A colleague and I were talking about a brand the other day. That’s not surprising. We do that professionally every day. And which brand it was isn’t important. What is important though is how impressed we were with one particular commercial that had been recently introduced for the brand.

The thing was that we hadn’t actually seen the ad – not in the traditional sense of the word “seeing,” if the first image that entered your head when you thought about seeing a commercial is sitting in front of an HDTV watching a commercial break. How we saw this ad was completely personal: my colleague’s daughter had tweeted her a note to check a posting she’d made on her Facebook wall for a link to the YouTube-located commercial that she’d had been alerted to by a co-worker on LinkedIn.

BTW, it was a great ad!

And if that seems a bit round-about, there are two things you ought to know: first, the entire interaction from start to finish took less than 4 minutes, and that included the commercial being watched twice (once by the daughter and once by us) and an additional comment being posted by my colleague who alerted her son in another city in another time zone. Second, more and more this is how real brand communication and engagement is taking place – at the speed of the consumer.

Social media marketing and the various connecting tools currently available to brands can be extraordinarily useful in opening channels of communications between brands and customers. The story just told about my colleague and the commercial features, in a starring role, engagement with various platforms to get to a brand message. But let us be clear about the distinction that must be made: that is engagement with social media and consumer-generated content forums. It should not be mistaken for brand engagement--even if engagement with those platforms did result in the delivery of an entertaining brand message.

One can easily see the attraction – and potential velocity – of using tools like social media when it comes to branding efforts, and some have more loyal “friends” than others. According to the Brand Keys 2011 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, here’s how Social Networking Sites rank, when it comes to loyalty:

1. Facebook

2. MySpace

3. LinkedIn

4. Flickr

5. Twitter

But these tools should never be mistaken for the end product. Like any great conversation, it can be a part of growing a relationship, but it's the relationship itself that matters. And that means not stopping at engagement with platforms and programs. It means engagement with the brand – and maximizing those platforms based on what really drives engagement with the brand.