During the 1992 presidential campaign in the US, Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid…”. He did this to make the case that Clinton was a better choice for president because president George H. W. Bush had not successfully addressed the economy, which had recently undergone a recession. Clinton, of course, won that election.

Nearly twenty years later the world is emerging from a period of economic turmoil that has forever reshaped important elements of the marketplace. One of the most significant changes is the movement of social media into the mainstream. This is far from surprising. Challenging economic times always induce consumers to carefully assess how they spend. Being a member of a community where you trust the recommendations of people who are real consumers is an obvious choice. Technology has allowed this to happen in a measurable way and on a global scale.

We are now in a time where the phrase, “it’s the social economy, stupid,” could well become a catch phrase for companies rather than voters. Those that ignore the opportunities social networks provide may well be putting themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

It is worth remembering that this emerging social media economy is not driven by technology. The websites and mobile phone applications that make social media communication possible are simply the enabler. As the words social media suggest, it’s all about people and who they are connected to.

Social media gives brands the opportunity to understand and communicate with their market. More importantly brands can move beyond making broad assumptions about their customers and treat them with respect and dignity. The brands that get this are the brands that will succeed in the future.