Regarded merely as a hub for high school and college students just a few years ago, social media now exerts tremendous influence over the way people around the world — of all ages — get and share information. The implications for business are profound. To get a sense of what’s at stake for companies as social media platforms become even more entrenched in individuals’ day-to-day lives, consider that more than 60 percent of Internet-connected individuals in the U.S. now participate in social media platforms every day, according to a recent report by Bain & Company (Putting Social Media to Work, 2011), with Europe not far behind. Social media channels such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Renren in China, Badoo and countless others are drawing millions of people a day who want to read messages from friends, find restaurant or product recommendations, share their views on politics or social concerns, check the latest Twitter feed for news, and comment on the quality of a company’s products or service or even voice concerns about its environmental record. For businesses, social media represents both opportunity and risk. On one hand, social media provides brands with an intimate platform to connect with customers and shape their perceptions, whether through timely and targeted promotions, responsive customer service or the creation of communities of interest. On the other, social media has unquestionably shifted power to the individual, who can tarnish long-established brands with a single angry blog post or quickly coalesce vast numbers of people behind a cause. Organizations’ successes, failures and missteps are now on display as never before. While most consumer-facing companies have acknowledged this shift and begun to adapt their organizations in response — for example, embracing social media as a key platform for advertising and corporate communications — no business can afford to be complacent. Social networks will continue to change the way people act and make decisions, and business leaders need to determine how their companies should respond.