Facebook Raises Its Engagement Game
Facebook is always tweaking and fiddling with its service, and very seldom do these changes deliver real value to the users, they are mainly focussed - it seems to me - on serving Facebook Advertisers' needs, or certainly the sales pitch of those selling to those advertisers. However, an apparently minute change introduced yesterday US time strikes me as very significant indeed and worth commenting on. For me at least, Facebook has been the poor relative when it comes to audience engagement. Because of its enormous user-base, a Facebook Page is a great way to harvest a lot of "likes" for ambitious Community Managers, and seems (see below) a great way to promote a brand in the contextual feed of Facebook users - i.e. pushing news - but appears severely limited technically when it comes to true *engagement*.
Twitter with its simple but powerful @mention feature has always meant that despite the overwhelming scale of the #Social service, brands have always been able to have very direct and at times personal conversations one-to-one with their customers. With Engagement establishing itself as the raison d'etre of Social investment, the ability to effectively converse with people is the key to success for Community Managers. As Emm McAndrew (@twit_brit) says on the Social Media Today Blog: "wade through your follower posts and publicly respond – think of brand social media pages as an extension of the customer service department."
Also, as Charlene Li (@charleneli) said in the Social Bible, Groundswell: "Customers...are engaged in conversations on blogs, in discussion forums, and in social networks. Your company can participate in these places but shouting doesn't work, conversations do." But if the context and the interface of the conversation is not intuitive enough, the engagement will fail and the moment will pass. This is why this new feature is so important for Community Managers.
Overnight, Facebook introduced Direct Replies. Before, to reply to a comment by a user, a Community Manager would only be able to comment in the general comment stream. This stream could be just the two of them - which is fine - or several hundred people. I have seen instances where a post by the brand in question (e.g. a bank suffering from off-line ATMS) sparks furious comments from many hundred people - how can a community manager meaningfully repsond to those comments if his or her comments are merely rendering within the same stream? Of course you can *at* a user but its very time consuming.
Now with direct replies and threads, real person-to-person conversations between Community Manager and users can emerge out of the mayhem within the context of a post but distinct from the rest of the comment stream. Very. Very. Powerful.
The challenge of course beyond that is managing that stuff. Tools do exist - such as those within the Salesforce Marketing Cloud through acquisitions of Radian6 and Buddy Media; but there are many other tools. One I read of recently but haven't tried is Facebook's own Page Manager App, for instance. Other tools for Social Media Management can be found at this useful post on Social Media Examiner.
Of course this is not the silver bullet in the battle between Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is only popular for brands because of its enormous audience - more than 1 billion. But Twitter remains far more effective. One reason is the way Facebook filters your stream, meaning that a brand's post doesn't necessarily render in every user's feed. To understand this reality more, its worth reading this post by Jeff Bullas (@jessbullas) on why Twitter can be a far more effective engagement tool than Facebook. Until Facebook is more democratic about the way it manages its feed- like Twitter is - I will always favour Twitter.
(Picture credits: hispanicmarketing.com and AllFacebook.com)