Social media technology – or Web 2.0 – has been around for several years now, and for most organizations debate on social media activities has shifted from if to how.  Despite an accumulation of case studies and ubiquitous social media “experts” selling their wisdom, however, many organizations are still struggling to define and execute a viable strategy.

Brian Solis, a thought leader with Altimeter Group, recently published a helpful checklist of best practices for brand building in social media.  Beyond the useful tips, Solis highlights some of the common challenges – and shortcomings – of social media activities in the marketplace. Perhaps most notable is the stubborn focus on marketing – impulsively building branded properties across social channels primarily to promote the brand and spur sales – at the expense of relevant content and sustained engagement. This myopic approach fails to consider the ultimate litmus test for any social media strategy: is the activity/channel providing relevant, long-term value to targeted consumers? Not surprisingly, there is still a strong “push” reflex to many of the social media programs.

But lack of strategic focus and self-serving outreach are not the only problems. In my experience, the biggest and most surprising shortcoming is the lack of originality and innovation in the social media activities of many organizations. Many programs are tentative forays (branded Facebook pages) using obvious, safe paint-by-number templates. But for those who are interested, and motivated, there are plenty of successful, smart programs that go beyond the ordinary and manage to break through the noise. As one example, check out Secret’s anti-bullying campaign – Mean Stinks. As noted in this AdAge article, while many of the ingredients (channels) in the campaign are fairly typical, the recipe of multi-media tactics and content is original and fresh (no pun intended.)  Included in the mix are a “good graffiti” app, referral info for counseling centers, a donation tie-in and the ability to upload personal video apologies or complaints. The result has been rapid growth in fans/friends, strong repeat traffic and a notable boost in Secret deodorant sales. (The program included links to purchase P&G products – a reminder that an appropriate link to sales platforms can be part of the mix.)

So what can we learn from this? While many organizations need to spend the time developing robust, focused social media plans, they can’t forget to add the pixie dust of creativity. That will help ensure they break through the noise and truly engage with their customers and fans. Smart, memorable marketing apparently never goes out of fashion.