Much to the chagrin of the rest of the McCarron tribe, my foray into social media began about a year ago when I started dabbling in the world of Facebook and LinkedIn. I had loads of fun catching up with pals and even picked up some deals by rekindling old business relationships.

However, the real power of social media and its implications for the trucking industry didn't hit me until this past spring. I was blown away as I watched ordinary people armed with only the weapons of social media change the world. They accomplished in months what billions of dollars in military spending failed to do in years — wipe out three Middle East tyrannies and protest regimes in a dozen more.

I don't think Facebook and Twitter are fundamentally changing our business. We still move freight on trucks, and shippers still want good service and better prices. But it is revolutionizing how people talk — and hear — about our companies.

According to an Accenture study, only 8% of U.S. companies “extensively” use social media even though 65% of marketing executives say social media is important to their companies' future success. The survey, of 200 respondents from large ($1 billion-plus) companies, found that only 5% formally integrate social media with other customer and marketing initiatives. About 25% said they were only “slightly engaged” or “not engaged at all” with social media.

The days of companies controlling and even hoarding information are over. Now anyone can be Andy Rooney. If you mistreat a customer, he'll take his complaint online where it will live forever. What will you do when it happens to you? In a MarketTools study of 330 marketing executives, 95% of respondents said satisfied customers are very important or extremely important to their company, yet only 8% regularly respond to customer complaints online.

Maybe they don't want to show their weaknesses or vulnerabilities. On the other hand, sharing a problem and how it was solved can build trust. And trust is still the key to a successful relationship, one of the few things Facebook hasn't changed. If your five-day service was six days last month, you'd better tell people before they tell the world, and explain what you're doing to get back on track.

It isn't enough for trucking companies to just be on social media. You need to figure out why you're on it and how it can help you sell freight. A study by Gary Breininger & Associates found that supply chain professionals spend an average of 17 hours a week online. Not a huge surprise to me. What caught my attention is that 58% of respondents said they use it is to source suppliers.

They're visiting your web site, checking public records, and reading whatever else comes up with your name on it, including blog posts, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages. Social media may not translate into a direct sale, but what customers read will influence their decision to call you up or skip on down to the next search result.

The best way to attract and retain good employees these days is to embrace these changes and make them an integral part of your corporate culture. You can't fight it or ban it anymore. In fact, you need to use the available social media tools and your employees as sources to gather innovative ideas and improve your bottom line. I would wager that your top sales producers are using LinkedIn to build your business. It also means they have an online resume for all your competitors to see.

As you plan for the year ahead, talk about how to monitor social media and which outlets are most important. Start with Facebook and Twitter and move on to Yelp, Yammer, Jive, or whatever platform is new as you're reading this. Then Google yourself. I bet your prospects and competitors already have.

Mike McCarron is managing partner at the MSM Group of Companies, which specializes in transportation and logistics service between Canada and the United States.