Does this wine go with my social strategy?

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Do brands need to dabble in social media just to be there, or is presence without relevance more dangerous than absence? This is a question I had been toying with, and one for which my brain wasn't producing any satisfactory answers. So I did what I should have done in the first place: I posted it on Facebook and Twitter.

Because many of my friends and followers are not just consumers, but toil in the business of influencing consumers, I received several interesting comments. As with many advertising business conversations, it somehow came back to booze. Or more specifically, party metaphors and the responsibility of invited guests vs. those who just show up. 

If your name's not on the list, said my pal Doug Barrett of Say Media, you'd better be interesting — and it helps to be holding a nice bottle of wine. 

At the time, we were talking specifically about brand pages on Facebook, which are often narcissistic, sharing information about brands that often seem trite. In other words, acting like everyone else who posts Facebook updates. Maybe we get the marketing we deserve. Barrett feels that you shouldn't be surprised when a cola brand you've become a fan of tells you about a package design change. On the other hand, those brands that step into the conversation without invitation need to have something worthwhile to share. 

In my view, that responsibility extends to all attempts at social marketing. Brands have to understand how new technologies are changing communications and consumer behaviors. 

"I'm just dabbling" doesn't relieve brands of the duty to provide consumers with value.

I don't need or want the Gap Facebook update that tells me khakis are on sale for $35; save it for an ad. But I welcome Nike Running's tips on stretching.

It may have something to do with age. I'm fairly young, yet old enough to remember when plain-paper fax machines were cutting edge. I accept that there are high school kids who might define the price-value equation differently, but I doubt it's in any brand's best interests to come across as forced or false.

Lately, brands have started replacing Web addresses at the end of TV spots with Facebook and Twitter logos. Yet, few tell viewers what benefits they'll get from visiting those pages. It's a tactic in search of a strategy. 

There's an apparel chain store near my office that beseeches passersby to "follow our CMO on Twitter." Why? They don't say. Nor do they indicate what a CMO is, and most won't know.

Social media has transformed communications. Bant Breen, CEO of Reprise Media (a sibling company to Ensemble), says the Web is shifting from a "links-based graph to a social graph." How we find information is no longer defined solely by how it's linked together online, but influenced by how members of social communities tie it together.

That is the real promise. Not what brands say to consumers, but what consumers say to brands and how that changes the products and services they provide. Presence without relevance is just interruptive. 

Brands need to listen and learn, collect data and translate it, and use what consumers give them to improve performance. I'm a fan of that definition of social marketing.

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