Here’s vibrant proof that some folks still don’t understand social engagement: McDonald’s (@McDonalds) mucked up a social conversation on Twitter recently, and then their own social media director, Rick Wion, demonstrated an embarrassing lack of awareness, when he tried to explain the whole thing away. One particularly shocking phrase stood out for me: “…With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned…”.

How many times do I have to say this
?! Social Engagement is NOT a “campaign”, it is a commitment, and sometimes commitments require weathering rough spots in the relationship; forging through together; learning to listen as much as talk; and – should some control be necessary – controlling in an invisible manner that can never be resented. By admitting that (a) McDonalds continues to desire control of the social media landscape within which it operates, and (b) it considers Twitter conversations as nothing more than advertising campaigns, their Social team has exhibited a McRoyal lack of awareness, with cheese. That the brand thinks it can openly control social engagement initiatives, and then impose “contingency plans”, when the outcome doesn’t match their projection, demonstrates not only a lack of experience, but a mentality that will consistently fail to leverage the potential of social engagement, until said mentality changes. A good social strategy is a responsive and flexible one, not a rigid and controlling one.
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So, let me repeat: As I first said in 2007, and have repeated each and every year since: Social Engagement is a COMMITMENT to connection and bidirectional relations. It will not work to its full potential if it is treated as an advertising or product marketing CAMPAIGN tool. Gone are the days when you could blatantly push or pull the consumer in one direction or another, without any regard for their own instincts. The power of marketing has transformed in to one of influence, rather than impact. That’s not to say you cannot use social tools to support, and even push forward, certain marketing campaigns.  It’s simply that there are too many variables at play within the social ecosystem for a brand to want to control things all the time. How long would you stay married to a spouse who was *always* and obviously controlling? “Leveraged influence” and “moderated transparency” are the buzzwords today.
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“…All right stop.
Collaborate and Listen.” – Vanilla Ice

Moderated transparency
One must be prepared to let the consumer peek behind the curtain a little more than previously, and even fiddle with some of the levers. A smart brand will create levers with which the social community can interact:
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Leveraged Influence
A brand should always have a vision and an objective, and all strategies and actions should be manifest and pursued within the context of the brand objectives. Properly managed social engagement can help to strengthen the brand vision and more effcieiently attain the objectives, both internally and externally:
  • Inspire employee and consumer evangelism and sharing
  • Challenge dormant employees, distributors, and consumers to reengage
  • Educate and redirect potentially hostile influencers
  • Instill brand values without imposing them
  • Crowd-source creative opportunities at little to no-cost
  • Empower stakeholders to truly feel a sense of part ownership in the brand’s success
  • Boost ROI
  • Advertise incrementally (no need to invest tens of millions if there’s no pick-up whatsoever)
  • Blend resources (social brand engagement is not just about marketing, it’s about engaging (thus the term!) the whole ecosystem of stakeholders in a manner that brings them closer together, and able to more effectively enhance the brand value. It could be a matter of activating a previously dormant employee population, creating a more tight-knit community out of a global sales force, or bringing end-users closer in to the fold, so that an offering can benefit from their insights, and presell itself in the process.
  • Year-round presence – social engagement is a full-time enterprise, thus the need for commitment. However, while a conventional marketing campaign requires aggressive “full-bore” tactics, a social strategy can be far more leisurely, and thus far more manageable. The community will hold the brand up alongside the social team, so long as everyone is playing well together.

Oh, and one more thing…social engagement brings humanity and humor back in to the mix. That’s never a bad thing.

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