Lately there have been a lot of articles pointing to growing brand interest in social media measurement. Like all marketing activity, social is now being more thoroughly scrutinized to determine if it is making a significant business impact.

What is perhaps getting short shrift in that coverage is the massive shift taking place in HOW companies engage in social – where they are active, what they are doing, and how they are representing themselves in these critical environments. Which is definitely a good thing.

In my view, there have been three more or less distinct eras in brand social:

Social 1.0 – Primarily characterized by social media listening, analytics, and customer relations management. The common denominator was RESPONSE – processes through which companies could address issues and opportunities that customers made them aware of.

Social 2.0 – In this phase, companies sought through social to cost effectively reach consumers using social platforms with highly controlled messages. In essence, treating social as a media vehicle like Print or Radio. The theme here was BROADCASTING in different venues.

Social 3.0– This important new phase has brands proactively interacting with consumers, whether through becoming part of conversations or delivering messages designed to drive consumer input and evangelism. The theme here is PARTICIPATION.

In this third phase, the very nature of how a company is presenting itself has begun to change. Part of this is driven by the rise of Twitter as an important social outlet. Since Twitter is ultimately about content and news rather than “static messaging” and offers, brands have had to adapt their voices and stream of commentary to be more human, interesting, and surprising.

Whether on Twitter or in the new Facebook news streams, brand information needs to be at least as interesting as what our friends and colleagues are speaking about. Capturing and maintaining consumer interest requires a greater focus on the consumer and thinking about what THEY want, not what we think they want or “what they don’t know they want yet.”

In my view, the final difference between this social era and the earlier phases is that brands now seem to be more comfortable sharing control of messages with users, even though they are more likely to deviate from whatever is the core brand message. To put their own personal spin on why a brand is great or valuable or worth our time. Accompanying this is a change in the way ad campaigns “work” – a sort of blending between the classic one message/one format/one tagline approach that has always characterized online and the one-off-centric approach that has, for better or for worse, typified digital. Greater variation is essential to capturing and holding consumer attention, and nowhere is this more true than social.

The very nature and character of brand social is changing. And with it a recognition that social is not “media” so much as a marketing approach.

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