The changes that we are experiencing in the global economy are clearly challenging the way that we go about the business of branding. Funding is drying up, consumers are driving a range of new approaches to the content we produce and the manner in which we consume it, and agencies struggle to clearly plan and execute engagement strategies that generate tangible returns to their clients.

adtechpanel Even the social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo and so on continue to frame their conversations around eyeballs, traffic and reach. This myopia seems to have come out of the publishing industry – where social networks have taken and tweaked a publishing business model – but not taken the time to reinvent a market from the ground up.

At the Ad:Tech Sydney social media panel discussion featuring representatives from Friendster, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Bebo, I asked whether the social networks will continue to aim to be all things to all people, or begin to build their own niches. And while there was no clear answer here – my view is that the challenge for the platforms is to act as a FRAME of reference for their audiences.

I suggested in It’s Not a Filter, It’s a Choice, we are increasingly turning to the people in our social graphs to help us determine the relevance of all types of data circulating around us. In support of this self-segmenting approach, we are also seeking out tools that can augment and extend our social networks in meaningful ways – see Twitter + TweetDeck as one example.

Unfortunately, the real value in these social networks seems to be unrealised by those who own and operate the platforms. As time goes on they all seem destined to  morph into Web 2.0 enabled publishers aiming to sell eyeballs to advertisers without a whiff of deeper engagement. But really, what WE need is not another platform being thrown at a broken business model – we need a platform that will help us FRAME and re-frame the vast sea of knowledge / ideas / innovation and dross that inundates our social graph every day. We need help dealing with the friends, acquaintances, contacts, connections and colleagues who are now intimately aware of our thoughts, activities, actions and reactions. We need help with the complex world of interactions that social networks have created.As Jeff Dachis, founder of Razorfish said at a discussion hosted by David Armano at SXSW:

"I know who my friends are. What's confusing us is how the Web is strengthening our loose ties"

Providing cross-platform identity management, however, means relinquishing the prized user and trend data that the social networks hope will turn into a new river of gold. In my opinion, the time of a classified-driven river of gold has now passed – and will never be again. The new river of riches lies buried there in the conversations, just waiting for the right platform to sieve it the right way.

It’s not the eyeballs, perhaps it’s not even the glasses – but social media is challenging us all to look at this world in a new way. And that can’t be a bad thing.