Knowing that 3 out of 4 Americans use social technology – visiting social sites is the 4th most popular online activity (ahead of email), and spending time on social networks has tripled in the past year – it is obvious that social media is here to stay. But how can you leverage this ambiguous media outlet to help you and your business?

So far, the First Insight team has addressed the importance of not only including but also engaging customers in your business decisions. We know consumers are willing to participate in conversations about your products. But we also know consumers at large are savvier and no longer accept being “spoken at” by the media. They are exposed to blogover 3000 advertising messages each day and have learned to “tune out” those messages that are not relatable. Fortunately, social media enables retailers to transform broadcast monologues into social dialogues. The idea is customers who first share their feedback, and then listen, and then share again, are committing to more than just transactions. They are developing deeper relationships with your product.

Over the past year, more and more companies are beginning to understand the advantage of strategically using social media. In “Social Media: The New Front Row of Fashion,” Wall Street Journal writer Lauren Benet Stephenson explores the phenomenon of social media use throughout the fashion industry. “What began as a tepid courtship between fashion and social media has become an all out love affair,” she exclaims. From Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger streaming live runway shows to Oscar de la Renta and Tory Burch using Facebook and Twitter to update followers, never before has the idea of sharing been so prevalent. But these leaders are going well beyond simply “sharing.” They are incorporating the ideas of “listening” and “learning” to their strategy. For example, during Tommy Hilfiger’s show streaming, fans were asked to vote on their favorite looks and to provide personal feedback on designs.

Those in fashion are not the only ones taking advantage of the growing social media phenomenon. Take for example, Best Buy, a company that “chirps” with customers via Twitter to give technology advice. Best Buy also uses video blogs to engage consumers beyond the world of text. Companies embracing the social media revolution are benefiting from active integration. According to a recent statistic from the International Herald Tribune Technology conference, when engaged in active social media integration, brands reported as much as a 25% return on investment.

Please keep an eye out for next week’s final insight email in the “When Uncertainty Isn’t an Option” series. We will be focusing on how to efficiently measure, and ultimately maximize, your products/designs performance.

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