Saturday, March 26, 2016

Social Engagement: Ask Not What Your Customers Can Do for You, But What You Can Do for Your Customers

What does the word "engagement" mean to you? Well, a simple Google search yields pages of the obvious: talk of rings and love. Of course, in the context of SEO, engagement has a different meaning altogether, though the root definition is similar. In marriage as in SEO, engagement is about agreement, involvement, and commitment.

Unfortunately, the SEO world often misrepresents the term itself--and, in doing so, fails to understand its simple power. A quick Google search of  "SEO engagement" yields some surprisingly jargon-filled articles.

Here's a quote from Search Engine Watch, the second organic result for "SEO engagement":

"Marketing is about addressing intent and influencing the choice of brand to satisfy that intent. In the stimulus phase of a purchase funnel, brands have the opportunity to engage with users, creating awareness through visibility created from SEO outreach, content promotion, and associations with third-party sites."

Stimulus phase? Purchase funnel?

Here's a quote from Marketing Land, the fourth organic result:

"Today, the C-level management team is slow to embrace the structure and strategic use of social properties (Social Media) to enhance their findability when a potential customer seeks the products and services the organization offers."

Findability?

To be fair, that last article, from Marketing Land, speaks about engagement in a sensible, practical way:

"The key to old-school, word-of-mouth marketing is simple. If someone asks you to recommend a vendor for something, you give them the name of someone that you were happy with or warn them of someone who you were unhappy with.

This is what search engines started replacing (word-of-mouth marketing) in the late 90’s. Two decades later, search engines are being replaced and influenced by online social engagement, which is basically electronic word-of-mouth marketing."

Then again, that same article, in the next breath, steers the conversation away from people (all those "someones") to customers whose experience needs to be "optimized" to "maximize sales and profits":

"Corporations and their executive teams need to think about how they are going to use social properties to engage with both current and potential customers and then how to optimize their experience to maximize sales and profits."

A crowd of human beings [Getty Images]

Here's a parable of engagement, from a previous blog, referencing an online marketer who seems to have little sense of marketing:

"Misty McPadden's Twitter account...shows surprisingly little engagement for an account with 44.2K followers. Perhaps this is because McPadden follows 41.7K people--or, really, no one. Just take a look at her "Tweet's and Replies." There's little to no conversation happening--none at all. One could be excused for believing the account was actually a spam bot."

What makes engagement unique--in any sense? Engagement is an agreement, involvement, or commitment between two human beings. It doesn't matter if you're a brand or a Facebook friend from high school, to truly engage you most communicate on a person-to-person level.

Marketing, of course, is about scaling communication to an audience. A marketing campaign depends on both the quality and quantity of its images.

In one sense, if you have thousands of "followers," you can attract attention merely by playing the number game--creating content with well-chosen keyword and titles. Quality hardly matters when you're dealing with that sort of quantity--although engagement does, as Misty McPadden's Twitter account proves.

But what if you're a small business owner?

Or what if you prefer to attract attention with quality? (Not to say quantity and quality are distinct; yet so often, on social media, at least, the two seem to be at odds).

Engagement is not necessarily traditional marketing--at least not in the sense of scaling communication. Engagement is about communicating with people, treating your "customers" as human beings, with unique needs. When you address a human's needs on a person-to-person level you create a durable bond--you create a relationship.

In our view, true "social engagement," then is about micro-communication--all the replies, messages, and interactions that reveal your own agreement, involvement, or commitment with other human beings. In the end, you and your company are not a brand--you're people talking to people.

In this context, even the first organic result from "SEO engagement," a good article by Phil Singleton, misses the point:

"When your target audience receives a Google +1, or a Facebook like, or a LinkedIn like, you are getting a vote of quality from your audience. While liking your content is a form of content engagement, getting your content shared is even more valuable since your audience is rewarding you with exposure in their social networks."

Of course, traditional marketing requires this sort of engagement, but the engagement we're talking about is magnanimous. To borrow the axiom of JFK: "Ask not what your customers can do for you, but what you can do for your customers."

Our mantra? Be real: Engage.

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