I remember being a teenager and hopping on my bike for the mile-long journey to work. As I would climb the last hill, a huge billboard would slowly emerge over the horizon. I would stare at it intensely every day, distracting myself from the burning pain in my legs. I would always think: Why do they change it when they do? Who decides what to put on it? Why would they put that up there?

We spend most of our lives being marketed to. Everywhere we go, we see ads for everything from cars to canned food. As technology has changed, we also have evolved. Nowadays, there is a computer in nearly every home and 80 percent of Americans use social media networking sites. How is this different from the days on my old Huffy?

The old market model has not vanished, but it has definitely been pushed down the list. In the past, marketing had a one-way message, a call to action. You sat in front of the television, and the ad told you to buy. You could either decide to buy or not.

Today, if you are interested in a product or service, you can go online and research it yourself. No longer must you ask your neighbor if by chance he’s heard of a new widget. You can go online and find out everything about the widget: what customers think of it, where to buy it, etc.

For companies, social media is a chance to build a relationship with the customer. In the old model, marketing was a one-way street. Social media has leveled the playing field. Now, consumers have the power to control and shape the message being delivered. This is a paradigm shift, a revolution.

The power of social media has not yet been fully realized. How far will it go? We will have to wait to see. But as we move farther into the age of technology, it becomes clearer and clearer that to remain viable, businesses must grab the reigns of the social-media beast and ride it all the way to success.

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Amy McIlwain is a professional speaker on social media and president of Financial Social Media, an online marketing firm specializing in the financial industry. She can be reached through her website at www.financialsocialmedia.com  and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.