Here are my best discoveries for the first quarter of 2010 in social media for business. Actually, it’s just one incredibly valuable idea…

The Best Sales People Aren’t Working for You (Yet)!

The best sales people don’t work at your company. Fighting words? Read on and decide for yourself.

The Internet recently marked its fortieth birthday. For the first, say, thirty-eight years, it brought us an exponentially increasing tsunami of information with one big caveat. The source of much of that information was unknown, suspect, or worse.

I recently learned that 63.2% of statistics are made up. That stipulated, it turns out that only 14% of us trust the advertising and marketing being trumpeted by businesses. Shocked that people aren’t buying as soon as they discover your website? You are among the 14%.

We know what companies’ motives are (there’s no shame in capitalism) and this makes their information, well… not necessarily objective.

On the other hand, 78% of us trust peer recommendations. Some of us probably have lying, cheating friends, but on balance, apparently they’re a good lot.

During the last two Internet years we’ve seen an explosion of social networking. What’s different is that people are using their real identities now and they’re connecting principally with people they “know”, and only when there’s bidirectional agreement. Facebook has recently surpassed 400 million members (making it the world’s third largest country), while LinkedIn is approaching 60 million business professionals.

It turns out that what we’re telling each other in these networks is strongly influencing our behavior. Last summer, Sacha Baron Cohen launched “Brüno”, his highly anticipated follow-up to the blockbuster “Borat”. Facebook friends immediately trashed the movie on opening night, and by the next day it was seriously underperforming the experts’ box office projections. People crossed it off their must do lists.

Shortly thereafter, on another opening Friday, “Inglourious Basterds” (yes, that how they spell it) was described by one of my Facebook friends as “the best QT movie yet” (Quentin Tarantino, director of “Pulp Fiction” among others). As a direct result, my wife, my son, and three of his friends ended up in a theater that same weekend. Apparently this was not a unique experience as it was QT’s biggest opening weekend ever!

Back to your sales people… When they start talking, 86% of us (and hopefully not also the remaining 14%) stop listening. Or at least we stop believing.

But what if you could get your happiest customers talking about you, to your prospects and to potential customers not even on your radar? You’d be leveraging that 78% trust; that would be powerful.

While there are probably ways to orchestrate this IRL (in real life), geography, expense, and our respective busy lives impede it. But social networks can actually facilitate it.

How about using LinkedIn to have happy customers introduce and recommend you to new prospects?

How about using your iPhone or (better yet) Flip video camera to record selected customers talking about your great products and fabulous support?

How about recording an audio podcast on TalkShoe, with your customers singing your praises to the world?

It’s true; your existing customers can be your best sales people. These days, with social media it’s easier than ever to help them work for you.

One last thought and it’s an important one:  The opposite side of the same coin is unhappy customers: It’s imperative to figure out how to turn them around immediately. Search YouTube for “United Breaks Guitars” and see how a single unhappy passenger cost the airline (according to one person’s estimate) $180 million in market valuation. Don’t let this happen to your business…