Most marketers know that social media is big, but not every company can launch a blog or create a Facebook page. Nor should they. But even if your company doesn't have the resources for a dedicated social media strategy, here are five social media sites and tools you can't afford to ignore.

1. Twitter

First it was MySpace, then YouTube, then Facebook, now Twitter is the "hot" social site that everyone is buzzing about. Twitter can be a difficult tool to explain if you've never used it. Think of it as being similar to IM (instant messaging), but instead of talking to just one person you can talk to many people at once. So it's similar to IM in functionality, but also has elements of a chat room, albeit with more control over whose messages you see.

Why you should care: Twitter enables your customers to leave almost real-time communication. That means if your site suddenly goes down your customers will probably be using Twitter to discuss it. If you aren't there to address their concerns about why the site is down, they could also be discussing that. Think of Twitter as "Word of mouth on steroids." It is an excellent tool for facilitating real-time communication and letting people share ideas and collaborate. Which can be good, or bad, for your company.

What you should do NOW: Start monitoring Twitter just as you are (hopefully) monitoring blog mentions about your company and your industry. Start watching how your customers are using Twitter to interact with each other and what they are discussing. Earlier this year, at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum, I was showing an attendee how to monitor Twitter for company mentions. We discovered that someone had recently tweeted that they were upset with the service they had received from the company and had asked whether there were alternatives. A competitor had seen the tweet and reached out to the customer. If the company had been monitoring Twitter, it could have quickly reached out to the unhappy customer and tried to remedy the situation.

2. Google Sidewiki

Sidewiki is a just-launched add-on for the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers that lets you comment on or leave information associated with any Web page. Basically, it makes every website social. Even your website. If people don't like the customer service you provided when you shipped them their Dell laptop, they can leave a comment directly on your homepage stating so. Likewise, if you gave them excellent customer service, they can say that as well. And after you add your comment, you can then share it via link, email, Twitter, or Facebook.

Since this tool just launched, there will no doubt be many tools and applications created shortly that play off of the functionality of Sidewiki. But, needless to say, this add-on holds powerful implications for any company that creates online content, and you need to make yourself aware of the tool now.

Why you should care: Every webpage now can be commented on. Every. Single. One. Potentially, your competitor could comment on your company's website criticizing your products and services. So can your customers. Did you launch a blog and turn off comments? Now your readers can still comment "on" your blog.

What you should do NOW: Go add Google Sidewiki to your browser. Then check out your website, your blog, and social sites that you have a profile page on to see whether anyone has commented on any of those pages. 

Unfortunately (or fortunately), you will have to start thinking about how to respond to customers online, because this tool will likely be a popular one. And that will lead to competitors' offering similar tools.

Remember when you heard that "you can't control the conversation"? That's now become reality with tools like Sidewiki. You need to familiarize your company with what this tool can do, so that you can react to feedback left for your company and, hopefully, become proactive in using Sidewiki to connect with current and potential customers.

3. Facebook

As a social-media consultant, I cringe when companies think that their social-media strategy begins and ends with launching a page on Facebook. But, at the same time, Facebook's rapidly growing user base (now over 300 million members) makes it impossible to ignore.

Why you should care: Facebook offers members the ability to create their social profile, and companies the ability to create pages. Members can also create groups based on certain topics, causes, or interests. For many people, especially those under age 40, Facebook is their primary social site. And it appears as if Facebook is trying to position itself as the one place to go for all social media needs. The site recently acquired social-sharing site FriendFeed and later attempted to buy Twitter.

While I disagree with the notion that every company must be active on Facebook (or any one social site or tool), I do think that every company must be aware of what Facebook offers.

What you should do NOW: Acclimate yourself with the Facebook environment. Join the site and create a profile just for yourself or for your business as well. Spend some time checking out its features. Make a special effort to see whether any of your direct competitors are active on Facebook, and also check for any industry-specific groups that have been created. What you want to see is whether your customers are already active on Facebook and it would be worthwhile for your company to create a place where they could connect with you, and you with them. As with anything else in social media, be curious.

4. Google Reader

If you subscribe to blogs, message boards, or other sites that offer a feed of their content, Google Reader is the feed reader that you should seriously consider using. By simply subscribing to searches related to your company and industry, it allows you to create a very effective (and free) monitoring system for your business.

Why you should care: Google Reader is not merely a robust feed reader; it also has several social elements built in. First, you can share any item/article/post that comes through Google Reader with anyone who is following you. Second, you can also choose to share that item/article/post on most of the popular social sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, FriendFeed, etc.

What you should do NOW: If you are already using another feed reader, give Google Reader a try. I was a staunch Bloglines user for years, but the social elements incorporated into Google Reader have won me over. When I write a post and it comes through my subscription in Google Reader, I can see how many people Liked it, who they were, and any comments they added about the post. It's a great way to understand how the content you create, and read, is resonating with others.

5. FeedBurner

FeedBurner is the dominant feed-management service. If your company has a blog, or if you have a personal blog, FeedBurner is a site that you must use.

Why you should care: FeedBurner allows you to distribute, manage, and track your blog's or site's feed. It will also help you promote it and add sharing functionality. It will even give you the ability to let readers email you directly from the feed. It's a wonderful tool for tracking the popularity of the content you create and for drilling down to see which content is getting clicked on more than others.

Why you should do NOW: Create a FeedBurner account and burn a feed for your blog using FeedBurner. You'll need a Google account, but since you've already created one for using Sidewiki and Google Reader, that's no problem, right? After you have created the FeedBurner account, start paying attention to the statistics related to your feed, especially your number of subscribers and how that tracks over time. I would suggest you also add an email subscription option—FeedBurner provides you the code for adding it to your blog—and track that as well.

* * *

Keep in mind that the social media space has undergone, and will continue to undergo, massive changes. If you happen to be reading this article just three months from now, it's possible that a couple of items on the list, if not the entire list, will have been replaced by new entries.

Remember that it's best to stay aware of what is happening, and changing, in the social media space. That way you can anticipate changes rather than being forced to react to them.

Ready to quickly create, implement, and measure effective social media campaigns? Check out our Social Media Series—9 online seminars that are available on demand.

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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