While you wouldn’t know it from the Pacific Northwest weather, it feels like the economic climate is definitely warming up. I’ll leave it to the research firms to come up with the “proof statements” like consumer confidence, manufacturing data and home sales. My “tennis shoe indicators” (gained by walking around and chatting) point towards an upward trend. Conversations include retailers telling me that the first four months of 2010 were the best in two years, hearing about two out-of-work executives getting jobs, and a gardener telling me several clients were starting projects that had been on hold for two years.

It’s important to consider these kinds of indicators as well, because they are a sign it’s time to think about ramping up your efforts. Too many firms are going to be in for a big surprise when they decide to ramp up their marketing, public relations and employee communications to capture new business. Why? Because how, where, and when you communicate to your critical audiences has gone through a massive change the last two years.

The change can be described in two terms: engagement and social media. While they are clearly related, they apply equally to those who tell their story online as well as those using traditional media.

Social and online media are the preferred channels for the widely discussed Millennial (or Gen Y) generation, those born after 1978 and now as old as 31. Clearly, they are a huge group impacting the workforce and the consumer mindset, with their impact crosses all industries.

The tools they embrace to communicate instantly with each other and “engage” in matters important to them have now moved to the mainstream as indicated by the explosion of the use of Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, LinkedIn and ranking sites like Foursquare and Yelp for business purposes. These tools must be among the channels you consider as you plan any new marketing, public relations or workplace outreach campaign.

However, before deciding what channel to use, I hope that you take the time to step back and ask some critical questions:

  1. How have your customers and their expectations changed over the last two years?
  2. How have the channels you use to tell your story to customers and employees changed? (Hint – if print media or television were an important part of your mix, you’ll find that many of the sources you used for advertising and public relations have radically changed.)
  3. Do you understand the rules for using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, You Tube, Yelp and Four Square?
  4. What specific approaches do you have in place to connect with and engage your customer and employees?

Armed with the answers to these questions you have almost limitless options for telling a story that will set you apart and help you connect with audiences who can help you grow.