Every good marketing campaign needs a social object. In essence it’s the thing that brings people together. It may give people a common purpose or simply give them something to talk about. It encourages and increases sociality. And for a marketing campaign, that’s key, as it gives way to virality and social amplification. (Marketers covet word-of-mouth referrals!) The most obvious non-marketing example of a social object would be a baseball: A boy and his father get some good quality bonding time playing catch in the front yard. The ball becomes the social object that allows them to do this.

In the world of marketing, a great example of a social object would be Kraft’s Oreo Cookie Moments Gallery. The premise is straight forward: To help celebrate their 100th anniversary, Oreo asked it’s fans to share their favorite Oreo photos, videos and stories with them and they would then “share them with the world”. Oreo fans would upload their own “Oreo Moment” via Facebook or their campaign micro-site. These moments were then displayed on both Facebook and the microsite, and became fully share-able across each fan’s social graph via Facebook. Each Oreo Moment thus became a social object.

Could the Oreo Cookie itself also be a social object? Certainly. Many products themselves are the primary social object for brands. In fact, the guy who advocated the “social object” term says that unless your product is a social object, you might as well not be selling it. Any Apple product (iPhone, iPad, etc.) is a great example of a social object.

On a larger scale, well-functioning social networks must define what their concept of social object is. For example, Flickr uses user-generated photography as the social object. Delicious or Digg use URL’s. Facebook uses images, URL’s, and status updates. But what about LinkedIn? A convincing polemic on why some social networks work and others don’t argues that a successful, sustainable social network must be focused on an “object-centered sociality”.

Something like collaboration itself could be a type of social object. Consider the so-called social business model. In this paradigm, a company, from product, customer service, engineering, marketing and so on, are all interconnected not only with one another, but with their external customers. Michael Brito of Edelman Digital has an informative infographic on what a social business model looks like. Social business managers must discover their social objects if they want to see their customers and employees interact, discuss and evolve their ideas into tangible outcomes. Dell’s IdeaStorm is inspirational in this regard.

As a social media marketer or online community manager, you must frequently uncover your community-wide social objects. How do you do this? There’s no tried and true model here. My advice is to begin by acting as a group facilitator. Listen, listen, listen. Chart out the most commonly discussed topics or products, the sentiment, the problems, the positive feedback, etc. You’ll then have a short list of themes to work with. Get community members involved with not only what the social object is, but what the process and rewards (if any) might be. This can be crucial to engagement. Remember that ultimately you will not control the object itself. You can, however, facilitate the process and the outcome.

So what’s your community’s social object?