The Social Media Echo Chamber clamors that as business owners, we need to embrace the new media, be transparent, join the conversation and engage with our customers. That sure does have a smooth and flowery pitch. Accordingly, that is how it works for your business. Launch a Facebook Fan Page, a Twitter account, a blog and let the customer engagement begin. Your over-satisfied and happy customers will flock to your digital pasture with stimulating and fulfilling “engagement.”

Not So Fast With That Advice

Recommending that businesses need to be online to engage with their customers is bunk. In our own experience (at Urbane Apartments) of utilizing and practicing various means and methods of social media with our own company, including our  local community blog of 595 posts, that generated 1,860 approved comments, not a single one has been us (the business) engaging with a customer. None. Zero.

The awkward feeling that a business owner gets when hearing this fuzzy engagement stuff, and a reason your internal compass starts to spin is valid. That just isn’t how it works. The closest thing to online conversation and engagement are marketing folks talking to marketing folks and social media bloggers commenting on other social media blogs.

When Customers Are Mad or Have a Problem

Info from the English WP http://en.wikipedia.o...
Image via Wikipedia

As enevitable problems occur in everyday business, people are picking up the phone and calling, or firing off an email. Assuming you answer the phone and respond to email, the problems get solved and your business stays out of the negative review column. Almost always a customer just wants their problem fixed, and the phone or email is the quickest and most efficient conduit to that means.

Successful companies have always engaged with their customers. That is part of what creates repeat business. Long before the Internet, the local butcher in our small town knew exactly the right cut of meat my dad liked, the pharmacist knew when anyone in our family was sick. The point is that you likely aren’t doing this type of engagement with your online marketing.

Where Is the Pay Dirt?

Should you happen to be in a rather boring industry, such as apartment rentals (like us), or say, the tire business, prospects just are not likely to engage with you unless they need a specific question answered or a problem solved. However, those same potential tire store prospects, or their friends, will emerse themselves in auto repair stories, or all things car lovers, and with emotion, because they are talking about stuff they get excited about.

Create a platform, via a well-crafted company blog that your Community of Interest can engage and entertain with each other, and you have hit Pay Dirt! It is more about leading the group and creating a playground as opposed to customer engagement.

We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions surrounding engagement, and how it is working with your marketing strategy. These are the lessons we’ve learned, as counter to the social media evangelist’s advice as they might be. What are yours? The comments are open!

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About Eric Brown

Eric Brown

Eric Brown's background is rooted in the rental and real estate industries. He founded metro Detroit’s Urbane Apartments in 2003, after serving as senior vice president for a major Midwest apartment developer. He established a proven track record of effectively repositioning existing rental properties in a way that added value for investors while enhancing the resident experience. He also established The Urbane Way, a social media marketing and PR laboratory, where innovative marketing ideas are tested.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.thesocialpenguinblog.wordpress.com mike_mcgrail

    Engage is not a one size fits all term. People too easily give up on the big networks and outlets due to laziness. Work hard and find out what your customers want, don't assume they want to let you take up their precious time.

    • UrbaneWay

      The closest thing to online conversation and engagement are marketing folks talking to marketing folks;
      @MikeM, Your comment sums up a topic that we have been talking about for some time with our apartment operator peers. The typical apartment community may have plus or minus (300) units, and that is what they focus on, those (300) relationships. And, that is all well for retention. However, too many businesses are afraid to expand their marketing resources to include folks who may, or may not ever be customers.

  • http://mikewhaling.com Mike Whaling

    If we limit the definition of engagement as “a direct conversation with a customer,” then I suppose this is on target. That said, the conclusion that I'm coming to from this however is that we need to think about “customers” or “networking” differently … not necessarily engagement.

    Whether it's at the local pharmacy, on a local charity's blog, or at a Chamber networking event, you're likely having conversations with people who will get to know you, come to trust you and hopefully recommend you to their friends. These people may or may not become direct customers of your business, but they all have the opportunity to become salespeople for your brand via their future word-of-mouth interactions with their friends. However, that probably doesn't happen if you're not willing to reach out to them first.

