UPDATE: Read Charles Frith's excellent thinking on context first.

The idea of social media holds great fascination for many marketers. But the reality often does not live up to the hype. Take Facebook for example. How many marketing efforts have you seen run in Facebook, and how many would you consider successful? Same with MySpace.

As Paul Chaney suggests, “social media advertising, when introduced to sites like Facebook, has not demonstrated satisfactory ROI”. Paul goes on to suggest that the missing piece in all this is CONTEXT. When we go to sites like Facebook or MySpace, the context in which we find advertising (in most instances) is the context which we have helped create (our own social experiences and interests). So advertising into this space is, in the main, out of sync with the experience that we expect.

But rather than seeing this as yet another social space which brands can seek to interrupt with advertising (and yes, we could easily claim that our lounge rooms are social spaces), we should rethink our approach to establishing and creating context. Reality TV does this well – bringing interactive voting into the home – which serves to connect the content of the show with the context in which viewers can participate. But again, this needs to go further – and the same applies to Facebook and other social media efforts. Using continuous digital strategy as a framework, we can see clues as to where we can go next.

We have a footprint that (should) connect audiences with your content – and with each other. You have produced content which helps create a shared experience that will allow the Auchterlonie effect to take hold. You have seen conversations begin to rise, fall and spread – and then you are into the hard part of the cycle – commitment.

The real gold of the cycle is your commitment to evolving the context in which these conversations and interactions can take place. This means injecting your own personality into the situations (as appropriate). It is about guiding the conversations in directions (and to spaces) which is most conducive to the type, style and manner of the conversation. For example, if a discussion about a TV commercial kicks off on Facebook, then it may be worthwhile pointing out links on YouTube or Vimeo.

In some instances, it may also mean thinking about how you can best aggregate these conversations. How do you make it easier to find out what is going on? How do you bring information from OUTSIDE YOUR BRAND into the mix? The only way to know this is to participate – to listen, act and react – and to turn this all into something of value to those who are involved.

And this is what is meant by commitment – to understand the emergent needs of the people who participate in your brand conversations and to provide them a service that they can find nowhere else. It sounds obvious, but it is hard to do. Good luck!