In 1999, software designer Clement Mok said, 'Five years ago, we thought of the Web as a new medium, not a new economy.' Nearly 10 years later, we cannot fully conceive of the Internet's potential impact on businesses. But we do know one thing -- this 'trend' has forever changed the way businesses and consumers communicate. New media has become an integral part of everyday life for a majority of business owners. And like it or not, it's here to stay.

The speed with which trends evolve on the Internet can be downright intimidating. Attempting to stay ahead of (or even six months behind) current crazes can be a daunting task, even for the most tech-savvy. That's the bad news.

The good news is small businesses often have the most to gain from implementing a new media plan. By utilizing resources on the Web, which are often inexpensive or even free, small companies can compete with larger competitors successfully and at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing and advertising tools.

Something old, something new

A thoughtfully planned new media campaign can beat big budgets. It can provide large-scale product refinement and market research through blogger feedback. It can also increase the online conversations about your brand, especially when the appropriate audiences are targeted. It allows for a quick turnaround: you post, and you receive traffic almost instantly. And by providing additional backlinks, it can positively impact your company's search engine rankings.

New media campaigns also serve as a less costly, and arguably more effective, alternative to advertising. Traditional online methods, such as banner ads, are seeing a decline in effectiveness as ad blindness increases. Or if you're squeamish about leaping headfirst into the Wiki-RSS-Facebook-Digg deep end, a new media campaign can serve as a supplement to an already established marketing plan.

Tips on implementing a successful new media plan include:

Develop a new media plan. Don't think that research, development and planning is less important for new media sites than it is for any other form of marketing and advertising. Although it may be difficult to monitor the return on investment (ROI) of new media campaigns, specific goals should always be in place in order to research ways to attain them. Ask yourself: What do you want to achieve with your content? What type of impact do you want to have? What are your reasons for using social media sites? If you are unable to answer these questions, your work is cut out for you.

Provide a way for consumers to communicate with you. Yes, really. Two-way communication provides an alternative to the traditional one-way model. Let's face it: Letters to the Editor are a thing of the past. Two-way conversations enable you to fully understand customers' needs and provide appropriate, timely responses. It is inevitable that you will receive negative comments as well as positive ones, but don't make the mistake of ignoring or dismissing your visitors' criticism. Although criticism can be frustrating, it can also be beneficial.

Be transparent. As William Shakespeare once said, 'No legacy is so rich as honesty.' Be completely honest about your product and your motives. Having hidden agendas or stretching the truth will only backfire. This includes the use of misleading images, headlines and tags that have nothing to do with the actual content. While they can attract initial clicks, most people will never return to your site if it appears that you deliberately tried to deceive them.

Add a personal touch. Automated responses and standard letters are a great way to sabotage your campaign. The value of social media is in the relationships, trust, and communications.  Remember, your customers are more likely to be influenced by a friendly (virtual) face than a faceless company.

Become part of the community. Promoting your own content exclusively will quickly earn you the reputation of a spammer and an outsider. Take time to become part of the community, take part in its dialogue and share valuable knowledge. Don't just link to your own comments, but find other helpful websites and promote content that you find interesting. Acknowledging others within the community will build trust, impress your customers and attract the attention of potential customers. Remember, you have to give to receive. Providing links to other sites will encourage others to return the favor, which can in turn improve search engine rankings.

As with any business venture, tapping into the new media sphere is nothing more than a tedious game of trial and error. Is it worth the constant battle of staying privy to emerging trends? The answer is emphatically yes.

Lisa Metcalfe is a Regional Practice Leader in the Technology Leadership Practice of Tatum LLC. Tatum is the nation's largest executive services firm, providing financial and technology leadership nationwide.