    As business owners, we'd certainly like to see as much of these interactions happening in our own store as possible, but that's not going to happen if we don't get out and attend those networking events, shake hands and take interest in what others are doing first. Online, this translates not only to maintaining a welcoming shop (your website/blog), but also networking with others on their own blogs, on local or industry discussion boards and on social networking sites as necessary. Maybe we should move away from calling it engagement, but there's no way we should stop networking and connecting with people who may be able to help us grow our businesses.

    • UrbaneWay

      Customer Engagement is a Myth;
      @MikeW, Good Morning,
      We somewhat debated this issue on twitter earlier in the week. I mostly agree with your comments, and think, as you point out we need to shift our thinking, in that “we”, (the business) aren't really ever “in” the conversation. We crated the platform, and we gave “them” (Circle of Influence, and maybe potential customers) something to talk about to each other.

      • http://mikewhaling.com Mike Whaling

        We both know that you can't just “create the platform.” You need to get in there and facilitate the conversation … turning the soil, watering the plants and pulling weeds when necessary.

        In the best examples, the customers (and non-customers) take over the majority of the conversation, but this is rare. However, there are still plenty of great examples of organizations that are leading the conversation … keeping their customers, fans & employees informed and entertained along the way. As an example, check the Facebook Page for the Columbus Marathon. It's a perfect example of a group that is facilitating the conversations and directly benefiting from it (they can track a number of signups directly back to interactions on Facebook).

        I completely agree with you that most marketers fail to leverage those non-customers for their benefit.

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    I'd agree and disagree, Eric.

    If engagement is just shooting the crap with your buddies online, that's not really going to transfer into sales, no matter what the social media purists tell you.

    But… if you're using that engagement strategically as a focus group, that relates to future marketing. Or to garner feedback on how your customer service fares, so you can continue to implement new procedures. Or how your competitor met your (potential) customer's needs.

    We have some great clients that are using the “engagement model” perfectly; monitoring keywords and offering advice without a hard sell. Guess what? The sale does follow.

    Funnily enough, we also had a rental apartment client in Florida where we built a velvet rope community for the tenants to converse with the owners. Additionally, there was a referral bonus for anyone bringing new tenants in, and these new tenants could have access to the community before signing a lease.

    Being able to see what living in the complex was really like, as opposed to a sales pitch on what it might be like, saw rentals increase four times over in six months. Not a bad return for engagement. :)

    So yes and no on this one, sir – great thoughts. :)

    • UrbaneWay

      Customer Engagement IS Working for Danny Brown
      @Danny, For some reason the first reply here didn't show up, so I am giving it another try. You present a great example, thanks for sharing that. The average apartment operator would not display that much “transparency” (another worn out word) so bravo to you and your team. I would love to hear more about that project sometime.

  • http://twitter.com/martywatts Marty Watts

    Quoting Mike Whaling below, “Maybe we should move away from calling it engagement, but there's no way we should stop networking and connecting with people who may be able to help us grow our businesses.” I agree, the term is not as important as the intention. Whether a business has a client base that is phone or email focused, or a client base who is more active on social networks – You'll be where you're customers need you to be. Building community can be the cornerstone, but engagement is the output. My .02

    • UrbaneWay

      Is On Line Engagement a Myth?
      @MartyW, Thanks for weighing in. It seems as though business owners and executives have a challenging time understanding the value of enhancing their Digital Footprint,

  • jmctigue

    I'm sure you're right in some cases, but in others I think you're quite wrong. An example: we have a client that sells orchids across the U.S. via big retail stores. Customers are constantly engaging with our client about plant care tips, sharing photos and otherwise discussing their orchids with the client and each other. You can call it what you want, but engagement is happening here and it's working for both client and consumers.

  • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

    It sounds like what you're describing is the classic problem of trying to market (and build excitement about) commodities. It's much harder to get excited about a commodity than a branded (e.g. recognizable) product or service.

    My $0.02.

