Why social media meaning transcends mere ‘engagement’

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Where’s the witty banter about important topics? When are the throngs of raving brand fans going to show up with their adulation and streaming video of our products in action? When is Gwyneth going to finally throw some endorsements our way? For goodness sake, we’ve been at this social thing a long time, haven’t we? 

We’ve hired all these damn Millennials, trained them up on multiple platforms, built dashboards to measure shares and engagement, and taught the sales department to stop posting their opinions about Game of Thrones.social media bizmarketer

We have posts scheduled into next year, flogging our content, our selfless support of the food bank, our executives’ brilliant thought leadership, all our fantastic product announcements, and some fun, off-the-wall stuff we can post on Fridays because, well, nobody knows why…

But all that’s happening is people asking us questions, complaining about our service, liking random stuff, unfollowing us and sharing our golden content via snarky remarks to their friends. It’s not just Twitter, is it? It’s Facebook, Insta, LinkedIn, Pinterest and the rest of them.

It’s frigging exhausting. Yet, I suggest that all is as it should be.

I’m sorry if the sales lady at LinkedIn or the social guy at the agency promised you a shiny new world of fan engagement, where everyone is positive and your content can be in 100-million feeds in a matter of seconds.

I’m sorry about the infinitesimally small percentage of the social platform user base that follows or engages with your brand.

I’m sorrier still that the only way you can keep them around is with downloadable coupons and expensive videos they share with four people.

I’m sorry they post hateful things on your YouTube channel, and make up parody ads that get more views than the original.

I’m sorry they livestream your terrible customer experience, and post scathing reviews on Google and Yelp and Glassdoor.

But really. What did we expect?

Of course our customers are going to use social media to complain. Sure, it’s inconvenient that everyone else can hear it now instead of just one poor call centre rep, but we asked them to engage with us, and I’m sorry if it is a surprise that engagement doesn’t always show up with flowers and a smile.

Of course our customers and prospective customers are going to ask us questions on social media. Would you rather they mail them in? We asked them to talk to us. We invited them to a conversation, or, more accurately, we crashed the conversation they were already having and then, like sticky toddlers, demanded they pay attention.

Why wouldn’t a job-seeker use social to try to get past Bethany in HR and reach a hiring manager? We posted the role on LinkedIn and Twitter didn’t we? Why would we expect them to go to our terrible recruiting site and waste their time, when they could just circumvent the whole thing? In case you were wondering, we call that initiative.

Why should we be surprised that our well-intentioned sharing of content goes ignored? Did we give it context? Did anyone ask for it? Did we tell the social media team how to give it meaning and context and value in 144 characters? Did we bother creating something more visually appealing than a stock photo cover page?

Naturally, our detractors are going to say dreadful things on our Facebook page. They want to have a conversation with us. If they didn’t care, they’d say nothing. But we don’t want nothing. We can’t measure nothing. At least the very flimsy “engagement” scores these platforms cough up represents some kind of metric for the Overlord with the “You Get What You Measure” pencil holder, but how meaningful is that data at the end of the day?

Social lines of scrimmage

Yup, it’s exhausting. But only because most brands now treat their social platforms as a line of scrimmage. We all have the protocol to deal with someone being nasty in public. We all know to take the conversation offline, or at least to a private channel like chat. Can’t be having that stuff going on where everyone can see. Or can we?

Maybe instead of measuring engagement, we ought to be counting MBCs (Meaningful Business Conversations).  Instead of followers, likes, shares, comments and opt-ins, we ought to be coming up with dashboards that look at the qualitative properties of our social platforms.

I’m thinking metrics like pre-purchase product questions, post-purchase user questions, initial quality complaints, discount requests, technical issues reported, resumes received, haters hugged, parodies noted, bullsh*t statements challenged, expensive phone calls averted, even-more-expensive refunds not required.

I’m getting all tingly just thinking about that kind of data. It’s like a focus group in a box for your product and brand folks, plus it’s a whole lot cheaper. When we replace the nebulous “engagement” with the (admittedly subjective) idea of “meaningful” our social platforms become less about effort and more about value.

This article originally appeared on BizMarketer.

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Elizabeth Williams
Elizabeth Williams is currently the brand and communications director for ADP Canada. She has also worked with Rogers Communications, Bank of Montreal, Aon, 3Com, The Beer Store, MGI Software and Marketrend Interactive, as both an employee and as a consultant.