On August 27th of this year, Facebook Inc. (FB) announced that it had surpassed 1 billion users a day. This milestone not only reiterates the growing popularity of social media on a global scale, but also the immensely lucrative monetization opportunities available on social networking platforms. It comes as no surprise that more and more firms are integrating social media into their fundamental business activities, ranging from content marketing initiatives to customer service and interaction, and utilizing the ubiquity of social media as part of their core businesses.(See also: How Facebook, Twitter, Social Media Make Money From You and A Look Into The Digital Advertising Industry.)

Content Marketing Through Social Media

GoPro Inc. (GPRO) and Redbull GmbH, through the use of their profiles on Instagram, Facebook and Youtube, have mastered the art of delivering strategically-focused content aimed at attracting a younger demographic of extreme sports enthusiasts.

A quick browse of GoPro’s Instagram and YouTube accounts will showcase the hundreds of hours of user-submitted content featuring all sorts of death-defying stunts captured on GoPro’s line of HD cameras. In a sense, the popular camera maker has been a veritable case study on how to harness the power of crowdsourcing to not only raise awareness about a brand, but also to benefit from their consumers’ passion for the product by integrating it into a successful marketing campaign. Redbull on the other hand has coordinated or sponsored a multitude of extreme sports events, which are then documented and distributed to the 43 million subscribers of the energy drink maker’s Facebook page. Cliff diving aside, Redbull also manages to skillfully showcase its support for the arts by creating separate Instagram accounts for Red Bull Music Academy and the Red Bull House of Art. Through the use of produced and user-generated content, these companies have not only managed to reach out to their target demographics, but have also firmly established themselves as fixtures in the extreme sports crowd and while promoting creativity and active lifestyles.

(See also: GoPro & Extreme Sports' Hella Gnarly Relationship)

Advertising and Customer Interaction Through Social Media

Granted, not everyone is inclined towards action sports; back flips or not, brands such as Coca Cola Inc. (KO), Johnson & Johnson, Inc. (JNJ), Starbucks Corporation (SBUX), McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) and Nike Inc. (NKE) have become fixtures in our everyday lives. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that these household names have massive social media followings (see chart below).

It is also unsurprising that these brands have taken advantage of their large social media presence through advertisements, user-generated content and interaction with their customers. For example, both Nike and Johnson & Johnson have launched two immensely successful YouTube ads. Nike Football’s “The Last Game,” featuring the most popular soccer players in the world, has amassed a staggering 88 million views to date, while the stereotype shattering “Like a Girl” ad by J&J has been watched 59 million times, and spawned a successful hash tag campaign.

On the other hand, making the most of its nearly 40-million-strong latte-sipping fan base is Starbucks, whose Facebook page not only features regularly updated unique and inspiring content, but also has a tab for nearby store locations. Love the smell of freshly brewed espressos so much that you want to don the green apron? Then you’re in luck, because there is also a direct link to apply as a barista at any one of Starbucks’s 23,000 stores worldwide.

And on the customer-interaction front, both Coke and McDonald’s have utilized social media to reach out to their international following. As estimated by Simply Measured, 83 percent of Coke’s tweets were direct replies, and its crowd-sourced “Share a Coke” campaign, which featured personalized names on Coke bottles and cans, was a huge success that enjoyed 998 million impressions on Twitter Inc. (TWTR) and lead to sales of over 150 million personalized bottles being printed and sold worldwide.  

Noticing a paradigm shift towards healthy foods, McDonald’s took it upon themselves to launch a Q&A campaign through social media in October of 2014, encouraging customers to send in their most probing questions, ranging from the sources of the Golden Arches’ beef to its treatment of animals. This transparency initiative came on top of the direct customer interaction already provided by the fast-food giant through their social media channels.

Integration of Social Media

It’s not just content marketing and customer interaction that is leading companies to integrate social media into their ecosystems. Companies like Airbnb have taken advantage of the ubiquity of social media, by using the Facebook, LinkedIn Corporation (LNKD) and Google+ (GOOG) profiles of as part of the ID verification process, prior to applying for a room rental. Mobile gaming companies like Zynga Inc. (ZNGA), and more recently King Digital Entertainment (KING), would never have achieved their initial level of success if it weren’t for the incessant sharing of titles like FarmVille and Zynga Poker across Facebook. Finally, customer relationship management (CRM) firms, such as cloud-based Salesforce.com (CRM), recognize the power and allure of social media marketing tools, and in November of 2014, launched the Social Media Studio, which allows its users to create, publish, monitor and analyze marketing campaigns across social platforms.

The Bottom Line

Social media advertisement spending is expected to reach $36 billion globally by 2017. Never before in history have companies been able to track, analyze and interact with their target audience on such a personal scale. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks, companies have pursued successful content marketing and crowd sourced initiatives, as well as advertising campaigns within this growing and highly lucrative space. Furthermore, as technology advances and expands across the world, we will begin to see more firms, like Airbnb, approach social media not just as an advertising tool, but as an integral aspect of the firm-wide ecosystem.