Engagement in social media can be valuable to a brand. If it’s done right.

Day 30 - Falling dominoes

Day 30 – Falling dominoes (Photo credit: evil_mel)

I really don’t care how many people follow your brand on Twitter, or Like your brand on Facebook. Numbers like these are essentially meaningless – building the right kind of relationships with 500 targeted people will always be more beneficial to you then meaningless, un-targeted relationships with 500,000.

The same is often said about ‘engagement’ – what value is there in engaging people on social media? This is a valid question to ask, but it is not the same as just attracting more Likes or Follows. Done well, engagement is valuable to a brand.

There are two main challenges to the value of engaging people in social media as brand:

  1. Surely sharing photos and chatting to people online has no connection to sales
  2. If it does have a connection, is it just a correlation (people feel positive about our brand so they both join us in social media and spend more money with us) and not a causation (people join us in social media and therefore feel more positive about our brand and spend more money with us)

What’s the value of ‘just chatting’?

The first challenge is a valid one – you can spend forever as a brand mindlessly chatting away to people without it having any impact on what you do. Are the people you are talking to even valuable to you, and are your engagements helping at all with them to spend more money, to recommend you to more people or to do some other action that will be beneficial.

The truth is that nothing should be done in social media without a clear understanding of why you are doing it – what you want to achieve and why this will help your business – and a clear understanding of who you want to target. These can be difficult questions to answer, but if you are not completely clear on them then you just won’t get the same benefits from engaging people in social.

Imagine a luxury fashion brand. It is probably very easy to get lots of people to ‘Like’ you page on Facebook or to follow you on Pinterest, but are these people actually the ones you want to engage? Or are they just aspirants, or people who like looking at the beautiful pictures? If you haven’t clearly identified who you want to engage (who will be valuable to you) and are managing your activities to attract these, then you may just end up chatting away to people who could have little value for the brand.

Know what you want to achieve, know your audience and make sure you are working hard to attract the right people.

Is it a causation or a correlation?

The bigger challenge to the value of social media engagement is that it does not lead to greater value for a brand, but that people engage more and spend more because they already feel positive about the brand. In short – that this is an example of correlated events and not causation.

A great piece of work by Bain & Company last year addresses this. Their Social Media Consumer Survey looked at average annual spend of customers who have a meaningful engagement with a brand in social against those who do not. Overall, those with a meaningful relationship spend 30% more annually.

If we were confusing causation and correlation we would expect that it would be those who are already positive about the brand who are spending more; those who are less positive about the brand would not. But the research doesn’t show this – those who’s spending is increased the most are the ‘fence sitters’ (those ambivalent to the brand); even the brand’s ‘detractors’ spend 20% more annually if they engage in social.

Bain Social Media Consumer Survey, 2011

So what does this mean for engagement in social?

So having good engagement in social media can be valuable to a brand – it’s not another meaningless number like Followers or Likes. Meaningful engagement, with the right people can lead to greater value for the brand from those customers.

But getting good engagement is not easy – it involves having a clear view on why you are using social, on the audience you want to engage, and on how you turn them from being passive to having an active relationship with you in social media. Most brands could get better at this and a focus on quality engagement, with the right people, will always pay greater dividends than just hunting down a few more Twitter followers or Facebook Likes.