finally, this added visibility can bring journalists and authority bloggers to talk to you, continuing the cycle.

The story of new media adoption seems to me especially disruptive, but some companies cannot see the impact yet. As Clay Shirky observes in the new book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations – the Internet is not TV. The medium is two way, and clusters of people are forming thanks to world views expressed over a ubiquitous Internet. Formerly difficult “group action” is becoming easier and more likely – and the customers and critics will be firmly in control.

To take advantage, your entire company must become proficient in open, authentic communication directly with your customer – on their terms – and never break the trust.