I continue to be startled by the widening gap between companies breaking new ground in social media and others who continue to dither or resist any involvement. Recent campaigns by innovative companies like Best Buy and Coke brings this separation into even more  stark contrast.

Best Buy has long been an innovator in the area of communications, so their new holiday campaign should not be a surprise. The most interesting element is perhaps the launch of their Twelpforce Twitter account – which is staffed by 2,500 sales and support folks who are available to respond to consumer questions or comments. The Twitter team/link is being promoted on a new television campaign – replacing the website address of past years. Best But is also leveraging its Facebook page to make it easier for users to ask friends for product advice, or even send email tips to relatives of your interest in certain products. In a cool twist, the company is introducing 25 tiny URLs to encourage users to send select product tips via email and social networks. Check out this New York Times article on the Best Buy holiday campaign here.

Coke is another company trying something new. Never one to do things on a small scale, the company is launching a campaign called Expedition 206, which involves recruiting amateur “Happiness Ambassadors” to travel the world through 2010 and document their quest through videos, Tweets, blog posts and so on. The final selection is being left to consumers. Check out a summary of the campaign here. Coca-Cola is no stranger to social media and already has one of the most popular Facebook pages (which apparently was created by two users) with almost 3.9 million fans. (As a side note on Coke’s bumpy path to social media enlightenment, check out this AdWeek post. )

Gap is another company with a promising holiday campaign. They are partnering with Yahoo to encourage consumers to record and send video greetings via a mobile recording studio in NYC. The clips – complete with options for customized holiday music – can then be posted and forwarded using the full range of digital channels and social networks. Consumers will also be encouraged to rank video greetings, and the most popular will win prizes. I also noticed Sears is launching a holiday-themed networking site and using widgets and text messages to flag holiday promotions. Even a traditional retailer like Kohl’s is jumping into the fray. So this isn’t the usual high-tech cast of characters.

My point here isn’t really to argue whether these campaigns are compelling or even very creative, and we’ll have to see if they deliver on their marketing objectives. But at least these companies are trying to respond to the shift in consumer habits and fitting social media into their marketing mix. True, some of these efforts may be clumsy and even ill-advised, but better to try and fail – and learn along the way – than to stubbornly stick with outdated and dubious tactics. Nobody said progress was pretty.