Brand As Broadcaster
In this dynamic world of "social media" that we're all gushing over, it's healthy to remind ourselves that most brands are still acting as "broadcasters"—dishing out content, information, products and services to people. In some cases we're helping brands continue this model when we produce things like "branded entertainment"—content modules which get pushed out to audiences in perhaps multiple mediums or "channels". But it's still a top down approach. The brand manufactures the messages and figures out how to get that message out wherever there are eyeballs to take it in. It's more realistic that although this model has become less effective as people have become more empowered, it's probably not going away.
Brand As Facilitator
What some brands have chosen to do is to act as "facilitators". This means that like any good facilitator, they get off center stage, move over to the side and let others do the talking. But just like any good facilitator, the brands who succeed in this direction need to master it as an both and art and science. Good facilitators know how to actively listen, how to create environments which stimulate productive conversations and interactions and most importantly they add incredible value even though they may come across as the least vocal in the group. Brands now have the opportunity to empower influential voices who reach others. They have the opportunity to leverage the "brand ambassadors" who are likely already out there. And in the possible scenario that there aren't any—a brand can still become visible in the online conversations that are likely happening about it or topics relevant in it. Some people believe that good facilitators are "invisible"—I believe you always know they are there, you just feel comfortable talking around and with them.
I don't believe brand as "broadcaster" is going away any time soon, but I do think the exciting challenge which lies ahead of us is to figure out what tactics actually work in the "brand as facilitator" category. It's something I've been chewing on the last few weeks. If you've got some examples of the latter, I'd love to hear about them.