  • Gene Wicker Jr

    I agree with Mark that in the larger sense it depends on what you are trying to market. I manage three company fan pages on Facebook. One is a fairly well-known brand, one is the company site and one is a subsidiary that does b2b. We've had good success on the branded site with engagement, although how you define engagement is open to interpretation. We've been less successful on the company site and its been scare on the b2b page. We're not seeing the volume that we see via email or telephone, but we still feel its been a success. The customers we've engaged with in this manner have been pleased with the response.

    • UrbaneWay

      Is Customer Engagement a Myth
      @Gene, Thanks for weighing in here, we appreciate the input. It is good to hear you are achieving some success with Customer Engagement. Could you share what that means, is it tweets, actual conversational threads, or comments, and on what venue, just facebook, or other channels. We are interested in your feedback,

  • Pkenjora

    I agree, its a giant echo chamber of marketing people talking with marketing people. Unfortunately until we change that it will continue to be this way.

    So how do we change? First, filter the noise stop caring about follows and re-tweets and clicks on gimmicky link bait. I've spoken to so many fanatical people about bit.ly, it has STATS and does SEO, I can't live without it! Stop, ok, that doesn't matter, what matters is how many people engaged with your product. How about we measure conversion rates once again?

    Why do conversion rates matter? Because its the only thing selling your product. Why don't more people focus on conversion rates? Because its hard, very hard. Sean Ellis and others have grown to fame for knowing how to do conversions well. The rest of us, we need immediate satisfaction, “I got 57 clicks to my link bait article, woohoo!” Whats your bounce rate? “Oh that, I don't know.” Chances are its 90% you useless drone.

    Then what? We start caring about the customer as a person, caring about providing real value. We spend time and effort on improving the customer experience and less time on gimmicks and tricks. We value other peoples time not pat each other on the back for mediocracy. We accept that to really engage customers we need to respect them.

    This won't happen of course. This useless noise ill go on even when no one is listening anymore. Sigh….

    • Pkenjora

      SME, get in touch with me: @pkenjora

  • http://twitter.com/mycustomercloud Nub Games, Inc.

    What does “engage” really mean? Dictionary.com says engage means “to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons).” To me, engaging a customer simply means creating an atmosphere where conversation, an two-way exchange, can happen. The first part of the article talks about engagement in a problem-solving context. But if a business waits until there is a problem before they engage a customers, then maybe there is a bigger problem. The second part describes what I consider to be true customer engagement – creating interactions that are meaningful to the customer. Creating a “community of interest” where customers can interact and where the business participates sounds a lot like customer engagement to me; you certainly are occupying their attention and efforts.

    Amy Shelton
    @mycustomercloud

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  • Roger

    Hi,

    Agree with alot about what you're saying and believe that Blogs, Twitter etc are really only useful as a means of drawing potential customers into your environment. We recently used an online geo-caching competition (http://www.discovertherawoutdoors.com) which generated lots of interest on the ground but very little participation (i.e tweeting the answer or using Facebook) there still seems to be a barrier preventing alot of potential customers using social media.

    Cheers

    Roger

    • UrbaneWay

      On Line Customer Engagement Is a Myth
      Roger, Good Morning, You raise a great point, and somewhat common problem with contests, but the bigger question is did the contest drive any sales?

  • Miss Young

    I am in total agreement with your commentary. The fact that we have fallen into the online social media trap as the way to build a business is now back firing on us. The bottom line is face to face communication based on trust and respect. The reality is to be success in business mean talking via marketing to a “LIVE HUMAN BEING”. If this is not your reality you will not be in business very long or have a supportive financial base.

    • UrbaneWay

      On Line Customer Engagement Is a Myth
      @Miss Young, There has certainly been a mad rush to drink the Social Media Kool-Aid, and that alone doesn't produce a tangible business result. That is not to say that a well crafted Marketing Strategy, that includes Social Media, executed well can turbo charge your results.

  • http://twitter.com/garious1 Garious

    That's pretty interesting… besides, how many of those who follow you in your social networking accounts are real, loyal customers? Perhaps, it's just a numbers game after all and if your social media efforts don't convert to sales in the real world, you must be missing an important piece of the social media puzzle.

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