Despite all of the money companies spend on advertising, the product information that consumers trust the most tends to come from other consumers.
Thus, it's no real surprise that online retail sites got 6.2 percent of their traffic directly from social networking sites during the busy holiday shopping season, up from 2 percent in the same period of 2005, according to Hitwise.
According to MIT's Sloan School of Management, SMBs were big beneficiaries of the buzz generated by blogs and other social networking tools. Internet search engines also made it easier for them to find the right audience for their products. (And of course, blogs are becoming easier to find on such engines.)
In essence, says "The Wisdom of Crowds" author James Surowiecki in this Forbes commentary, consumers are making online communication a dialogue rather than a monologue. So companies will have to work at becoming good listeners rather than just good talkers.
Some businesses are already honing those skills, finding value in helping their customers communicate with each other on company-sponsored forums. While the owner of Bradbury Software initially created an online forum to save money on customer support, according to this Inc. article, he gets a far bigger bang from his buck with the ample product feedback generated by the forum users.