There’s a question that vexed CMOs for a while: how can we build our brand with social media?

Many of those CMOs have now realized the sometimes unwelcome answer.

We can’t.

That’s right, brands can’t be built through social media. Sure, social media can be leveraged to support brands. But brands today are built the same way they always were: through brand communication and brand experience. Again, social media may contribute to both, but let’s not put the bandwagon before the horse.

Recent fall-out at social-media pioneers has not been pretty. Pepsi trumpeted its switch from Super Bowl advertising to the Refresh Project. Its brand has now fallen to third place behind Diet Coke. Despite being the darling of the social media awards circuit with its Facebook campaigns and viral videos, Burger King saw six consecutive quarters of declining sales. Two CMOs have come and gone, the agency has been fired, and the brand is in need of an overhaul.

We have, though, learnt some lessons from the claimed success stories. What Ford (Fiesta and Explorer) and Old Spice have taught us is that Integrated Marketing works. (Wait, haven’t we known that for decades?) And that Interactive Marketing, as part of an Integrated Marketing program, now offers us a plethora of new tools, channels and platforms – collectively called social media – with which to engage with different target audiences, and to help customers to engage with each other. Companies like Starbucks, Best Buy and Dell have become very adept at this.

That’s where the “social” bit comes in. What social media is about is building relationships. It’s a great resource for CRM, as it’s always been called; as well as for offering product and promotional information, for research and insight-mining, and for crisis management.

Some of the predictions made in favor of social media in the heady, early days were way overstated. The area is now subject to much closer scrutiny and more informed debate. Its usefulness as well as its limitations are becoming clearer. This can only be a good thing.