Many of us follow certain planning models or methodologies when developing our integrated communications programs and campaigns.

The fundamentals of best-practice strategic planning remain constant. But how we construct and choreograph our communications effort is changing.

Our programs today must drive a bi-directional conversation. We know that creating engagement and collaboration with your prospects and customers via social marketing is key to sales and retention success.

That being the case, consider:

Could “social” play an even greater role, in how we strategically develop communications programs?

Should our planning models now include a “social overlay” that enables even greater customer and prospect engagement?

Can we leverage new social technologies to create two-way communication in all elements of our campaigns and programs?

I think the answers are yes, yes and yes.

A lot of this depends on target audience and objectives, but “social” is becoming the new standard for our work. It is no longer just an important component of your program. It may soon be an “overlay,” a driver, to all elements of your communications program — including traditional media.

There is now a wave of social technologies that allow us to create real-time, two-way communication within offline elements, like TV, radio and print. Email marketing companies are starting to offer sharing features that allow users to quickly and easily exchange information with peers. Sponsorships are now being packaged with a social element to increase engagement. We increasingly use social tools to conduct market research. And mobile presents a huge opportunity to engage prospects and customers with contextual information while they’re on the go.

There is still a role for traditional media in our programs and campaigns. But, our goal today is to complement offline and online tactics with the right mix of outbound and inbound social marketing to stimulate conversation.

We always think about outbound first because we like to communicate information about products and value propositions — and because the one-way communication model still feels comfortable. We push out our messages and content on Facebook and LinkedIn, via Twitter, blogs and wikis and through other online forums that allow us to talk to customers.

The real value, the real opportunity, comes to life when outbound and inbound work together across our entire communications program or campaign.

Inbound takes your results to a whole new level. When you provide valuable content and expertise as part of your communications program, you earn your way into the online conversation and your audience expands.

Clients, prospects and industry leaders link to your content naturally, organically, and they are eager to engage in conversation. Your SEO results come to life distinguishing your organization as a market leader and driving even more clients and prospects your way.

And it doesn’t stop there. You are able to listen to the market place.

Successful organizations use inbound social marketing to understand customer preferences about products and services, their biases, unmet needs, wants and expectations.

We have to make our communications programs work harder. They still must create brand awareness, generate business development opportunities and drive prospective customers to the purchase decision. But now, with the social overlay, we can do all of those things better. We can build integrated programs that lead to insights that you can use to design new products, test messages and build powerful customer loyalty.