January 4, 2011

Anti-social media? Three tips to faking “authentic engagement.”

My poor nephews (14 and 11 years old) will never grow up knowing the blissful oblivion that most kids – and adults – experience with brand interaction. 

Having a seasoned PR counselor for an aunt just ruins it for them completely:  they know that Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins likely did not REALLY sleep with the Stanley Cup (with his teammates “leaking” the photo online), and that the Washington Capitals’ Facebook page is not updated by the Gr8 Ovechkin himself…or the coach…or any of the players.  And during Saturday’s NHL Winter Classic game (which was a spectacular display of subtle sponsorship and cross promotional genius), you wouldn’t believe how many times the oldest one said to me “Wow Didi…look at that!  It’s all about the marketing.”  One eye riveted on the action…the other taking in all the orchestration that went into influencing the audience’s perception.  Smart kid.

But as audiences go, I think my nephews are in the minority.  Most people really DO think that the concierge they are tweeting with is actually that concierge.  And that the GM’s blog post they just read was really written by the GM of that hotel.  And that the Facebook site of their favorite brand is updated by someone who actually works there.

And sometimes, it really is…but not always, and increasingly, not often. More likely, it’s updated by someone who has been “assigned the task” of engaging the social media audiences.  This could be the PR firm, the ad agency, the internet marketing firm, or – I shudder to say – the son of the owner’s sister’s cousin’s friend, who “has time available while away at college and understands all that Facebook stuff.”

Ideally, the voice of your social media channels is someone who works at your company and has the knowledge and authority to represent your brand with your desired image.  If you don’t have or don’t want such a person onsite, here are a few guidelines to help you successfully “fake” your authentic engagement:

  1. Whoever does it needs to have experienced your offerings from soup to nuts.  If a hotel, they should have stayed, spa’d, eaten, played, seen the town/city, checked out the competition and more.  If a product, they should use it often…and also, they should be well versed in your company culture (your social media voice should match this culture).  This might be a heavy investment of time/money for you up front, but the result is worth it.
  2. If the person is not onsite, they need an open flow of communication to people onsite who can feed them up-to-the-minute news.  No snippet is too trivial, as you never know what will be relevant/handy/interesting to share with audiences in this arena.  Is someone having a birthday?  Did a customer just pay you a huge compliment?  What’s the weather like?  What’s happening in your area?  What peeks behind the scenes can be given?  Your social media audience WANTS this kind of connection to you.  Formal, untimely, promotional fluff?…not so much.
  3. A knowledge of branding, marketing, and persuasive engagement is key…as is sound judgment.  There is a trick to knowing how to promote a brand without being too aggressively promotional, and mature social skills are required to deftly orchestrate a virtual conversation, especially when negative comments may be thrown into the mix.  College interns are handy for many tasks, but sometimes, they just simply lack the “brand marketing maturity” to fulfill this social media role successfully.

Having an “outsider” be your social media voice is certainly doable – indeed, at Redpoint, we do it all the time for clients – but it must be carefully managed to ensure that, not only does it not sound fake…it is not fake. 

The moral of the story?  If you want your social media effort to be successful, you simply can’t fake it.  No matter who does it…it has to be real:  real time, real voice, real passion, and real knowledge. 

And if you need a litmus test to be sure your efforts are working, drop me a line and I’ll get my nephews on the case.  If you can convince those two tough critics, then you’re on the right track.