Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you might have noticed that Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking platforms are becoming more and more prevalent with both consumers and businesses. Every time you watch TV, you’re likely to encounter at least one commercial that ends with the words, “become a fan on Facebook,” or “follow us on Twitter.” Sure, you can be a “fan” of any brand without blatantly declaring your love for it on your Facebook profile, but if you want to be updated on the latest product news and discussions, you might want take that commercial’s advice and hit the “like” or “follow” button.

Before social media, the most common way for customers to reach corporations was by calling or sending an email. Now discussions are being made publicly online, with companies’ social media networks becoming an increasingly popular medium for consumers to ask questions, complain, or just voice their opinions. And brands are expected to respond to these individuals – a 140-character tweet to a company is no less important than an email to its customer service department. The person in charge of these pages is often called a community manager, which is now a rapidly developing and desired profession for companies looking to implement social media and build a “community” with their consumers.

Community managers and marketers can use social media to their brand’s advantage. Old Spice had a wildly successful social media campaign over the summer that involved spokesman Isaiah Mustafa responding to individuals’ questions with funny YouTube videos. Oreo recently campaigned for the Guinness World Record for most Facebook likes to a single post (a distinction which was promptly stolen by rapper Lil Wayne). And American Idol is implementing a new system allowing audiences to vote over Facebook.

Though these are a few examples of social media done strategy done right, sometimes it can go very wrong. Some famous community manager “fails” in history include Price Chopper contacting a customer’s supervisor and requesting he be disciplined over a negative tweet about their company, Nestle deleting critical comments on their fan page, and the famous insensitive Kenneth Cole tweet: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumour is they heard our new spring collection is available on line at…”

Amidst all of the successes and failures of social media, there’s no denying that if it’s done with professionalism, tact, and diligence, it can be a very successful medium for marketing and communication between brands and fans. Probably not as successful as Lil Wayne, but up there.