Many thanks to guest author Kasper Risbjerg. Kasper is a Social Business Manager for IBM.

As a famous folk singer once said: “The times they are a-changin’.” This motto inspired a whole generation to change the status quo. Those words are as true as ever in this age of Digital Darwinism, which Brian Solis defines as “the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than your ability to adapt.”

This is not a post telling you what the drivers for change are or which social dynamics have caused this disruption. This is simply me encouraging you to stop for a minute and reflect upon the situation facing your company today. Digital & mobile technology…social media…empowered and connected consumers…you've heard it all before. But have you moved your brand in the right direction in response?

Imagine if your company were founded today. Would you be doing something completely different when it comes to marketing? Here are the areas you might be paying attention to now, knowing the new conditions that Digital Darwinism brings to business.

Employee or Experts? Who Does Your Customer Trust?

The issue I would like to bring up is nothing new, but apparently it needs to be repeated—and that is the issue of trust. Customers no longer consider the traditional sources of information to be trustworthy.

Once each year Edelman publishes a trust study and the results are striking. CEOs are the folks that customers trust the least to tell them the truth, but the good news is that regular employees and experts are rated as some of the most trustworthy spokespeople.

The results from Nielsen for marketing are equally startling. Only 50% of customers trust advertising emails, 47% trust ads on TV and in magazines and only 33% trust a banner on a website. Meanwhile, 92% trust recommendations from people they know and 70% trust opinions from other consumers. 

Bottom line: You are doing a great deal of expensive marketing that consumers don't trust!

Your Employees: An Army of Brand Advocates

I propose that you set your employees free to engage with stakeholders on behalf of your brand on social media. Every employee is an expert in something, and that expertise can make your business relevant and authentic in the eyes of customers. Imagine if you could unleash a force of brand advocates as big as your entire company! You'll need the full force of your company to be able to react and engage with the connected customers.

Enable these Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to engage with your key constituencies and influencers. Showing your brand expertise, skills and passion is key to convincing customers to choose your product or service. What better way to do that than to have your own advocates reach out and offer their point of view (of course without being salesy).

Throw a Wide Net and Listen to the Buzz

Every day a huge conversation is taking place among your customers and their peers in the social sphere. Social media has become the new consumer report. So what does that mean for a small or medium-sized business?

Using social listening, you can surface opportunities of engagement where subject matter experts on your team can interact with customers. This interaction amplifies word of mouth that results from your customers receiving empathetic help. The resulting insights from the listening tools provide more useful feedback about how customer service is working for your brand. Why is this so crucial?

1. It's a way to quickly measure the sentiment around your brand (and your competitors). For the first time in history, you can actually hear what your customers are saying about your brand, when you're not in the room. It enables you to avoid crises by surfacing negative chatter and protect brand reputation before situations escalate. 

2. It's a treasure trove of leads. People are talking about your industry, products, competitors. They are writing reviews, asking questions of their peers and seeking advice. Just try a basic Twitter search on "which is best…". The connected consumers are sharing experiences and constantly looking for advice from others to guide their decisions. You can reach out to them, but it takes authenticity, empathy, and genuine understanding. It takes real people to understand people, which is where your spokespeople program will shine. As the Edelman illustrations points out, people value the opinions of “people like themselves” than ever before, which means that now is also the time to start looking for external online influencers that you can turn into brand advocates.

3. You can pull the signal from the noise. By analyzing conversation around different subjects and keywords, Purell Hand Sanitizer managed to predict the swine flu epidemic in 2009. IBM listened and predicted the height of the heels of women's shoes for the coming season by listening to what fashion influencers were talking about in social media. You too can use social listening to find emerging trends and get the edge on competitors.

The Effect of Connectedness

Micah Solomon describes how connectedness has changed the customer service game: "Digital marketing is like a small island and you are a grocer on it.

If you treat your customers badly, everyone on the island will learn about it." This analogy grows truer for each day that passes as empowered and hyper-connected customers emerge, gaining more influence for every connection they make. For each experience they share, their influence grows, and when others search for information about your company that influence is then amplified.

Those shared experiences are an expression of how customers are bringing equality back into the brand/customer relationship. For too long businesses have neglected customer service to the detriment of the very customers they have sworn to serve. If your customer service cannot live up to the promise from your marketing it will in turn erode the message and destroy whatever affinity the customer might have had for you.

For inspiration you can start by taking a look at companies that do a fantastic job when it comes to customer service. Companies like Zappos, Southwest Airlines, American Express, Marriott International and Amazon.

It Begins with a Customer-Focused Culture

This customer revolution is about reintroducing relevancy in your relationship with your customers. Imagine you were competing on customer satisfaction. You need to genuinely care about your customers and deliver meaningful experiences before and after every transaction to earn their trust. It begins with looking at the culture of your company. Culture needs to be focused on the core of your business's raison d'être--your customers.

This post was originally published on the blog.