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Make 2014 the Year of Engagement

Beautiful-Happy-New-Year-2014-HD-Wallpapers-by-techblogstop-23 "Look at Facebook not as a platform to force  [marketing] messages onto consumers, but a way to cultivate relationships." Ashley Coombe, All Inclusive Marketing

While the quote itself - in an article by Kelly (@KellyhClay) Clay on Forbes - pertains specifically to Facebook and considers what Social Media Managers need to think about in 2014, I feel it is a general clarion call for the year ahead relevant to the use of all Social Media Platforms - not just Facebook - and for all those seeking to use them, not just the dedicated discipline owners.

I finished 2013 on this blog making the same point, echoing a thoughtful piece on Medium by a former colleague, Marcus Nelson (now CEO and founder of Advocate).  I felt it was an important issue to stress and Marcus's note provided a good opportunity to do so.  In short, the take-out was that Social Media is not just another digital marketing platform but a channel for two-way communications and that this aspect of it was generally being overlooked by most commercial users of the new medium.  It is not only disappointing to see businesses  miss a great opportunity, but this continuation of one-way thinking is spoiling the medium for those others that wish to see its most exciting benefit flourish.

In fact, a Pivot Conference study last year polling 181 Social Media Managers found that engagement is now the most important metric to measure success - above even Increased Sales.

"Too many organisations are seeing Social content as an end in itself. It isn't. It should be seen as a means to achieving meaningful engagement with stakeholders."

So I would urge businesses and organisations to see 2014 as an opportunity to refresh their thinking of the Social opportunity and to begin to consider ways to more constructively ENGAGE their constituents on Social channels.  Everyone has an audience or constituency they wish to cultivate - be they employees, shareholders, influencers, prospects or customers.  Social Media offers the chance to develop  1-2-1 dialogue with them that is sustainable, achievable, affordable and very, very effective.  These kind of relationships cannot be bought or achieved through traditional or  digital marketing tactics.  Success depends more on creativity and imagination rather than large budgets and delivers more than just sales and revenue but actual tangible assets such as brand loyalty and even brand advocates - the most powerful form of marketing.

For a model of effective audience engagement, Social Media Managers generally look to the quite old fashioned genre of Talk-Back Radio who on a daily basis must inspire their audience to pick up the phone and invest time in contributing to discussion.  Radio stations depend on this phenomenon for their very product, but do not pay for it.  They must generate it out of pure imagination, dreaming up - every day - one or more questions that provoke, stimulate and motivate their audience to take time out of their day to phone up, sit on hold and then - without pay or any other form of remuneration - provide the Radio station with their very product, which they in turn sell to advertisers.

This is what community managers on Facebook also do every day - produce content that inspires and dream up provocative questions to generate comments and likes.  Businesses and organisation seeking real ROI from their Social programs need to re-boot those programs to focus more on this kind of activity.

But it is important to remember that because Social Media is TWO-WAY, as well as trying to stimulate a response from constituents; businesses and organisations can monitor stakeholders or keywords and respond in ways that can produce a variety of reactions - anything from a share to a comment or merely a like/follow.  Investing time in these kind of activities seem daunting but to not do so is a failure to reap the most powerful rewards of the medium. Here are a few examples of ways to induce engagement on Twitter and some other useful resources for helping you build an effective Social engagement program:

engage ideas

At the end of last year I took part in an event run by digital  agency Datarati that used a simple but terrific model called StopKeepStart to aid annual business planning.  Engagement certainly should fall in the Start column!