The Art of Engagement and Spam

Online engagement isn't a choice between what is and isn't spam. Online engagement is all about what works.

Online engagement isn't a choice between what is and isn't spam. Online engagement is all about what works.

The point of social media is engagement, but a lot of engagement resembles spam. Cory Torella says it doesn't matter.

Torella – the founder and CEO of Better Auds, a social media marketing firm – says most posts on social media sites seek to engage other people. He calls that "strategic, purposeful conversation." You may be sharing a video of your dog refusing to go out in the rain or inviting people to participate in a contest. Torella says at some point "spam is no longer spam."

"If you guessed that the amount of spam that I receive on a daily basis is fairly high, you are correct," says Torella. "However, I love reading spam…. I read every single word of it."

Most social media users don't share Torella's enthusiasm for spam, but they may unknowingly share his habit of reading it. Especially if the "spam" has strong visual appeal and an irresistible hook.

Torella's business is all about cultivating an audience online without trying to buy followers. Earning an audience on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Instagram is all about content that engages people.

As individual users, we seek to engage our circle of friends by sharing experiences, pictures and thoughts. Corporate, nonprofit and pubic agencies seek to engage target audiences to sell a product, ask for a contribution or change a behavior.

The social media strategy for individuals may be as simple as connecting with "pals." The strategy isn't that different for organizations, except they usually want their "pals" to connect with their websites.

Torella's zest for consuming spam posts is tied to his interest in finding what works, what appeals to certain audiences. In effect, he is looking for how users segment social media.

One of the most vexing problems for organizations that have worked to accumulate a large number of "followers" is to keep them engaged. Many people "like" a company or organization, then never go back to the Facebook page. Sustaining engagement takes energy, creativity and perseverance. You have to work at it constantly.

Torella views spam as a form of lab mice. By trial and error – and, in his case, careful observation – you see what works and what doesn't. "I determine if there's anything I can take away from [spam]," Torella explains. "If it's good, I will write it down or screenshot it. If it is bad (and I mean really, really bad), I will write that down, too. So while most [people] see spam, I see art."

Engagement, spam, good art, bad art all may make no difference. What counts is what works – to gain clicks, conversions and customers. The only way to find out what works is to experiment. That is a lot easier and cheaper to do on social media than paid media. You simply have to be willing to engage and let that lead you where it will.

Content that Informs and Entertains

A clue to success in today's more crowded thoroughfare of content marketing is to entertain while you inform. It will give your content a distinctive quality and provide an even richer conduit to convey your story.

Entertainment values need to match the nature of the content it accompanies. Many subjects aren't appropriate for light-hearted treatment. But great photography or emotional storytelling can deepen the understanding of viewers. 

The presentational qualities of almost all media — from billboards to videos — have improved hugely, so most people are accustomed to, and expect, outreach with more dimension and pizzazz. You no longer can afford to communicate in 2D to a 3D world.

Presents for Your Presence

The glitz, sparkle and shine of the holidays has gone, leaving many people surrounded by lackluster after-effects — disposable gifts and other waste.

As we return to our routines, the stories I’ve been hearing are less about material details and more about the noteworthy nature of spending time in unfamiliar places or sharing time with beloved family and friends — novelty + relationships.

These are the memories that cut through the clutter. The idea of gift-giving also is useful when designing marketing solutions to engage your key stakeholders. What’s the most valuable experience you can provide? What will be remembered tomorrow, a month from now, the next time your stakeholder makes a purchasing decision?

Writer Damien G. Walter shared this insight on his website: “Every word you write is asking for the gift of the reader’s time. Make sure it’s worth it.” He also discusses the idea of the attention economy ­— “you are asking for the most valuable commodity your readers have. Time. Each of us gets a finite portion. No sum of money can buy us any more. And the demands on it are ever greater.”

Here are some juicy tips, resources and practices to help you design memorable experiences that engage stakeholders.

Go Offline

Digital tools and networks are essential to strategic communications. But don’t let their importance come at the expense of ‘real life’ or off-line experiences. Think about guerilla marketing, trade shows, meet-ups, flash mobs and special events. These opportunities are avenues for memorable moments and genuine relationship development. Further reading here.

Trends to Watch in 2013

2012 has been an exciting year in marketing public relations. Here, we highlight trends we expect to drive change and marketing innovations during 2013.

Social reputation sparkles

All things social will officially transition from their old ‘just for kids’ reputation to a well-earned position as drivers of strategic objectives. From crowd-sourcing to recruiting, selling to engagement — social strategy will be a first order of business.

Direct consumer engagement trumps media relations

PR has long evolved beyond being a synonym for media relations. In the rise of social media such as Facebook, blogging platforms, Twitter, YouTube and other sharable content networks, clients decreased traditional media spends in favor of creative campaigns that engage directly with consumers. We predict more brands than ever will embrace the opportunity to tell their own stories and share value-added content through their own online communication assets.

Visual marketing continues explosive growth

Images took center-stage this year, led by the visual superstar Pinterest. More than being a pretty face (or product shot), visuals showed their dramatic power to increase stakeholder engagement, linking up with goals from driving e-commerce sales to influencing voter sentiments during the presidential campaign. ‘Show, don’t tell’ will move from a novelty best practice to the norm, with the most consistent and creative brands claiming leadership positions in the marketplace.

