Much of social strategy development has been (and continues to be) trial and error. After a few years of practice in the social space, the corporations in the Fortune 100 are discovering what works – and it’s shaping the way they and other businesses connect with customers. Comparing their social activities today to two years ago reveals trends for success.

Brands are becoming media companies

Eight-seven percent of Fortune 100 are now using at least one social platform – up 10% from 2010. Twitter is the most popular, as 82% of F100 now use the network (up from 65% in 2010). The average number of followers for these corporate accounts is 14,709 – up from just 1,489 in 2010. And the average corporate Facebook community fan count is up 275% since 2010. As more companies jump on board the social train, it’s increasingly difficult to gain (and keep) consumer attention.

To keep consumers listening, brands are beginning to act like media companies – creating and curating content that’s not necessarily about the brand, but about related ideas their customer base cares about. Chris Anderson, editor in chief of WIRED magazine, said it best at our Social Summit in April: “I’ll be interested if you’ll be interesting.” Original content can draw people in and give them reasons to follow, rather than interrupting via ads or simply hawking deals to “buy” followers.

P&G’s YouTube account is currently tied to their “Thank you, Mom” Olympics campaign. The account features a mix of original mom-themed ads from P&G and their brands, and videos of real Olympic athletes thanking their moms for their support over the years.

One in four (25%) Fortune 100 companies also have Pinterest accounts. It’s common to mix product photos with photos from customers with photos of other things not about the brand, but related to the brand’s values: architecture, imagery, scenery, fashion, etc.

Corporations are going niche

Corporations have started creating more accounts to serve geographies, different services, etc. The average number of Twitter accounts for a Fortune 100 firm is now 10.1, and 10.4 on Facebook. They’re launching multiple accounts with clear, differentiated purposes like company news, customer service, career openings, support for social causes, etc.

These niche accounts allow brands to deliver content that’s more targeted and relevant to the specific interests of their followers. For example, Ford uses different Twitter accounts to serve the diverse personalities and interests of their different buyers. Compare the tweets form performance- and power-focused @FordTrucks to those from environmentally-concerned @FordDriveGreen.

Companies have stopped shouting

Far too many brands began their social forays using traditional media tactics. They’d post updates about their products, deals, news, etc., and ignore the conversation around them. The metaphor we’ve always used is a shouting salesman at a cocktail party – no one wants to talk to that guy. Small businesses were actually quicker to conform to the conversational context on social networks. The relationship-building and active listening to customers came naturally to these businesses that were already using the same tactics offline.

But after a few years, even the biggest brands have finally stopped shouting. They’re sparking conversations with consumers, responding to comments, and sharing others’ opinions rather than just their own. Nearly eight in 10 (79%) Fortune 100 Twitter accounts now retweet, @mention, and @reply other accounts. And 7 in 10 (70%) of these corporation’s Facebook pages respond to comments.

Learning from the past to discover what’s working can reveal what will work tomorrow. We pulled these stats from Burson-Marsteller’s “Global Social Media Check-up 2012.” The full slide deck is below.

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