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Despite its great marketing potential, many businesses are understandably reluctant to venture into social media marketing.

It’s different from advertising, where the conversation is typically one-way. With traditional advertising, you get to tell the public only what you want them to know about your company and, obviously, the emphasis is all positive ‚Äî great products, wonderful customer service, happy customers and so on. While the perspective may be skewed to your favor, that’s your company’s prerogative. After all, you’re the ones paying for the ad. Customers understand this arrangement and factor it into their decision-making.

Things can get a bit more complicated with social media. Suddenly, the conversation is no longer one-way. It’s now a two-way street, a public forum where the customers are the ones in control. If they want to lift up praises about your company, they have that freedom. But they can also choose to air their grievances, just as publicly. Of course, there are privacy concerns, as well.

So what’s a business owner to do?

First, recognize that it’s no longer possible for most businesses to tightly control their communication with customers as before. You can choose not to do any social media marketing. But that doesn’t prevent customers from pushing you into the spotlight. On Facebook, anyone can start a community page about your company and say anything they want. And anyone with a Twitter account can tweet about your company and share it with their followers.

Of course, this sharing can work to your advantage when times are good. But, even when your company is taking a few knocks, it’s better to be engaged in the conversation. After all, companies that are known for their great service don’t always get things right the first time. But, when they do make a mistake, they correct it quickly. Even if the problem is, from their perspective, not a problem at all.

If this discussion leaves you longing for the good old days when you just had TV, radio, print and outdoor to choose from, take heart. Ask yourself, would your company be stronger if you could develop closer relationships with customers? Would your marketing be more dynamic if your best customers would simply tell more of their friends about you? Of course.

Consider this: Facebook is currently the second most visited website in the world, after Google, according to Alexa. Over 80% of Americans over the age of 18 visit social media websites. Roughly half of the same group visit Facebook on a regular basis. And social media use is highest among wealthy individuals.

Social media is mainstream and, like it or not, it’s here to stay. It’s where your customers are already, and they just might be looking for you. Are you there?