Edward L. Bernays is said to be “The Father of Spin,” the creator of modern public relations. For his contributions, Bernays is both vilified and honored. He was a masterful manipulator of  public image and wrote extensively about his ideas. During his long career, [Bernays lived to be 103] he profoundly affected the minutia of our spending habits in our daily lives while establishing standard practices for the public relations industry.

[Prior to World War 1] The pattern had been for firms to alter their product line or pitch to fit changing consumer tastes; Bernays believed that, approached the right way, consumers themselves could be made to do the adjusting. — Larry Tye in The Father of Spin.

This philosophy — consumers themselves could be made to do the adjusting— is shifting fast for businesses large and small. Customer review tools of  the social Web  are changing the equation of who is influencing whom. Now, because of services like Yelp, an unhappy knitting circle can gang up on your cafe. One poor hairdresser can cause an exodus from your salon. Or an increase in prices can shutter your dry cleaner. But just as your customers can walk with their feet and talk with their smart phones, you have equally amazing tools to continue the conversation with them after the cash drawer has closed and they have walked out the door.

You have Facebook, Twitter and dozens of other tools to attract potential customers, engage with the happy ones and hear the grumblers in the background and adjust if needed.

As a small business, you have the entire toolbox of social media at your command. And powering those tools is your unique brand, your reputation that you are painstakingly building over time. Branding is not a logo or an image imposed from above. Branding is your promise to deliver what is unique in your offering, whether product or service. Your brand emerges from the inside out.

Be clear on that and you can’t go wrong.

For a great read on navigating this power shift between customers and business, pick up The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk.