That we're only now facing up to the fact that social media is not the answer to all of marketing problems is the most disappointing aspect of this sorry tale. Old school advertisers have been saying it for years, but then, they would. They've had their own bitter axe to grind, having watched the social media mob eat their lunch, dessert and after-dinner mints.
Meanwhile, the media boys have kept their heads down, seeing a chance to broaden their offer and take a bit of the ‘creative’ cake for themselves.
And the clients can’t complain. They should have called ‘time’ on the dodgy numbers long ago but instead allowed themselves to be seduced by the millions of ‘eyeballs’ they could achieve for next to nothing.
Frankly it was in no-one’s interest to blow the whistle, but, as with all of these bubbles, from the South Sea to the Dot Com, when the music stops we wake from the trance holding a bunch of overpriced tulips.
So where do we go from here? We are asked 'How can brands be so active and yet achieve so little engagement?’ The answer to that is so simple as to be almost too obvious to have to explain. But here goes anyway:
There’s a couple of ways I can be active and achieve little engagement. I could walk into the woods at the back of my house and start yelling at the top of my voice. Very active, very little engagement. Alternatively, I could stand on my local high street and enthusiastically sell powdered wigs. I live in an old market town in Somerset, but I reckon I’ve missed my primary audience by maybe 200 years.
The point being, you create engagement when you’re in the right place with the right product and the right message. You don’t create engagement by sticking a picture on a lamp-post.
Pictures on lamp-posts can be very effective in the right circumstances - lost dogs, yard sales - that sort of thing - but they are rarely that effective if you want to really engage with the audience. To do that you want to develop some sort of relationship first. If you’d known the dog personally, for example, you’d really want to help when it got lost. Likewise, if you know the family throwing the yard sale, you’d maybe make an effort to attend. I think that’s sensible. That’s how it works. And that’s how marketing works. But don’t just paste a photo to a few lamp-posts and say ‘That ought to do it!…. And so cheap!’
The underlying problem that’s exposed at the bottom of the ‘Engagement’ bubble is the same for Big Data and a whole bunch of other fads that come and go. It’s that, when we place intermediary tools between us and the consumer, we lose some of our ability to engage with them. Brands and their businesses and the agencies who serve them love to create these intermediaries because that’s how they make their money, but they get in the way of authentic engagement. The ‘Engagement’ model is a proxy for engagement. It isn’t actual engagement.
So how to engage more authentically? Be a human. Build humans into your systems.