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When It Comes to Social, Content Is King, Sharing Is Cool and Mobile Is the Future

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Remember that rainbow Oreo everyone and their sister shared on Facebook to endorse same-sex marriage? What about their ingenious real-time spot when the lights went out at the Super Bowl?

The world's biggest brands do too. And they want to emulate that buzz around their companies.

When representatives from the world's biggest brands and social media platforms gathered in New York last week for a conversation hosted by OMD and led by Arianna Huffington, the value of having a strong social media presence wasn't up for debate. In the new age of marketing, the world's biggest companies have come to realize a little bit of creativity can go a long way in a short period of time. Winning on social media can reap bigger rewards and cost less than many multi-million dollar campaigns.

Little things like Oreo's pithy comedic cookie spots are just one example of the type of content brands are trying to create to leverage the natural sharing already going on through social media. Whether it's a viral image, a short YouTube clip, or maybe even a mesmerizing gif, many marketing executives ready to put weight behind these projects as a significant part of their strategy.

Tone of the biggest hurdles for these executives is proving that all of this sharing translates to sales. For publishers, like the Huffington Post, the answer is a lot simpler. The sharing of content leads to a wider audience and more potential readers. But how do you prove that Oreo's viral campaigns actually caused cookies to fly off shelves?

While this is a hard question to answer for any campaign, physical or digital, in the age of iPhones, Twitter and prolific online shopping, it's hard to believe no one's put the pieces together yet. Especially with all of the statistics that are flying around. In fact, even the executives in the room last week don't know what reports to trust. Nielsen says one thing, internal reports say another and no one knows who to trust.

But everyone wants more social data. Some companies have even posited that by analyzing social data they can see results two to three weeks earlier than traditional sources. Yet without standardization, it's hard to tout social success as something meaningful.

Bluefin Labs, which was recently acquired by Twitter, is trying to do just that: create a standard for measuring social media influence on television. And this analysis is deeper than clicks and mentions. Even representatives from Facebook have acknowledged for that for the longest time these platforms had hidden behind clicks without ever fully explaining how, or if, they translate to sales. Now brands recognize that it's not just that people engage, but how they engage and what they say.

What separates social media from previous ad platforms is the tremendous amount of collateral data it produces. It allows for the analyzation of conversations that lead to actions, not just the results. By listening to what consumers are saying and how they feel about products, companies like Bluefin may be able to finally bridge the gap and tell us if all these ad dollars actually pay off.

The last piece of the equation, the thing that might be able tie it all together, is mobile. About 60 percent of Twitter's traffic comes from a mobile device, providing a huge opportunity for consumers to carry advertising right into stores to influence their decisions. There's no better space for ads to influence decisions than in the palm of the consumers hand, right in the store.

But again, even mobile measurement isn't what it should be, and without a trustworthy standard it will always be difficult to accurately asses where these efforts are paying off. Sure it's more measurable than traditional means of advertising -- and definitely more fun -- but informed decisions are ineffective if the data's not accurate. So in the new age of accountability we're only as powerful as the data we can collect.