Businesses need new ways to connect with customers due to the spiraling costs of good customer service and the power of social media to make or break a company’s reputation. You may realize that there are a lot of people who are using social networks but you may be surprised to see how many actual active users there are. “Active users” is the number to pay attention to because free signup means a significant percentage of users create a partial profile and forget about it.

Here are the numbers from a few of the most active social networks from Digital Marketing Ramblings…, updated this week.

Ebay: 100 million active users
Facebook: 1.06 billion monthly active users, 680 million mobile users
Google+: 343 million active users
Twitter: 200 million active users
WordPress: 74 million blogs
Youtube: 1 billion users, 4 billion views per day
Pandora: 175 million registered users
Pinterest: 48.7 million users
Rovio (Angry Birds): 1.7 billion downloads, 263 million monthly active user

Two of those stats, for Ebay and Angry Birds, seem out of place on this list as they are not social media platforms. One is an online store and the other is a game, but both use advertising and act as an online meeting point for social networks to share information, opinions and referrals.

Think about these three ways that successful companies are using social networks to build market share and drive new business.

1. Customer service – allow customers to contact you by Facebook and Twitter and dedicate someone to responding within a reasonable about of time through email alerts. There are several programs that search social networks for mentions of your company or keywords related to your business so you can go proactive and join the conversation about trending topics.

2. Influence marketing – find someone that has positive things to say about your company and foster their growth as an online influencer with special perks and inside information.

3. New product launch and A/B testing – instead of spending a significant budget on traditional media build awareness of a new service or line of business, send up some quiet trial balloons on social networks first. The film industry is using this tactic with releases glimpses of new movies and production details on twitter, building a buzz. There is nothing the drives demand like making something exclusive. Also, social groups are a great place to test A and B versions of something new before making the final launch decision.

So start expanding your prospect pool and start experimenting with social networks now. In any case, to survive in today’s marketplace, a business must learn to use social networks at least as well as the competition.

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