What Does it Mean to "Engage" Anyway?

The word, "engage" is rapidly becoming a hackneyed and overused cliche lately in social media circles. People use engage to mean you can't just talk AT people on social media and you can't treat Twitter and Facebook like used car lot commercials on TV.

All well and good. Social media is a very different animal from traditional media. Marketers simply can't engage in one-way broadcasting of their messages like they have in the past.

"Engage" means to cultivate multiple conversations between a brand and its customers.

The first conversation is of course from the Brand to the customer. It will always be important to inform your customer base and send out messages. Broadcasting is not wrong, it is just not enough by itself anymore.

But that first one-way conversation is not engaging. It doesn't elicit a response from the people who hear it. It rarely gets them talking or excited about your brand. But the second conversation is engaging, it is a conversation from the customer back to the brand.

This is why listening is vital in social media. It was indicative of this one-way mentality to look at how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton used social media during the 2008 presidential campaign. On the same day, just before the Democratic convention, Obama was following 46,252 people on Twitter, but Clinton was following exactly zero other Twitter users.

Note: That isn't the number of people that followed them, it was the number of people they were following.

If that statistic doesn't indicate the difference between a one-way broadcast mentality and a two-way conversation approach, I'm not sure what would. By not following a single person, Clinton was conveying the impression, if not the actual fact, that she wasn't listening.

Here's another example: This past summer I did a study of Showbiz Pizza, a nationally recognized chain headquartered here in the Dallas - Fort Worth area that includes the Chuck E. Cheese brand of pizza stores. I found that the brand name "Chuck E. Cheese" was mentioned approximately 6,000 times on Twitter in a 30 day period overlapping June and July, 2010.

But the company made not one single response to these Twitter users who mentioned their brand. This is the equivalent of someone handing you a six-figure check and not taking it to your bank until after it expired.

My friend Scott Stratton, who goes by the Twitter name @unmarketing, says that he tries to make 75% of his tweets replies to other people's tweets. That means that only 25% of his Twitter communications are broadcasts. And on the first month he started hitting that 75% mark, his number of followers grew by 10,000.

The fact is that people talk about brands, products, services and companies on social media. They discuss their good experiences and their bad. They mention plans to spend money on these brands. or they sometimes try to talk others out of spending money because of a bad experience they had with a brand.

If you are not responding to these mentions, if you are not acknowledging the people who are talking about you, you are acting like Hillary Clinton and you most certainly do not get social media.

A company that is not playing in the social media playground can never know what is being said about them. But a company that is listening can respond, clarify misinformation, can make a bad experience right and turn it around, and it can reward or recognize the brand's fans.

Yes I said fans. If have a very good product and deliver good service you will probably have fans. But if you make a practice of responding to comments and mentions of your brand, your fan base will grow exponentially.

Reward these people. Not with money, but by talking to them as real people, individuals, not "market segments." And act like a real person when you talk to them. People like to buy from people. Part of "engaging" is to have person to person conversations.

An additional reward you can gain from this second conversation is the most current and useful market data you could ever obtain. Social media is real time information. If you listen, and listen carefully, you can learn more than you could ever learn from a focus group or market survey.

Finally, the third conversation is customer to customer. If you tweet or post about quality content on social media, you will find some people telling their friends. The will "re-tweet" your messages to their friends and followers.

I just heard Paul Slack, a principal at Splashmedia speak this week, and he said several times that real success on social media comes when people start sharing your content (your videos, your blog posts, etc) to other people.

This is an excellent point. Social media is all about viral marketing, which is simply word of mouth on steroids. But the hard truth for many marketers is that word of mouth will never happen if they just engage in one-way conversations.

What experiences have you had with these multiple conversations? Can you share any stories you have about the impact of social media word of mouth?

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COPYRIGHT © 2010, Charles Brown

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December 5, 2010 at 7:28 AM Susan Birk said...

Thanks for this nice piece, Charles. I think your article proves that use of the word "engage" in social media is very much NOT a hackneyed cliche. The problem isn't the word itself, it's that many businesses confuse it with what you refer to as broadcasting and then call it engaging. I had some pr people follow me on twitter right before a medical meeting I was covering. It was obvious that their only motivation for following me was to get me to write a story about their client. It was the old stuff, on twitter. It didn't work.

December 6, 2010 at 8:01 AM Charles Brown said...

Excellent thoughts, Susan. The reason I wrote this piece was because I have heard a half dozen people talking about social media to non social media people.

In each case, they used the word "engage" without a frame of reference. I felt it left their audiences with a resounding "huh?"

Engagement needs to be explained. Explaining that it means listening, responding, supporting, recognizing and rewarding others is necessary for non social media users (and probably a lot of users as well) to understand.

December 27, 2010 at 4:07 AM social media marketing said...

Very nice thought I like your blog.
Businesses have emerged within the virtual universe as social media marketing companies.