From 1987-1997, the FOX television network aired "Married With Children," its most successful live-action sitcom to date. The show chronicled the miserable Al Bundy, a former high school football star turned women's shoe salesman. Ever since Al scored 4 touchdowns in a game for Polk High School, his life went steadily downhill. For Al, work was no relief from his miserable home life, as he would routinely make fun of his customers for his own personal enjoyment. Something tells me that if social networking and local search were around back then, there is no way Al would have been employed at the same shoe store for 11 years. Local search has proven to have a major effect on search engine marketing. For example, the other night I was looking to purchase a new pair of sneakers and I was trying to find shoe stores that I wasn't previously aware of. I did what the majority of people would do; I typed in www.google.com and searched for "boston shoe stores." Out of the 10 search results on the 1st page, 5 of them were local search websites, and the #1 ranking was held by Yelp. Now that the communication of social networking has been combined with local search, word of mouth marketing might as well be renamed "word of viral universe marketing." This should be exciting for many business owners, as they have a new source for free advertising that outreaches the scope of their previous efforts. However, notice I said this should be exciting for "many" business owners. One of the main reasons why it has been difficult to convince many businesses to embrace social media marketing is that the business loses control of its desired message. For business owners not completely comfortable with the ways of the Internet, this can be a scary thought. If a business is a respectable establishment that treats customers with respect, social media should only benefit them. However, if a business makes a habit of shady dealings and rude customer service, you better believe that they will get some horrible reviews from angry customers, which will only lead to horrible "word of viral universe" marketing. Before I started this blog entry I did some research and found that about 1900 people searched the term "boston shoe stores" last month. That means that 1900 people also saw similar results as I did on the 1st page of Google. That also means that up to 1900 people saw the 74 mostly atrocious reviews that a certain Boston shoe store received from the online social universe on Google Places alone. The reviews weren't much better on Yelp either. According to dissatisfied customers, this company's employees have done everything from not honoring returns, to belittling customers, to even flirting with a customer's girlfriend! What would be even sadder is if this company was unaware of the power of this thing called the Internet. In addition to being a respectable establishment, a certain degree of public relations needs to be present for the most effective social media marketing. Instead of trying to hide negative comments and reviews, companies should be trying to embrace them to improve their business. By conversing with customers, businesses are getting on their level and showing they care. That action alone will more than likely make up for any wrong doing the business did in the first place, and ultimately the customer will probably give the business a second chance. Luckily for Al Bundy, his company wasn't forced to embrace social media back in the 80's and 90's. If the real life version of Al Bundy is still selling shoes today, he better keep his wisecrack comments to himself.