There was a time when advertisers told American consumers what would make them whole. During the mid 20th century, consumers were bombarded with the idea that a new vacuum, shiny appliance or classy cigarette would make their lives perfect. Every woman saw images of the perfect homemaker and every man saw that “keeping the wife happy” required the newest consumer goods, regardless of need. Keeping up with the Joneses was deadly important and advertisers made sure to reinforce the concept. Yet, things have changed in the market and social media has lifted the mask on many advertising claims.

Professional communicators must now listen more, hard sell less and meet consumers in this new, even ground know at the social space. No more do Mad Men create the want. Instead, effective advertisers gauge consumers’ wants via social media and look to supply the answer to those needs.

What makes social media unique and appealing is that it frees us from unilateral communication. It challenges the traditional power dynamic. Delivering a message to the masses is no longer reserved solely for those with economic clout. Gone are the days of advertising messages being unchallenged in the marketplace. Gone are the days of a consuming-without-care public. Gone are the days of a single, company-crafted ‘message’ moving through the masses.

While social media has spiraled into a wave of epic proportions during the last decade, the swell appears to be far from over. Consider for a moment, the numerous roles social media fills within our lives – companion, news source, city guide, party planner, scrapbook, dating service and the list goes on. In the corporate world it serves as customer service and support, lead generation, PR, HR, collaboration tool, opinion pollster, competition spy and, of course, advertising.

This seismic shift has already occurred and for many the rebuilding process has begun. While the shape the of the current landscape is taking two different forms, the future skyline seems primed for residence by only those willing to take risks and increasingly include the public as willing partners in the brand building process. While a number of standouts presently rise higher than the majority, the ones worth examining are those with truly unique approaches that encourage genuine interaction.

My Starbucks Idea is a great example of engaging consumers and asking for feedback. In addition to crowdsourcing great ideas, the site also encourages lateral communication between users through voting and commenting. What makes this site work well is that the community has two dedicated moderators called “idea partners” who post on every idea that gets submitted, in an effort to further communication.

Tweet Pie, The World’s Shortest Recipe Book was a campaign started by European kitchen appliance company Belling which asked users to tweet recipes using the hashtag #tweetpie or submit 140 character recipes via the company’s website. Fifty recipes were selected from the campaign and put in the resulting book, which was sold, with profits going to FoodCycle, a charity feeding the hungry in the UK.


L’Oreal learn the lesson in 2005 that creating a blog out of thin air was destined for failure. One of the company’s French laboratories allowed an advertising agency to post blogs under the guise of “Clair,” a real woman who used the Peel Microabrasion. Only problem was, Clair wasn’t a real woman, she was invented by the advertising agency and the backlash forced the company to revamp the blog.

Anthony Wiener, need I say more?

The American Red Cross and Chrysler are both examples of how staffers can confuse work and private accounts to the detriment of the brand.