Typically, social media scoops up the traffic reactively as people talk about Super Bowl ads and then re-watch them on sites like YouTube or Hulu — or respond to brand messaging and calls to action by heading online for more information and participation. But this year, top networking sites are getting ahead by having fans vote on or engage with favorite ads and concepts weeks or even months before the big game.

One successful example from previous years? Think of Frito-Lay asking fans to choose which is their favorite amateur-created Doritos commercial to hit the airwaves. And yes, this year that will happen all over again — but it might get a little lost in the white noise of social media-soliciting competitors.

This year is bringing in top-dollar sponsors, who are paying CBS an average of $3.75 million for half-minute spots (think of it this way: $133,333 per second), which is record-breaking (last year was about $3.5 million per same-size ad). One brand even reportedly spent $4 million on NBC, which sold out its 70 spots by the end of November 2012. So we’re sure to see companies making the best of their buck by capitalizing on social media campaigns that will continue to pay themselves off well after the game has ended.

It’s especially important to marketers because social media check-ins and “likes” count as recommendations of a brand. Since people are more likely to pay attention to what their friends and family members are interested in, this is a top priority for big businesses like the soda companies, car manufacturers and beer brands that typically dominate February’s climactic football showdown.

So what’s new this year to help make the best of it? About a month’s work of social media advertising leading up to the main event, to drum up curiosity and interest. Some brands are even showing their spots early, prepared to trade the exclusivity of seeing an ad for the first time live on TV for the sensationalism of starting a campaign well in advance and asking followers to stay tuned with it right up through its premiere — for example, in order to vote on an ending (Audi) or finish a narrative (Calvin Klein teasing a male model who will show off the brand’s latest skivvies only during the commercial breaks sometime Feb. 3 — what a reason to keep your eyes peeled).

So what can you take from these facts? Although you may never be able to afford a pricey television spot like major Super Bowl advertisers, the great thing is that social media is a cheap way to get your message out to the masses. Anyone can capitalize on a great slogan, viral video or online competition thanks to the power of social media. Think about how you can push a tag line or hashtag into your community or industry in as little time as 30 seconds and get a tremendous payout on your investment.

And check back next week to see how these efforts work out for the Super Bowl’s top advertisers.