A Brand’s Guide to True Social Engagement

By Greg Kihlström

We all know that it’s not the number of social media fans you have, but the relationship you have with them that is important. While we need to hit a critical mass of fans to justify a large marketing expenditure on social media, the research shows that the benefits of an active fan base are clear. Chadwick Martin Bailey found that Facebook fans, at 51 percent, and Twitter followers, at 67 percent, are more likely to purchase from a brand after following it on social media. While simply clicking a follow or “like” button might be the first step in this process, the true conversion happens when a fan engages with the brand. This means that the second step in the process must be a brand providing a unique outlet for dialogue, expression, and problem solving through its social media presences. Without a clear understanding of what engagement truly is, it’s easy to be content with something much less, such as simply growing your number of fans. However, being content with those numbers means that your strategy of engaging your customers may not be achieving your goals.

For example, in almost every grocery store I’ve been in, even in foreign countries where I was challenged to speak a few words in the native language, I’ve had a conversation with the person at the register. It might have been as simple as an acknowledgement that I found everything I was looking for, or it may have involved the weather, how early in the morning it was, or other various pleasantries. However, very seldom could I say that either party was truly engaged or invested in the conversation at hand. That’s not to say that I’m not spellbinding in my assessment of incoming storm fronts, but, at any point, another cashier or customer could have interrupted with a more pressing matter, and neither I nor the cashier would have lost much sleep wondering how our conversation would have ended. Additionally, none of these conversations contributed positively or negatively towards my feelings about the grocery store brand. They have been all but forgotten.

A lot of what slips under the banner of “engagement” is closer to my grocery checkout conversations than the type of brand/customer dialogue that is the promised value proposition of social media or social customer relationship management. Add to this the fact that our monitoring tools are getting better every day, but still are not sophisticated enough to solve this dilemma. To address this issue in a meaningful way, we need to more fully understand the definition of the goal.

So what is engagement? While it can look different depending on who is doing it, there are several characteristics to look for including:

Engagement relates to me on a personal level.
Instead of a simple “hello” at the checkout line, I need something more to be engaged. At one of the coffee shops near my office, I have become somewhat of a regular. Thus, when I walk in the door, many times someone will greet me by name. It’s not quite the greeting Norm from “Cheers” received every time he walked into the bar, but it has a similar effect. It’s clear that I’m valued and remembered at this particular coffee shop, and that is engaging.

Engagement gets my full attention.
To continue my grocery store comparison, I can have a conversation about the weather while thinking about what item I may have forgotten before getting in the checkout line. Getting my full attention would mean allowing me to focus on how the brand is helping me achieve my goals.

Engagement makes me want to come back for more.
What is it about a conversation that is unique and makes me believe that I won’t get the same quality of response somewhere else? Or, maybe it is just the level of customer service that is given. Having someone attempt to truly understand your needs and then work to solve your problem is a powerful thing. I recently went to a newly opened Mexican restaurant near my home and ordered for a vegetarian friend and myself. I made an obvious mistake in ordering, and when I got the food, realized that the other person’s food was not vegetarian after all. I briefly explained what happened, and the owner instantly made it right. Not only did he quickly get me the vegetarian equivalent for my

friend, but he also gave me another free dish. He knew that he probably had one chance to convert me into a loyal customer, and, sure enough, he did with one simple gesture. Engagement is realizing that there is rarely a second chance to make a true connection with a customer, and then doing something memorable about it.

Engagement makes me want to share my thoughts and feelings with others.
What is so memorable or brilliant that I have to tell someone else about it? Sometimes a product itself is so memorable that it makes people want to talk about it. Esurance and Tempur-Pedic have built advertising campaigns around this idea, daring prospective customers to use Google to discover what others are saying about their products. I think this is a brilliant strategy, and it’s built around a platform of engaging with customers to the point that they can’t contain their enthusiasm about a brand.


So what do we do from here? Blaming monitoring tools or resources will go about as well as blaming ever does. It will cover you in the short term, but probably won’t solve many (if any) long-term issues.

The good news is that there is something you can do now to create more engagement among your audiences, and it’s pretty simple: put better content out there. It doesn’t mean that every post or response you give needs to be different, but it means that you need to be thoughtful about the way you initiate engagement with your followers. Follow these rules:

Talk in a personal way that makes your message something people can relate to.
We call this a brand’s “voice” on its social media channel, and it’s a powerful thing. People can get the news anywhere, but they want to see that there is a person behind the computer on the other side.

Don’t be tempted into substituting cleverness for a genuine statement. 
Don’t get me wrong, clever advertising works. But on social media, we’re not doing traditional advertising. You can be funny or serious, but you always need to be genuine and true to your followers. You can draw people in with a statement, but be ready to converse with them in a meaningful way when you’ve piqued their interest.

Don’t fish for compliments.
An extreme example of how this can go wrong is one of the many recent cases of hashtag hijacking. This is when a well-meaning agency decides to create a hashtag that will allow the brand’s fans to pay compliments to it. Instead, those who are not so friendly to the brand hijack the hashtag and post negative comments with it. What went wrong? The brand was asking for people to compliment it, but instead it became susceptible to unexpected negative feedback.

By creating a program of engagement with your fans and followers, you will begin to see a shift in behavior, a growth of your influence, and measurable results like more inquiries, sales, and repeat customers. Here are some telltale signs that your actions have engaged your fans:

Did it influence action?
The obvious benefit of engagement would be a direct conversion; whether that is a sale, a registration, a donation, or anything that can be directly measured. Less obvious actions could be to visit a link and tell someone else about it by sharing either online or offline, or to make a new consideration when purchasing.

Did it change an opinion?
We can’t always expect a social media post or series of posts to turn into a sale. Sometimes we have to convince skeptics first that they should take a new look at an old problem (or brand).

Did it solve a problem?
Customer service on social media is a great thing because it helps your entire audience solve problems. Engaging in social customer service provides value because it empowers your fans to talk with each other and share their experiences. Be the catalyst for that to happen by creating an atmosphere of community problem-solving.

Engagement takes a little more thoughtfulness in its approach, but the long-term benefits are clear: You won’t just have fans and followers, but brand advocates. Brand advocates will see and appreciate the value of your communications enough to share your messages with their own network of friends and followers. When you approach your social media communication through this lens of fostering long-term, true engagement, you will see that it doesn’t necessarily take a major shift in what you are already doing, but it does mean that your conversations take on a purpose beyond just discussing the weather.

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