How Engagement is Killing Your Social Media Strategy
Every now and then there is a social media trend that I despise so greatly I cannot help but roll my eyes every time it rears its ugly head. First it was people putting things like “ninja” or “guru” on their business card. “Web 2.0″ always made my wrinkle my nose a bit, too. Then I started to realize how many people said the word strategy when they should have said tactic. Don’t even get me started on how I feel when someone says, “Let’s make a viral video!” My latest social media pet peeve? The word engagement.
The word itself isn’t the problem; it’s the lack of proper use of the word with which I take issue. I am not the only one.
Engagement is the New Synergy. Ugh.
Engagement is the new “synergy” (file that one under “Words I Loathe” along with slacks and moist). It is used in meetings to make the person using it impress their C-suite, “The goal for 2013 is create synergistic engagement across all social media platforms, Dennis.” Even though Dennis has a Facebook page and knows it’s important for brands to tweet from time-to-time, the buzzwords are enough to convince him that this marketer knows his/her stuff. Yet, this type of sentence does little to communicate any sort of social media plan to anyone who truly understands social media. The latest in the engagement craze is what I call “gaming Edgerank.” Edgerank, as many of us know, is the algorithm used by Facebook to determine who sees what content. In the case of brands, it determines how many fans see your posts in their News Feeds, how often they show up, and where in the News Feed they appear. Industry experts have known about Edgerank, and how to leverage it, for quite some time. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to talk about, as you will notice if you check out my webinar on Facebook Edgerank from two weeks ago.
Caption This! Like This Post! Share This Post to Win!
When Facebook launched Timeline, marketers kind of panicked. For one, it meant that using a tab (or app, as they are called now) as a default landing page was out of the picture. Panic ensued in the marketing world. The word on the street was that getting fans to engage with content was going to be more important than ever. That is true, but instead of thinking through what this meant for their overall social media strategy, many companies started throwing anything remotely engaging up on their wall. But what about all the data they are missing?
I love a good “caption this” post as much as the next social media marketer but I’ve been noticing that more and more brands are just throwing those posts up to try to “game” Edgerank. In other words, they aren’t using them as part of a strategy, they’re just throwing them up there willy-nilly hoping that sheeple fans will play the game. In doing so, the brand page gets to beef up their Edgerank score and they look like one of the cool kids doing everything the the right way.
To be frank, that is an absolutely terrible long-term solution to improve Edgerank. With posts that are designed to increase engagement, there still needs to be a strategy. Similarly to the way that always pushing marketing messages will kill brand activity, posting caption contests three or four times a week and commanding your fans to click on your material provides you with very little data other than the fact that people seem to find random clicking enjoyable.
The photo to the right is a “Caption This” post we did on behalf of our client, Matco Tools. With almost 1,300 shares, nearly 2,500 comments and almost 1,400 “likes,” it was a wildly popular post. But it was part of an overall strategy, which I’ll come back to at the end of this entry.
People Click Anything in Facebook
One of my favorite examples of how easily people are convinced to do something as ridiculous as click when told is the story of Cow Clicker. It’s such a great example of social media psychology that I strongly encourage you to read it as soon as you have finished this lovely entry. To summarize, Ian Bogost realized that games like Farmville were a ridiculous waste of time. So he created a satirical game called Cow Clicker to prove how ridiculous it was.
You get a cow. You can click on it. In six hours, you can click it again. Clicking earns you clicks. You can buy custom “premium” cows through micropayments (the Cow Clicker currency is called “mooney”), and you can buy your way out of the time delay by spending it. You can publish feed stories about clicking your cow, and you can click friends’ cow clicks in their feed stories. Cow Clicker is Facebook games distilled to their essence.
The crazy part is that for every few people that got the joke, there were dozens of other who became bizarrely addicted to the game. Lest I be accused of imitating NBC Olympics coverage, I’d like to take a moment to shout “SPOILER ALERT!”
Cow Clicker became so outlandishly popular that Bogost finally had to create an end to the game. He was making too much money with this experiment and people were becoming emotionally connected to clicking on their cow every six hours. People, I am NOT making this up! It got out of hand enough that Bogost finally had to stage a Cowpocalypse to end the madness. But people still went nuts and started funneling more and more mooney to the game to keep it going.
In essence, marketers have turned their strategy into Cow Clicker. They’re so worried about being seen that every post is trying to game engagement. Want to do a “Caption this!” post? Then do it a week or so before a major marketing push. Get your Edgerank up so that when you post a marketing post later in the week, it’s seen by more people. If you’re constantly asking for surface-level engagement, you’re going to get surface-level results from fans that don’t really care about your brand.
Fans Are Getting Smarter
Give them a reason to care. Share your story in your posts that are used to drive engagement. The car photo in the engagement post for our client, Matco? Well the fireman who was called to the scene and took the photo happens to be a fan of the brand. He shared his photos and told the whole story of what it was like on the scene. He even sent in more photos for a whole album, and he talked with other fans about the experience. It is engagement with a purpose. It is on brand and it tells a story. It helped fuel community dialogue and it provided data useful to our marketing team beyond likes and clicks. The best thing about that community is that Matco doesn’t even have an e-commerce page. They fuel sales and relationships from the online world into tangible transactions with offline, personal relationships.
With options like Facebook lists and the ability to “Hide All Posts” from a brand, fans aren’t going to tolerate spamming of their News Feeds for much longer. The savvy marketer will take engagement to the next level by seeing beyond the shiny lights of engagement-only posts and turn it into something meaningful for the brand and the fans alike.
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