Social success has typically been about 2 key components: scale and sentiment. But I think the traditional model misses a key component. (The answer is in the last sentence of this post)
Social media is like a nos in a high performance vehicle. It can amplify the effort you're already investing, but won't do bupkis of someone isn't pushing the gas, if there isn't already supporting movement in the market.
However, social media success is not as simple as pushing on the gas. The digital conversation reflects the totality of all experiences and interactions people have had with and around the brand. The good, the bad, the ugly, the inspirational and the aspirational.
No matter how strategic and brilliant the agency or consultant, social media is not magic. Conversational activation cannot cure a poor product solution or an antedated communications practice. It takes time to change internally, and still more time to shift the momentum of the naturally occurring conversation.
The conversation is a wave of momentum, full of kinetic energy. Spraying a spray bottle at the ocean won't impact the momentum of the mass. Shift requires change and progressive activity at multiple levels. Every little action will slow the negative momentum, while hopefully introducing a positive undertow of advocacy. Advertising can serve as the wind above the waves, but unless a brand is ready to get into the water with a truly positive manner, they won't see the impact they are looking for.
That being said, change takes time. Brands with decades of experience building positive relationships with their consumers are a step ahead. Brands with decades of experience crying wolf have negative momentum to work with.
Social success is not just about scale or sentiment, there is a third dimension, Momentum.
Now you've got the golden trifecta, let's start doing it.