While social media marketing may not be the next new thing anymore, it’s still sufficiently de jour that marketers are striving to make it a channel of excellence.
And for social to rank as excellent we’re all on E – engagement. But is engagement the biggest marketing myth you’re likely to encounter?
A social tick list
Let’s do a quick snapshot of what we can and do use social for as marketing pros. Note I’m not being specific about whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Socshop, Bizpal. (Not all of these networks are currently available).
Amplify our brand and its messages
Drive visitors to our online presence
Paid advertising channel
Customer service channel
Instant conversation and communication
Of these, only the last two really address the engagement goal: where a business is listening out for what its customers are talking about and responding, or where a company is able to step in on an issue before it becomes discussed. Bouquets and brickbats.
For a huge consumer giant, this is indeed big consumer business. A complaint about a holiday can be dealt with by the tour operator, and if it’s not it represents a great way for a rival to step in and generate both good publicity, goodwill and a future customer. A new product launch can be previewed to a vast audience: the constantly growing and always-on customer feedback panel.
Where’s the return?
How often does this actually happen? Are most consumers engaged only when they’re incredibly happy, massively dissatisfied or hoping for a coupon code? How often does something on social really change the buying habits? Old Spice might have had a revival; Amazon has enough social likes to fill several of its monster warehouses, but sustainable profile and engagement through social? Not too many examples. Look at the case studies of success – they’re frequently about video, which for those of the youtube generation did exist as a marketing medium before said platform. Social may extend its effectiveness but it’s not instead of.
And when we move to the world of b2b it becomes tougher still. Large technology vendors may attract large followings – but a quick glance at some FB pages shows that the average engagement of followers runs at about 1%. Now forgive me for pointing out the obvious but if traditional marketing campaigns only generated 1% interest we’d all be updating our resumes.
This isn’t to detract from the value having that extra channel can bring. Many users see Facebook as their content aggregator – easier visiting all the pages they’re interested in than heading off to a website. And for companies it often gives the chance to inject personality into what may otherwise be a very product-focused and quite dry brand. Who knew how much fun tech developers could have until the Instagram pics came out?
But it’s time to admit that really most marketers, and particularly b2b marketers, use social as an outreach channel. It’s just another way of conveying the message. Another opportunity to tell the story so that we can capture audiences wherever they gather. It’s effective – knowing that your message is going to be seen by an opt-in audience – far quicker to build on a social platform than through say e-marketing – but it’s not really engagement. It’s nice to see something shared, but it’s not the strongest indicator that your message is hugely valuable to all involved.
Engagement does happen at the more personal level: it’s why sales may in the end be a better user of social than marketing in the business, as the team develops social profiles and relationships.
Engagement may still be the holy grail, but we’re all kidding ourselves if we think that it’s our primary reason for using social. Let’s confess, let’s make our social interactions lively and entertaining and let’s finally take social media into the mainstream marketing mix. And then engagement will surely follow.