Content Confectioner

Does the chocolate image wake up your sweet tooth? I could tell you that the candies are locally made in Portland with melt-in-your-mouth sea salt and quality chocolate, how they have perfect flavor profiles and are the ideal size for a guilt-free treat. But the image probably inspires you faster.

If you saw this photo on a chocolate company’s blog, you might pin the image to Pinterest or share it with you friends on Facebook. If I’m the chocolate company owner, I’ve just used shareable content to empower you to help me market my brand through the most powerful form of marketing, your word-of-mouth recommendations.

This is the potency of visual communication. Adam Vincenzini describes the image-powered web as “the notion that Internet users prefer the most efficient and engaging methods of communication.” Images equal efficiency. Fast Company calls visual marketing “the breakout trend for 2012,” noting a 2012 ROI Research study that found “forty-four percent of respondents are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures than any other media.” Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are leading channels for visual storytelling.

Here are my 13 tips to help you become a Content Confectioner — a creator of crave-able, sharable brand assets.

1.  Start with Your Goals

What are your marketing and brand goals, values and key messages? Think about what those things look like. How you can show and share them with your stakeholders?

2. Be a Reporter

Reporters seek and share stories. Do this for your brand. Shift your perspective to look for the significance of the everyday – teams, routines, the work and production environment. How does the everyday drive toward your brand promise? If you make this perspective shift, you’ll always have a story to share.

3. Get the Tools

You’re not obligated to add a $2,000 DSLR line item to your budget. I swear by my iPhone camera. It’s portable and takes high-quality images with flash and focus options. You can send images easily to Facebook, Instagram or email. The right tool is one you can obtain and use often. Do your homework. Test the options. And go for it.

4. Eyes Wide Open, Camera Ready

The aforementioned iPhone has more than 4,000 photos on it (yes, they’re backed up). Keep a camera with you and err on the side of taking more images than you’ll use to create an image bank for your brand. This practice supports quicker content creation. It also increases your odds of capturing million-dollar moments and images. Think of it as gathering lots of ingredients for limitless recipes.

Joining the Online Olympic Village

Social media is all about community and conversation. Now Samsung has launched a Facebook app that fosters a new level of online engagement with U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

The launch coincided with a splash of promotions reminding us the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London are only 100 days away. But the app itself has more far-reaching potential than just the Olympics. It embodies what social media platforms should do.

Called the U.S. Olympic Genome Project, users can participate by going to www.Samsung.com/HowOlympicAreYou and "like" it. Facebook fans answer questions about themselves to create robust profile that are used to find connection points with Olympic and Paralympic athletes, present and past.

Through the app, fans can take Olympic quizzes, find out about Olympic athletes and the Olympic movement and follow Team USA news. And they can share their new connections with other Facebook friends.

"The Olympic Games is one of the few global celebrations of human potential and achievement," says Ralph Santana, a Samsung senior vice president. "We wanted to give consumers the opportunity to be part of it in a personal way."

Fans gain status in the "community" by taking quizzes about the Olympics and finding more connections with Olympic athletes. You earn tokens as you rise in status that can be redeemed through contests for Samsung mobile products or even trips to London.

How to Sweeten Your Tweets

Make your 140 characters count by offering something unique or first.If you want to be followed in the Twitterverse, be engaging, say something fresh and keep it short.

Ragan.com's Matt Wilson posted a blog this week that captures the advice New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof gathered from his own Twitter followers. As Wilson notes, the advice is applicable to more than just journalists.

Here are some of the best tips Wilson culled from Kristof's replies:

@OllieJonesMMA: replying to followers once in a while is golden.

@TomRaftery: Keep tweets short (re-tweetable), have essence of story in the tweet & a link(!)

@TylerMachado: What not to do: Post nothing but links to your own stories. Twitter is not just a newspaper rack!

@dvas 36: love when journos tweet info that didn't make it into their print/online articles.

@milestorres: Exclusive first looks. Twittr is clearly the defacto standard for breaking news and I like seeing journalists embrace that idea.

@MissSuccess: Looking 4 them to interact more. Journos often have deep knowledge of an industry so their expertise would b valued if shared

A key takeaway: give your Twitter followers an inside look or a special offer. And don't be afraid to interact. That's the whole point.

Ask for Their Innovations

Most of us are proud of our products and services and feel good about the consumers who purchase them. We could feel even better by asking our customers how they creatively use our products and services.We may not uncover "brilliant failures" such as Viagra or post-it notes, but we may discover innovations that add value to our products and services – and put more cash in our pocket.

In a recent blog post about innovation, the writer noted a motorist suggested an interesting variation for the common traffic stop light. The motorist's idea was to design a traffic light with a progress bar, showing how much time is left before a green light turns to yellow, a useful data point for someone assessing whether to power through a light or stop.

Starbucks asks its coffee-sippers for bright ideas on its My Starbucks Idea.

A colleague in the PR field noted his long-time clients in the construction and real estate industry were signing up for less media relations, but continuously asking for more introductions to people in the industry. The shift reflects the downsizing of traditional media outlets and the rising value of direct contact with potential customers and business partners. My colleague needs to adjust his business model accordingly.