Someone asked me recently how I defined social media and I said that, all technology and buzzwords aside, social media is an opportunity for every brand to have an "over the counter" relationship with their customers.
If you were a general store owner years ago, through daily interactions with your customers, you were able to learn their names, what they liked and didn't like, how often they came in, and how much they spent. If you cared enough to ask, you also had the chance to find out why they bought what they did and what it would take for them to choose something different.
Centuries pass and things like head offices, marketing departments, and CRM strategies appear. In this new landscape, customers become demographics and pie charts instead of people with quirky reasons for doing the stuff they do. So, if you happen to be someone working on a CRM strategy in a marketing department of a head office, how do you keep in touch with the folks who pay your salary?
In my most recent role, one of my favourite parts of the job was grabbing a coffee in the morning and checking in with the conversations on our blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. There was always something new, like a question that I could easily answer and save a bunch of calls to customer service; a positive comment to boost our collective egos; or someone willing to lay out in very specific terms why we "sucked" (the best market research we could ever get). And this was at a retail brand which has a really cool policy that all of their marketing people have to do an in-store shift every month.
The lovely thing about social media is that these over-the-counter relationships are available to brands that don't even have a counter. The opportunity's the same whether you're B2C, B2B, on Main Street, or online.