The future of social media is evolving and consumers have increasingly turned first and foremost to digital media, both at home and on the go. Beyond just social media, customers are deeply engaged with products and services across the entire digital space—and it’s by choice. They’re using multiple outlets to ask questions, give feedback and share and connect with others, and dictating when and where they interact with products and services. And as a result they’ve come to expect a response from businesses at all times and from everywhere. But what does this mean for businesses going forward? Quite a lot, actually.

We’ve entered into a new era in how we interact with our customers. It’s no longer enough that a strong marketing initiative will turn consumers into customers. If brands want to stay relevant in the digital era, they have no choice but to adapt. Social media is more than media - it’s a cultural shift. While conventional wisdom holds that people don’t want businesses to encroach on their personal lives, that’s far from the truth. Many customers today are utilizing multiple outlets, not just Facebook and Twitter, to ask questions, give feedback and share and connect with others, and are personalizing their experiences whenever possible. 40% of consumers have become a fan of a product or service on social networks, 26% of consumers have followed a brand on Twitter, and 73% of consumers have posted a product or service review on websites like Amazon or Yelp. That’s why today 80% of small businesses are using social media to handle their marketing and sales.

But just being on social media isn’t enough. For businesses to digitally connect with today’s customer, they must not only stand for something but also do something. To have an impact, businesses have to find other ways to connect with customers to turn them from passive reactors to advocates. One of the significant drivers in social media for businesses is engagement - using digital media to connect with people, hear what they want, what they think, how a product or service worked or how it didn’t. Think about what resonates with your audience and whether or not you’re posting “clickworthy” and compelling content that will raise awareness and get attention. The other significant driver in social media is customer service. Many consumers following brands are also customers, which is why smart businesses are using helpdesk software to solve customer’s problems and answer questions instantly. Also, some businesses like Starbucks and American Airlines offer exclusive deals and tips to their digital audiences so they can drive awareness and sales.

The future of social media will offer many exciting, new opportunities for businesses to connect with their customers. That’s why today’s businesses must rethink their future strategies and shift most of their marketing efforts towards engaging with customers. No business is going to strike out by opening the lines of communication with its customers and marketing to them in a personal, caring way that makes them feel valued. Positive brand experiences creates customers, and experience not only matters to customers - it drives results to the bottom line.

Alex Hisaka works in Marketing at Desk.com. You can find her on Twitter at twitter.com/alexhisaka