The social media sphere is an increasingly noisy place, especially for brands. But hiding somewhere in the static, some companies are sending strong signals that reaches their customers in innovative ways. The Dachis Group has recently begun a real-time ranking of which companies have the most effective social strategies with their Social Business Index. Every week we're taking a tally of who's getting heard, what they're saying, and why it matters.

Once again, the top 20 brands in social media didn't shuffle around too much with National Amusements holding on to the No. 1 spot on the index, while News Corp. and Google held fast at No. 2 and No. 3. With the exception of Volkswagen AG, the rest of the companies on the top of the chart remained exactly the same as last week. (Fun fact: "AG" looks like it would stand for "Auto Group," but in fact serves as an abbreviation for a specific type of German corporation: Aktiengesellschaft, which literally means "share club" in English.) In general, the holiday season has proved to be an interesting time of year for some companies like the Dunkin' Brands Group to set themselves apart with creative campaigns, as others like the GQ-publisher Advanced Publications to drop the ball.

People really like their cars -- especially Volkswagen people -- so it's not terribly surprising to see the automaker climb into the top 20 on the Social Business Index this week. Our use of the word "like" is obviously a double entendre. A surge in Facebook Likes boosted the company up onto the leader board thanks to some smart engagement from the folks at the Volkswagen-owned Audi brand, and with one of the most media-rich Facebook brand pages we've come across lately, it's not hard to understand how Volkswagen AG will probably continue to climb. According to Doug Kern with the Dachis Group, Audi's formula for success is pretty simple. "The brand shared interesting content about their cars and was rewarded by having their company signal echoed by advocates," Kern told The Atlantic Wire. "One particular post about the Audi A7 drove more than 11,000 Likes and 300 comments." Since we spoke to Kern that post, a fun-to-flip-through collection of photos of the automaker's newest model, the A7 post has attracted hundreds more, and we'd bet Audi's very clever strategy of tagging Facebook fans in the photos of the car certainly helped bring people into the comments section to respond. What do people talk about? Well, how great they think the car looks. One user summed up the general tone of the super positive feedback pretty concisely, "What's not to like....."

We were scratching our heads a bit when we saw Dunkin' Donuts' parent company surging on Twitter. After all, People hate it when you tweet about your breakfast. (Never do it.) But then we found out why. They hosted an amazing-sounding holiday sweater contest! The rules were pretty simple: tweet a photo of your ugliest sweetest holiday sweater for the chance to win a $50 gift certificate. That's not all the company's been doing to take advantage of the season of greetings. Dunkin' promoted the launch of a new Holiday Star donut -- like the name suggests it's a Christmasy snack shaped like a star -- as well the Mint Hot Chocolate and a Texas Toast Grilled Cheese sandwich to its 117,000 Twitter followers. "By combining a product launch with a low-barrier-to-join social contest and feel-good emotional appeals, Dunkin’ stayed true to their brand and captivated their social audience," Kern explained, adding that a chance to win free JetBlue tickets by including the hashtag #DDMoMint in tweets was particularly successful. The strategy seems simple enough, but the impressive execution lifted Dunkin' from No. 61 as high as No. 50 before the brand settled into the mid-50s. Inevitably, we're mostly impressed by the simple fact that Dunkin' has managed to get people excited about tweeting what they're eating. We also want to see some sweaters.

It's not often we flag companies that are slipping in the ranks but Advance Publications, the magazine house that puts out GQ and Glamour, seemed blogworthy as it presents a good teaching moment. Long story short, never slack off. Having slipped three spots and landing on the wrong side of the top 40, Advance missed out on some good opportunities to get their readers talking to each other more. "The largest contributing factor for the decline was due to a significant drop in signal from brand subscribers -- meaning that engaged subscribers did not @reply, retweet or echo company mentions to their individual social networks during the week," Kern said and flagged the lackluster response of their Matt Damon cover on the latest issue of GQ. Sure, ladies like Damon, but GQ  is short for "Gentlemen's Quarterly." The generally bro-ey group that usually keeps the company's Facebook page populated with comments didn't show up. To boot, it doesn't look like the company tried very hard to start conversations. Kern concluded, "Moral of the story: if GQ wants to increase social engagement, they should stick to their proven approach of engaging their largely male audience with a recipe of fast cars and fast women."

Methodology: A project of the Dachis Group, a social business professional services group, the Social Business Index analyzes the conversations on social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and othrs. The index, which currently covers approximately 25,0000 companies and 27,000 brands, detects behaviors and activities exhibited by these companies, analyzes their execution and effectiveness at driving outcomes such as brand awareness, brand love, mind share, and advocacy. The Atlantic Wire takes a snapshot of the rankings at the close of business on Thursdays.