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.