Take National Rail for example. Adverse weather conditions can have negative impacts on rail services, but National Rail recognises the power of social media to quickly and effectively communicate with their customers during such situations.

The company uses Twitter to give a mass audience (over 93,000 followers at the time of writing) the very latest service information from all across the country, thus proactively informing their customers of the current situation and providing them with a platform for engagement.

Invaluable then, if used effectively, for helping to generate brand advocacy. For example, a study by Constant Contact and Chadwick Martin Bailey found that 56% of people are more likely to recommend a brand after becoming a fan on Facebook.

But what is often overlooked is the potential for brands to gain unique and valuable insight from the kind of data being willingly shared by consumers on social networks. If done properly, brands can use this insight to gain a far better understanding of their customers and in turn provide a much higher quality of products and services.

With over a one billion users, brands would be foolish to ignore Facebook. And on the whole it appears that companies are really starting to understand this, they’re grasping the value of social media.

Facebook in particular allows varying levels of engagement and so provides marketers with the greatest breadth of opportunities for social interaction with consumers, that other social networks potentially don’t and can’t.

It’s important that brands recognise the different levels of social interaction they can have with their customers, as this will impact on the benefits and learnings that they’re able to take away.

Brands must start out by clearly defining  what it is they want to get out of their social presence; do they want to reach as many people as possible, or perhaps they want learn more about their fans to improve future offerings?

I’ve pulled together our views on the range of options that Facebook presents for brands to interact with consumers, and how these make up the social media engagement landscape:

Broadcast social presence

A lot of brands use Facebook as a broadcast tool, as the platform lends itself well to strong content and imagery. Because of the mechanisms that run behind Facebook and its Edgerank algorithm that decides how important content is to an individual, the reach of this messaging is often low.

Coca-Cola is a big user of broadcast style content on its Facebook page, and with over 57 million likes we’d say it’s doing quite well! It provides real quality broadcast content, that fits in well with the brand which proves a massive success.

The downside here is that it’s very difficult to target individual customers, due to there being no permissible data capture. It does offer a great method for interaction, especially if the content strategy is effective.

Transient social engagement

We’re now starting to get into the data capture opportunities. This builds on the broadcast element, and still creates positive brand awareness typically offering users nothing but entertainment in return for one-off data capture.

A recent example was Heineken’s James Bond app, which supported the launch of Skyfall. Crucially, this app whilst offering entertainment was also linked to Heineken’s above-the-line activity, which strongly supports the data capture benefits.

Heineken saw a vast amount of people use and share the app with friends, demonstrating that a timely and relevant app is a strong way to drive engagement and capture some useable data.

Continual social engagement

This type of Facebook application will offer its users on-going utility, entertainment or value and provides the basis for brands to have a regular two-way dialogue with consumers.

This again can have a really strong impact on the brand positioning, but crucially, it allows the company to collect data on an on-going basis, and really learn about their customers. 

Odeon’s Facebook page has over 300,000 likes and hosts its Event Organiser app. This allows users to choose a film, location, date and time before inviting some of their Facebook friends to join, plus it allows users to book tickets and then adds it to their Facebook events area. 

The app is a strong example of a brand generating a strong reason for people to interact with their social media on a continual basis, allowing for some strong learnings for the brand.

Truly integrated social CRM

This takes the continual social engagement stage one step further, and uses all of this as part of their wider business activity. This makes social media a key component of above the line activity, and a central component of multichannel integrated marketing.

Costa’s recent activity saw them link mobile, social, TV and offline together, and acted as a real target for other brands to try and emulate.

Costa’s page now hosts videos with different users images incorporated into the TV advert, emphasising the engagement that this activity generated from bringing together a range of channels effectively.

The page also incorporates the company’s loyalty scheme (Costa’s Coffee Club) showing a real understanding for the pivotal roll social media can play. It’s no coincidence that Costa was the winner of the Grand Prix at the Data Strategy Awards 2013 with its loyalty marketing efforts.

Which of these strategies a brand opts for will vary, and indeed should vary according to their business needs and position. It is vital however that not all companies are satisfied with simply having a Facebook page.

This broadcast opportunity will work best for some, but for a lot of others, the opportunity to incorporate this data into wider business activity should not be ignored. After all, if you can create content that people are going to want to use or view, then that can only benefit both parties.

So 2013 has seen many people come out and shout about the importance that social data is going to have this year. In many ways, they’re right, but one critical factor that many are forgetting is that collecting social data on its own is only half an answer, it’s how that data is used that will provide the real value.