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Guest Column: Engage with your customers, but not the Facebook way

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Guest Column: Engage with your customers, but not the Facebook way

In the Facebook parlance, ‘engage’ is an often quoted word whose meaning has been distorted to the whims and fancies of social media enthusiasts. Even marketing guru Brian Solis wrote an award-winning book on how to engage your customers. Pundits have coined new terms such as Facebook engagement rate, weighted engagement rate to paint a complex facade to an otherwise simple phenomenon of engagement. Amidst all this hype and hoopla, we all missed out the real meaning of engagement – the connect two entities share.

To check what marketers do in the name of engagement, I spent a lot of time on the Facebook pages of few famous brands.  And all I witnessed were spams, contests, ‘forced likes’, ‘sycophancy likes’, ‘back-patting likes’, ‘mutual admiration likes’ and some vapid taglines. Nowhere, could I see any meaningful conversation with their consumers. Moreover, the pages are inundated with unwanted brand related information, videos, podcasts and promos. I realised that Facebook is constantly getting used as a tool it was not meant to be used as. It is a great broadcasting tool but a sub-optimal engagement platform.

So, what is engagement in branding and marketing terms? For a company, engagement is all about knowing your customer, communicating with them and using the meaningful dialogue to gather product related feedback. And, what is engagement in Facebook terms? Well, I seriously do not know. But according to social media executives, any call-of-action such as like, share or a comment joined with reach and fan-base could easily be morphed into some quixotic formula generating a Facebook engagement index. Unfortunately, all these scientific formulas missed the basic ethos of engagement – two way communication. When there is no meaningful dialogue happening between the brand and the consumer, how can a lifeless formula compute an engagement index?

As brand managers and social media executives, we should all realise and as social media consultant Jason Falls aptly pointed out – Engagement is not a goal. It’s a result. A platform like Facebook is brilliant for promotions, offers, deals, sponsored stories, advertisements but it is not a medium to foster engagement. Engagement creates lifetime customers and not the deal seeking ones; and though Facebook is attracting advertisers with this surreal concept of ‘engagement’, even in the USA, lately, advertisers have started questioning the meaning and value of engagement.  Many advertisers have been at the receiving end of the murky world of ‘like generation’ machines. It’s a dog eat dog world, where Facebook likes are traded at Rs 1.

After Facebook's disastrous IPO, not only there is a diminishing user interest in Facebook these days, the social networking giant is using all tricks up its sleeve to balance monetisation and engagement; the new Facebook facelift being the latest. I think, Facebook can monetise better, if it sticks to being a broadcasting and promotional medium and not pose as an engagement platform. Unfortunately, this situation is not entirely Facebook's making; we all have to share the blame because of the way we have been using the platform.

Very simply put, engagement in a social network happens as part of meaningful back and forth conversations. However, the very nature of Facebook and the way it evolved has made it difficult for the social networking giant to nurture substantive dialogues. If you are looking for engagement, better look somewhere else!

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