I was asked the other day what I thought about Skittles’ social media experiment and whether it would have lasting effects.

My response: I wasn’t sure. The buzz seems to have died down. Certainly it’s nowhere near the pitch that it was when we all first learned that Skittles.com had been turned into Twitter.

Is Skittles’ use of social media clever? Smart? A novelty? Short-term or long-term?

These are all tough questions to answer and there are a lot of ways to evaluate them. Nonetheless, it’s my opinion that Skittles’ effort, no matter how ‘clever‘, looks more like a novelty than anything else.

Sure. With little cost, Skittles created buzz. In the fast-paced world we live in that’s often very hard for marketers to do. So there’s definitely value there; maybe enough to make the effort worthwhile.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge in social media is not measuring ROI (there are plenty of ways to do that); the biggest challenge in social media going beyond buzz.

How do you take a social media campaign beyond the initial euphoria? How do you build on it? How do you keep people engaged? I think it has to do with something a lot of these experiments are missing: a coherent message.

What statement was Skittles trying to make? Who was it trying to make that statement to?

Twitter is a tool. That tool can be used to make a statement. I am still trying to figure out what statement Skittles was making and I suspect a lot of others are too.

Successful branding relies on successful messaging. The Louis Vuitton brand conveys luxury. The Toyota brand conveys reliability. The Apple brand conveys innovation.

Oftentimes a brand is associated with a lifestyle or value system and its messaging, not coincidentally, usually conveys that lifestyle and values. The reason: the message is tailored to appeal to people who live that lifestyle, who share those values.

What exactly did Skittles reinforce by turning its homepage into a Twitterstream? That’s the $64,000 question the people in charge of the Skittles brand should be asking themselves because the truth is that buzz doesn’t build, reinvigorate or reinvent brands.

A coherent message does.

I think that’s something marketers need to keep in mind when they experiment with the ever-growing world of social media. If brands see social media as little more than a cheap tool for getting some short-term attention, they might as well stay home. Branding is a long-term game.

The real potential for social media, like all forms of media, lies in the ways it can be used convey and reinforce a brand’s message. Any focus on viral buzz, PR hits or ROI outside of overarching brand strategy and brand messaging is putting the cart before the horse and selling yourself short.