A few weeks ago, I told of my college daughter’s tale of woe. After 17 years of schooling, she’s about to be thrust into the real world and doesn’t feel ready. Since that post, she scored a marketing internship at a new pet insurance company called Trupanion.

As I try and help her learn more about online marketing, it occurred to me recently that we’re transitioning in a big way. We’re traveling through a wormhole, soon to be spit out on the other side—changed forever. Marketing as we know it is over and we are about to enter a whole new universe I call social media marketing.

Gone are the easy days of clever commercials, full-page printed ads, and one-way conversations. Gone are the days of addressing faceless, powerless customers from behind the creative desk. No more “build it and they will come” websites. Check your rearview mirror-these things fading fast.

As an aside, I find it interesting that there are so many other things changing at the same time. The way we manage our environment is changing, globalization has opened the doors for anyone to sell anywhere in the world, people are finding more and more ways to connect to each other, and our economy will force us to think and act differently. What I can say with relative certainty is that we will come through the wormhole soon and things will suddenly be a lot different. Are you ready?

Whereas my daughter and her generation are learning and experiencing this new world for the first time, most of us bring the baggage and resistance to change what used to work before. The “known” is so comfortable and the unknown is so scary. But, the trip through the wormhole is happening now and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, so get on board!

Social media marketing is still young and still only a small percentage of companies are giving it a try. Most are sitting back, waiting to see how it all shakes out. In these early days, there are prices to be paid but there are also dollars to be made.

There’s great payback for getting it right– Take Dell Computers. They understood that adding social media to their marketing was not as simple as it sounds. There are technologies to set up, branding to be done, and policies to put in place. But instead of dipping just one toe in the water, Dell put themselves “all in” creating a Dell community site, a number of blogs, multiple Twitter IDs, and an active Facebook account. They have been so successful that they’ve publicly claimed they’ve made $1M in revenue from social media marketing.

There can be consequences for getting it wrong – Let’s hope it’s not on the scale of Motrin and the “Motrin Moms” fiasco. In the fall of 2008, Motrin launched an ad that depicted baby slings as fashion accessories for moms. The surprising negative backlash instantly went viral on sites like YouTube, Twitter, and several blogs. That’s enough to cause full-body paralysis in any marketer. It took a few days, but eventually Motrin put up an apology on their website. To release you from your potential paralysis, just note that even “bad” buzz can be better than no buzz. Google and Twitter activity for Motrin increased significantly for a few weeks.

Social media marketing is so fluid, you can quickly right yourself – The beauty (and the beast) in the new marketing world is its dynamic nature. Mistakes can be addressed as quickly as they were made. The Ford Motor Company was able to quickly recover from a potential PR disaster where their legal department sent cease and desist letters to forum owners using Ford trademarks. As you can imagine, these forum owners were outraged and the story became even more twisted as the news spread.

Ford was able to use social media to find out what happened, who was impacted, tell the community what happened, and inform the community about the steps they took along the way to crafting a compromise.

Poking your head out of the wormhole can be frightening. The good news is many companies are in the same boat and the winners will be those who dare to step out into the brave new world.