I’ve often said that, relative to any other factor in the history of our profession, social media may have the single most important impact on the overall quality of marketing. Why? Because it holds us accountable. It has taught us that connected communities speak the truth, no matter how unpleasant that truth may be. And that lesson has made the average marketer far more discriminating about the content they produce and the campaigns they run.

When we contribute something of value, we’re rewarded with the gift of virality. When we miss the mark, we’re rewarded with another sort of gift: A reminder that the social web does not pull punches. And that’s why, as marketers, we’re driven to new levels of quality, authenticity and resonance with our audiences. We’re driven to listen, to learn, to improve, and to throw away yesterday’s tired playbook—written for a different medium—for something entirely new.

Too often, brands try to blindly force yesterday’s playbook onto social media. More often than not, these campaigns are rejected like a foreign body in the bloodstream. But the reality is that figuring out how to connect and engage with communities is a whole lot easier for brands that were born on the web. These digital natives have social marketing encoded in their DNA, while many traditional brands are sorting through generations of culture and layers of process to figure out how to effectively embrace the medium as part of their overall strategy. Part of the answer is injecting new DNA in the form of digital marketing talent. Of course that’s not the whole answer; such change requires visible, consistent and persistent commitment from the top.

But, more than anything, it requires a new way of thinking. Here are some of the new rules:

  • It’s not about you—Brands can be like the narcissist who can’t help but make themselves the star of every story. Remember: it’s not about you; it’s about your customer.
  • Don’t be boring—Deadly-dull better-faster-cheaper platitudes and the predictable problem-solution-benefit arc are recognizable as the marketers’ crutch. Live a little. Have some fun.
  • Become a storyteller—Develop a strong point of view. Elevate your value proposition to memorable themes and storylines that connect your brand with bigger, broader issues.
  • Be unexpected—Don’t always reach for the obvious trope or the tired cliché. Use humor, whimsy and unconventional thinking to reach your audience. You’ll be remembered for it.
  • Develop the eye of an artist—While important, words are no longer enough. Digital marketing is visual and the expectation is for simple, clever and soulful images.
  • And the ear of a poet—Don’t settle for the first draft. Use the poet’s techniques of economy and compression to build real meaning into every piece of content you generate.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. And this short post is by no means the final word on this important topic. In 2013, look for substantial thinking from Gartner on what it means to be a digital marketer and what it takes to make this transformation.