To be successful in social media, not only do you need to know your audience, you need to be able to “Count On Your Network.”

What does this mean exactly? For businesses, it means growing a network of loyal users who will talk honestly and passionately about your brand on sites like Facebook and Twitter and in the blogosphere. Done right, your business will be able to count on your network to give you feedback, ideas and ultimately act as unofficial brand ambassadors.

You’ve likely heard about different brands that have had to pull products from shelves or redesign their redesigned logos due to negative consumer reaction. In October, we wrote about the viral uproar around Gap’s new logo .

Within 24 hours of introducing the new logo, Gap loyalists across Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere were enranged with the redesigned logo. Gap could have ignored them, but wisely Gap did just the opposite. Gap asked their fans and followers for new design ideas to replace the old and new logos. In fact, Gap began referring to it as their “crowd-sourcing logo project.”

This shows that when you listen to your network, you create relationships with them. These relationships turn into engagement opportunities, which in turn can develop into opportunities that generate profit.

Another example of counting on your network is the launch of the new 2012 Ford Focus through a program called Focus Rally: America.

Here, Ford takes social media relationships and engagement to the next level. Starting in February, five digitally-savvy teams will compete in a 5-week cross-country road rally. Along the way, they will face a series of different challenges and will need to rely on their social media networks to help them win.

The entire race will be captured by a team of Emmy-winning producers and will air on, the online video network.The ultimate prize is $100,000 and ten brand-spankin’ new Ford Focuses for the winning team and the people from their network who helped them.

Much like successful reality television series’ such as American Idol and The Real World, Focus Rally: America is holding live casting sessions all across the nation giving the show an unscripted touch. As Ford creates buzz for the Rally and uses it as a mega-engager, they will be growing an engaged network of fans and followers.

Down the line, that network will come in handy for Ford when it needs to count on its own network.