Brian Solis is the author of the new book, The End of Business as Usual. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. AT&T has sponsored the following blog post.

As you’ll no doubt read here over and over again, social media is important to your business. If you don’t engage on Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube, you’ll eventually go out of business. At least that’s what the experts will have you believe. Fear tactics are not so much as effective in business or defining customer relationships as they are at creating a sense of [contrived] controversy.

I must be honest with you however. While social media is indeed a game changer, it is not the magnum opus of your legacy. I would like to introduce you to what really is important…your customers. Allow me to be a bit more specific. This isn’t just about your customers. This is about how a growing number of your customers are changing how they influence and are influenced, how they communicate and connect, how they learn, discover and share, how they make decisions and how they take action.

See, we often think about social media as the conduit to engagement. It is after all, where attention is focused. So why wouldn’t a presence on any one of the most important social networks cinch our future relevance in business?

The answer lies in how we view their worth in the customer ecosystem. We assume to extremes. These networks will either make us or they are completely irrelevant. The problem though is in our perspective. You are a small business owner. You are an executive or a manager within a small-to-medium sized business. You are an entrepreneur. You have a responsibility to not only your business, but your employees, vendors, and also your customers equally. To see them through one lens is well, too clouded. But to see people for who they are and what defines them, that’s where the future of relevance begins.

Customer behavior is changing. It’s not about one segment nor is it about a collection of targeted demographics. It’s about the emergence of a new class of consumerism. How is this different than the consumers that you’ve known over the years? For starters, they’re connected. I mean, they’re incredibly connected. Yes, they’re on Facebook and Twitter. They’re even using some of the most obscure social networks that you’ve never heard of. But, it’s more than that. It starts with the technology that binds people together. Smart phones, tablets, ultra portable laptops, and whatever’s next, technology is becoming an extension of humanity. For the time being, it’s not everyone.

There is a new group of consumers who are far more connected than everyone else and they’re unlike the traditional consumers we’ve come to know over the past. Your first guess might be that I’m talking about the Millennial. After all, I think they’re born with a smart phone and a Facebook account. What I’m referring to is something altogether bigger than any demographic.

This is the dawn of Generation-C, where “C” represents a connected society based on interests and behavior. Gen C is not an age group, it’s a lifestyle. While social networks are the fabric of online relationships, it is how technology affects everyday activity. What’s most important for you to understand is that Gen C is different. In some ways, they’re different from you and me. They put the “me” in social media. They’re always on. They rely on the shared experiences of strangers to guide their actions. And, they know that other Gen-C’ers rely upon their shared experiences to find resolution.

What does this mean for you?

If you look at the total market for customers, Gen-C today is different than the traditional or digital customers that we cater to today. For some of you, Gen-C is a small, but not insignificant share over your current opportunity.

Nevertheless, that was then and this is now. You’re not competing as much for the present as you are for the future. In the grand scheme of traditional, digital, and connected consumerism, only one of those segments is growing.

As you think through your businesses objectives and strategies to realize them over the next year, think about the customer experience for Gen-C. Walk in their shoes. Learn how they connect and communicate. Discover how they discover. Uncover their preferences and expectations, and more importantly, what they value.

Indeed, there’s an app for that.

The chances that new customers will find you through traditional channels grows fainter every day. That’s not as ominous as it sounds. Opportunity is abundant; you just need to step outside of the comfort zone. The only thing that separates you from connected customers is your view of them, their awareness and the channels that they rely upon for engagement and fulfillment. The rest is opportunity and the relentless pursuit of engaging, creating remarkable experiences and delivering value.

The truth is that connected customers or Gen-C are only becoming more pervasive in society and ultimately your economy. Now is the time to recognize how your customer landscape is shifting and to what extent traditional and connected consumers discover and make decisions differently.