Ask a dozen professionals from a variety of endeavors to define marketing and you will likely receive variations on two or three different themes. Retailers, B-to-B enterprises, service providers, Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurial start-ups — and everything in between — often view, plan and budget for marketing from unique perspectives.

But all of us, unique perspectives notwithstanding, count on our marketing investments to do one thing: contribute to a change — in awareness, in behavior, in loyalty, in habits or routines.

You may not think of or define marketing as an agent of change, but consider it. Regardless of the deliverable, from a single effort to an entire campaign, marketing is designed to instigate some type of change in the status quo. It may be about transforming a target into a client, expanding a customer’s use of your product/service line, creating awareness, or deepening loyalty to a brand. But effective marketing is, at its core, an agent of change.

Enter “Social Media”

I don’t believe any single solution is the holy grail of marketing; but the so-called “social media” options present marketers a new level of access to a critical dynamic of change — the oft overlooked (or ignored) element of dialogue.

Simply put, dialogue is the life-blood of enduring change. One-off decisions and temporary digressions can be precipitated by an event, an incentive or a compelling message. Dynamic campaigns can certainly win customers. But lasting change — the kind that lies at the heart of repeat business and customer loyalty — is the byproduct of feedback, conversations and the dialogue attendant to shared experiences. And “Social” provides a platform for numerous approaches to each of these activities.

We have long recognized the potential impact of “word-of-mouth” marketing. Get satisfied clients/customers talking about their experience with your product or service, and the marketing game changes. No longer is it the voice of the company extolling benefits; customer-originated messages have authenticity. Shared experiences resonate.

Add the element of actual real-time feedback, and you’ve tapped into the real marketing potential of social media; now you’re building relationships. And relationships trump everything. Relationship is the context for turst. Conversations that allow for questions and answers, musings, what-ifs, and even the airing of a problem — this kind of dialogue is the DNA of relationships that grow and thrive.

So when you wonder about the role of social media in a marketing strategy…or how to introduce the idea to leaders in your company…or what the best practices might be with respect to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, remember the seed that eventually gives rise to the most pervasive and enduring change your market will ever know: today’s game-changing marketing plans create shared experiences, encourage on-going dialogue, and build communities with clients and