Most of you are probably well aware by now that social media is here to stay. You know that ignoring it is no longer an option. However, it looks like some businesses are still unaware of the effect it can have on their bottom line. I’ve seen plenty of job postings recently from small businesses looking for unpaid interns to handle their social media. Do you really want to put an unpaid intern in charge of your business’ reputation? Apparently, some business owners still doubt that social media can really make that much difference. If you are one of these doubters, read on!

Social media is just like any other aspect of your business, in certain respects. If you want to be known for your great customer service, you’ll need to demonstrate that online as well as offline. Social media can spread far and wide in a matter of hours, so it’s important that you are aware of and actively managing your business image.

I know this is all over the internet, so there’s a good chance you’ve seen it, but it may still serve as a good reminder. To make a long story short, in 2008 a musician from Canada, David Carroll, flew United Airlines with his $3500 Taylor guitar. The baggage handlers were careless and broke it. After nine months of attempting to get some kind of compensation from United, David Carroll gave up and made a music video. It became an instant YouTube hit, getting over half a million views in just three days. Although United did finally respond and eventually offered compensation, the damage had been done. Nearly two years later, the video has over 10 million hits, has been featured by Time magazine, and has it’s own Wikipedia page.

What was most striking about this incident was the sharp contrast in how United Airlines and Taylor Guitars responded to David’s YouTube video. Instead of seizing the opportunity to turn a bad situation around, United stayed out of the media and quietly contacted the musician with a vague intent to right the wrong that had been done. Taylor Guitars, on the other hand, immediately responded with a YouTube video of their own, and offered David two guitars.

Social media has put an enormous amount of power in the hands of your individual customers. No, not every dissatisfied customer will make a hit YouTube video bashing your business, but even a few bad reviews on Yelp can affect the number of customers you get. The bottom line is that it’s important to be aware of what’s going on so that you won’t be blindsided. Managing your business reputation through social media is an important task that deserves your thoughtful attention. Have a strategy in place and know what your goals are. Listen to what people are saying and respond. Underestimating the power of social media is every bit as bad as ignoring it altogether.