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Today your customers are more empowered than ever.

Cell phones, laptops, PCs, blogs, and social networking sites are all tools that consumers use to constantly communicate with each other. Even Internet access is no longer restricted to the home or office, as many businesses now offer wi-fi connections, and cell phones give consumers the chance to surf the net on the go.

Sites such as YouTube and Flickr allow consumers to create their own content and instantly upload their pictures and videos so that they can be shared and viewed by anyone with Internet access. Your customers as a community now have the tools they need to communicate instantly with each other, whether they are in the same room, or across the globe. And, oh yes... they are definitely talking about you!

But here's the problem: Faster and more efficient communication means that ideas are exchanged more quickly than ever before within communities. Thoughts are exchanged, styles are developed, trends are created... all at an ever-accelerating pace. Attempting to guess from afar what the current trends and preferences are for your hyper-connected customers is a crapshoot at best, and a total waste of time at worst.

So, at this point, you have a choice: You can continue using the same marketing methods you have always used to reach your customers, or you can try something revolutionary. You can join them. You can stop trying to guess what your customers are talking about, and instead join their communities and talk to them directly.

Sound scary? Good, because at first it will be. But the good news is that when you join consumers in their space, you begin to understand them. You begin to understand what their wants and needs are, and you begin to "speak their language." Perhaps just as important, they begin to understand you.

Here are some of the tools that your customers are already using to communicate online, and how you can incorporate them into your marketing plan:

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier