There are a lot of folks who purport to be experts in new world advertising. There are few who really are. The reason for this is simple. Saying that you’re an expert can get you paid a lot of money by people who are trying to figure it out, and, no one has really ‘figured it out’ yet.
There is no question that for any business the process of getting your message across has become a much more complicated thing than it used to be. When I first started in marketing, advertising was a pretty simple equation. We used variables of reach, frequency and CPM to determine whether our message was getting to the people we wanted to hear it and we used tracking variables such as unique phone numbers, promo codes and sales incentives to determine whether the people we wanted to hear the message were moved by the message. On that basis we could pretty easily determine whether we were making money or losing money on our advertising dollars.
Then came the internet and then came social media. The internet by itself didn’t change much. In fact, for savvy users it made things even easier. I no longer had to rely on consumer behavior to know if my adds were working, I could track clicks. And then came social media.
Personal recommendation is the true power of social media and engagement is the fuel that drives the bus. The trick is that in most cases the way engagement is driven must be subtle and active. Consumers should be invited to participate but they should never feel forced to participate and any sense of manipulation is death.
In order for social media to truly work, companies must establish an online personality and they must interact with consumers in their (this is to say, the consumer's) chosen media. When a consumer complains about poor service via twitter, respond. When a consumer posts an image of a favored product on Instagram, respond. Encourage consumer information sharing and story telling via heavier media such as blogs.
The real key to engagement is a sense of connection. Connection is fed by acts of transparency. Transparency is fueled by authenticity. Trust is built through consistency. For these reasons it is just as important for companies to “fess up when they mess up” as it is to celebrate when something is great. Frankly, it’s MORE important. What is really interesting about the emerging communications marketplace is that consumers understand that companies are going to mess up. They’re even willing to forgive when it occurs. In my experience, companies give consumers too little credit. So it isn’t whether or not you are perfect, it is how you engage when you are not. I was always fascinated by the fact that I gained far more twitter followers when things weren’t well than I did when things were good.
Over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of social media oriented how to’s designed to help small businesses understand the value, nature, and use of today’s media channels. Please feel free to ask questions, debate, etc., directly on my blog. After all, that’s engagement, right?