Can we move beyond the notion of brands engaging consumers in a conversation?
I had the pleasure of presenting at a Google event in Chicago the other day. The audience was - mostly - business to business. They have a deep interest in digital marketing and social media but grapple with the idea of a conversation with consumers. I don't blame them. I don't see many people having any sort of conversation with a brand (and there isn't much conversation happening about a brand). Shocked to hear someone like me say this? Don't be.
Social media is not a conversation.
I've said it before and I'm going to say it again... What makes something (anything) "social" is a brand's ability to make their marketing materials (and this includes their content) as shareable and as findable as possible. When a brand makes their content as shareable and as findable as possible, people will latch on to it and share it. If brands are doing something especially interesting, consumers may have some level of engagement with it (comment on it, write a blog post about it, etc...). Engagement is not a conversation. It's not an ongoing dialogue that happens back and forth.
Brands fail at conversations.
Don't believe me? Write a blog post about your favorite brand and let me know a couple of things:
- Did the brand even come by and acknowledge it?
- Did the brand engage in the comment section?
- Did you respond to the brand's comment and did they come back to continue the engagement?
- Did other readers of your blog jump into the comments and did the brand respond to them as well?
- Did the brand come back at a future point because of how great the conversation was?
So, how do you really think brands do in a conversation? So, how do you really think consumers want to connect with brands?
Access, response and care is not a conversation. It's an engagement. It's a connection. There's rarely any back and forth that resembles anything that looks like a conversation (and when there is back and forth, it's usually a customer service issue... and if that issue flares up, brands are trained to take that consumer offline to figure it all out). The Cluetrain Manifesto brought the term, "markets are conversations" to life. They're correct. People within marketplaces have all types of lively conversations. Can brands take part in them? They can, but we have to dig down deep and ask ourselves why and will anyone really care? If you can answer that, you now have to ask these questions: what will make consumers care about a conversation with our brand, and are we truly committed to being in a conversation (whenever and wherever they happen)?
What a brand wants.
A brand wants one thing: to sell more stuff to more people. Yes, they want happy and satisfied customers. Yes, they don't like too many hassles and issues. Yes, they're looking for cheaper and faster ways to help them achieve their one goal: to sell more stuff to more people. When people hear this, they cringe. They cringe as if there is something inherently wrong (or evil) with this. As is it's sales above all else (morals and goodwill included). That part is not accurate. Most brands just simply want more people to know that they exist, so those people will buy from them.
Some brands don't need conversation.
When we talk about the end of advertising, I simply want to sigh. I used to believe that social media could make advertising more appealing. That social media is an amazing opportunity for brands to use marketing in a less intrusive way. I've grown to realize that could be the case some of the time, but not all of the time. I've grown to realize that it's not a zero-sum game, either. For years, I've tempered this kind of thinking by letting brands that know that it's "with" not "instead of." Just lately, I'm falling back in love with the simplicity of advertising: a quick message and nudge to let you know that something exists. No need to friend, like, +1 or have a conversation.
The end of conversation.
It's on us. It's on us to let the deodorant, paper towel, diaper, chewing gum, frying pan, nacho chips and other brands know that people - honestly - don't want a conversation about their products (and there's nothing wrong with that). Now, if the brand is interested in using social media to nudge, inform and share, then by all means, go for it. Just understand the landscape and define realistic opportunities, goals and outcomes. There is vast majority of brands that will not benefit one way or another from a true conversation. Instead, the focus should be on making the advertising as shareable and as a findable as possible with the ultimate goal of selling more stuff to more people.
That's where you will find social media ROI. That's where you will always find ROI.