You talking to me?

This week’s inspiration is drawn from a great piece of industry reading from Forbes Insights on Customer Engagement: Best of the Best. If you have some time, it is well worth a read. The article provides some excellent examples of customer engagement in both the on-line and off-line space and there are also plenty of great examples of where the introduction of technology has significantly contributed to an increase in engagement (and value) between business and consumers.

One particular point that seemed to be consistent across all the case studies was the use, and analysis of data to inform strategy and aid in obtaining a much better understanding of who the consumers are and how business can maximise engagement with them. (I will cover off on the use of and interpretation of data in more detail in a couple of weeks).

In the article’s summary, the sponsor (SAP) dropped this little gem into the narrative “The way that businesses engage with customers and manage relationships has radically changed. Today’s customers are digitally empowered through mobile and social technologies, and they are better informed than ever before. Customers are now in control of the relationships they have with their favorite brands—not the other way around.”

I have something important to say about me

This got me thinking about a comment I made on another students post last week about Social Media engagement where I made an analogy that posting corporate messages on social media was like being invited to a party at someone else’s house where there are a whole range of discussions going on and rather than just joining in and being part of the conversation you just decide to change the topic and start talking “at” people about why you are so awesome.

As noted in an excellent 2013 paper by Robin Croft (Blessed are the geeks: An ethnographic study of consumer networks in social media, 2006–2012), the transition from one-way / push communications of the past to a community based two-way engagement and conversational model does appear to be a struggle for many businesses. In the Department that I work, this has manifested itself into an actual inclusion in the Social Media Policy to specifically not engage with the social media audience.

This points to an acute lack of understanding about how Social Media fits in to the communication landscape and ultimately leaves the audience isolated from the conversation the business claims it wants to be having.

Young confident caucasian businessman screaming on his employee
This is just soooo engaging!

As the Forbes article notes, customers are in control of this relationship and decide the conversation, so if we want to be part of it we need to understand how to work with the audience and not just force feed them the  content we want them to have.

As marketing practitioners we need to move away from one way broadcasts on social media if we want the audience to engage with us, otherwise we risk the message quickly becoming more of a boredcast.

This is an add on to the post that I though I’d include which I came across today and it’s a really good example of two way engagement, it starts with a customer of Sainsbury’s in the UK making a comment on Twitter and went off from there.


5 thoughts on “You talking to me?

  1. Hi Keith

    I totally agree with you post – that businesses need to embrace two-way communication and not fight it.

    I recently read an article by Harvard Business Review ( that I think expands on your idea nicely. It discusses the importance of having a two-way dialogue with customers, but more-so, the importance of this happening immediately – i.e. not letting posts go unanswered for hours.

    The article states that cross-functional social media teams should be developed to ensure effective two-way communication.

    Hertz implemented this system in 2014 and apparently had powerful results. Rather than just attending to complaints within business hours, they were suddenly able to communicate with consumers within 75 minutes, 24/7. The result was increased customer loyalty, contributing to customer lifetime value. Who doesn’t want to achieve that?

    If marketers or businesses don’t realise the benefits of two-way communication and engagement, then I definitely think they risk putting consumers off-side and damaging their brand image.

  2. I agree Rachel and in our business (Weather Information) it’s a major issue. People become naturally concerned, especially during extreme weather events, so posting a severe weather warning can often generate questions from the public. For example, I live in X, will this storm impact me? Not answering these questions will leave people frustrated (and still concerned). I also think it makes the brand look arrogant and aloof. Why have a social platform at all if you are not prepared to engage with the audience?. For all the cost and resources of managing the social media function it would almost be better to divert that funding to supporting other one way methods of communication. At least that way the audience wont have raised expectations and the brand isn’t left exposed.

  3. Some great points Keith! It is interesting isn’t it to know the shift of control from organisations to customers. As you rightfully discussed, customers dictate their relationships with brands and this links so well to Schau et al.’s (2009) paper on ‘How Brand Community Practices Create Value’, where consumers tell what they want, when they want, to whom ever they want. Because of this, brands cannot force customers do engage in certain behaviour and must look for alternative ways to engage customers on any platform, let alone social media.

  4. Great reflection on the general state of social media engagement. I really liked the polarising nature of your party analogy compared to your Department’s social media policy of not talking to your social media audience (so, back to the party this would be the guy standing in the corner, not wanting to be there, and awkwardly faking a phone call to avoid any direct conversation?). But my question is – where is the ‘sweet spot’ of engagement? How does a brand become that guy who is the centre of the party, the one who is chatty, likeable, charismatic, interesting… can a brand ever be ‘that guy’, or are we destined to forever be the one always talking about how great we are (or the one hiding in the corner)?

    1. Hi Teagan

      Yes, I do think brands can be that guy by trying not to be the other guy. People are happy to engage with brands and there are plenty oh good examples of this but for it to happen, I believe it has to appear natural, be relevant and engaging. Branded messages on their own, in my experience, struggle to get cut through on social media unless they are completely left of centre (if that makes sense). I think it’s like any group conversation, the person trying really hard to be cool and liked, seldom is. And sometimes you just need to find your fit. So brands completely out of synch with their audience who are desperately trying anything and everything to engage are going to find it hard going

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