For some folks, not having a presence on social media seems to be a point of pride. If you fancy yourself as “living off the grid” – not in the true sense, since you love your Keurig and BBC America, but in the “I don’t take my iPhone to the toilet and I also don’t have a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram account” sense – that’s all well and good, particularly if you are 30-something and living in your parents’ basement. However, if you are a business owner thumbing your nose at a proven marketing platform because you’ve already got a fancy website and also YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME, INTERNET AND MILLENNIALS! then we just have to ask: you know they’re talking about you anyway, right?

Really, if you think you aren’t on social media, you’re wrong. You’re on there all right – you just aren’t controlling the message. If you aren’t proactive in controlling your message, someone else will do it for you and as a result your message is likely to be reactive.

Proactive or reactive: there’s really not a choice. Take control or spend your time doing damage control, because the noisiest folks are the ones who have a beef. Your product or service may be impeccable, but the one time something goes sideways you can be damn sure an unhappy customer will take to social media to air their displeasure. Everything you think you are doing well … well, someone else will have a different story.

Social media channels are vehicles for bragging and promoting. The more you flood your Facebook page or Instagram account with all that is glorious about your product or service, the more likely any comments about negative experiences will be buried. But when a negative comment or review happens, you will have a platform to respond. Consider social media a mirror to reality. In real life, you wouldn’t ignore a customer complaint; neither should you ignore one online. In real life, the dispute likely would be between just you and the customer; a complaint on social media has reach. Choose to ignore it at your own peril or exploit the opportunity to engage and take control of the message.

Still not convinced that social media is a crucial aspect of any marketing campaign? Consider this:

If a restaurant patron doesn’t snap a photo of a thoughtfully curated artisanal amuse bouche, post said #Foodporn and tag the restaurant on Instagram, was there every really an amazing bite-sized appetizer? Ummm, no. The internet warns: Pics or It Didn’t Happen. You can’t tag a ghost, and that’s a missed opportunity for a business. Proof of experience is vital, particularly to the millennial demographic, whether it is a vacation or a workout, an exceptional meal or a wedding. And when someone posts evidence they did a thing, bought a thing or ate a thing, they can directly influence your physical and digital traffic. Mentions amount to free advertising.

Hopefully the words “free advertising” got your attention. Social media is an incredibly cost-effective marketing strategy. It’s all about sharing, and shares bloom exponentially to reach potential new customers. It costs nothing to set up a social media account; your investment in it financially comes down to paying to increase your reach and whether or not you choose to monitor and engage yourself or have a pro do it for you. Either way, it is a simple and economical way of growing your business, regardless of the size of your marketing budget. It is not a substitute for traditional marketing but is a vital aspect of it. Getting on board doesn’t mean you’re bending to the will of the internet and the cool kids. It is simply a savvy business move.