This guest post was written by TR member robw2205.

More than a few so-called experts won’t hesitate to tell you that measuring the result of a business’s social media effort is difficult, if not impossible. And while it’s true traditional methods of gauging return on investment may not be as effective, ignoring social media’s influence is the wrong answer to an important question. Even a quick glance at the following infographic shows just how important these new methods of communication are for all kinds of companies. More consumers are using social media to communicate and make decisions about commerce. Use this information to stay ahead of the curve.

Social media is arguably the most transformative revolution in communication since electricity-enabled radio and TV broadcasts. If that sounds dramatic, it should. We’ve yet to fully grasp the effect of social media on our interactions with each other, businesses, and government entities. But with a billion people online and smart phones comprising half of all new cell phone purchases, it’s safe to say it’s going to be huge.

One trend that’s nearly certain to continue is the business world’s acceptance and occasional embrace of social media as a means to communicate directly with customers. For example, Best Buy has 2,500 employees helping people on Twitter. Businesses are also laying down cash to get involved; corporate social media budgets are projected to grow by more than $2 billion from 2008 to 2014.

This brave new world of interaction can be a public stage for things a business does well, or a ruthless showcase of poor practices. With one word-of-mouth conversation estimated to be worth 200 TV ads, the stakes are high, and not participating is becoming less of an option every day.

But risk can render reward. HCC Medical Insurance Services’s social strategy case study (see the chart above) highlights how a large company can use social media to better serve their customers, and strengthen their business at the same time. HCC increased their social influence by over 200 percent and saw significant gains in referral traffic from prominent social media sites.

The rise of social relevance means like-mindedness, not geography, is the new proximity.  Knowledge and best practices, like using effective language and posting at peak times, are key to keeping your friends close and your competitors jealous.

For all but the most social media savvy businesses, this infographic may raise more questions than answers. But don’t worry, it’s not too late to use social media to help your business. Refer to this infographic early and often to shape your strategy. What can you take away from this chart that your company can use in its social media strategy?