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I want to wipe the word “engage” right out of the dictionary, much like I wanted to wipe out “synergy” after the third time I heard it and “like” about five minutes after everyone started running around “liking” everything from photos of cute little babies to coupons for liquid laundry detergent.
If this sounds suspiciously like the beginning of a rant… well, it is, but only in part. Mostly it’s an idea that I’d like to share with you because I want to help you make your social marketing work. And I want you to start by wiping the word “engage” out of your mental dictionary and forgetting everything you think you know about what it means.
As of right now I want you to stop engaging your customers. And I want you to start being interested instead.
The Fallacy Of Engagement
It’s a marketable word and it sounds better in the webinars to say “engage” rather than “be interested in” your customers. There’s a certain economy of syllables.
But the more enmeshed we become in the social side of marketing, the more that word begins to lose meaning and the more it begins to morph into something unrecognizable from its original intent.
Seems like a good time for some definitions.
Engage (v): to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons); to attract and hold by influence or power
Interested (adj): being affected or involved; participating
If I have to spend more than ten seconds explaining the fundamental difference between those two concepts then you should probably stop social marketing altogether and work on your people skills first.
So let’s parse this for only a brief moment. The first definition sounds an awful lot like traditional push-marketing in a new skin. Get the attention of your customers and then lord your power over them to keep them captive to your brand. It’s got “mememe” right at the center.
The latter definition, however, gets closer to the heart and goal of social marketing. It means that you are not just attracting attention to you, but actually participating in the lives and conversations of others. As social media is often called the great leveler, this is truly what the level playing field is about; customers and brands in the same space, interacting and participating with one another.
C’Mon, It’s Just Vocabulary
Lest you think there is no power in language, all you have to do is consider how many of us pepper our conversations with phrases like “the f-word” and “the n-word”. There’s a reason we don’t say those words and it’s because they have power.
The word “engage” is just distanced enough from the idea of actually being interested that it has a subtle and cumulative effect on our psyches.
Engaging someone implies that you are the power player, the one with the lasso to pull another person in your direction. Being interested in someone implies an equality, an openness and a meeting of the minds.
It’s vocabulary, yes, but there’s more to it than a word.
And while I’m not talking about soul-defining terminology here, I do think there is a powerful and distinct meaning to the words we use and consciously or not, they affect how we think and behave.
This Nuance Of Terms Couldn’t Possibly Matter… It’s Still Social Marketing
Nuh-uh, and that’s why I brought up the subject.
The first rule of human behavior is that nobody cares about you. In fact, the only thing anyone cares about is themselves. I hear you about to tell me six hundred ways in which we’re not nearly as selfish as all that, but stop your protesting, because we are.
I do something nice for you because it makes me feel good and because in turn you are more likely to do something nice for me. That’s just human nature and it’s kept the world turning for many thousands of years.
I’m not talking about deep, spiritual relationships here. I’m talking about the cold, cruel world of marketing where selfishness is magnified by the very fact that nobody has to give a c^@p about you, not even for their own sake.
The point is that if you begin your marketing plan by thinking that anyone gives the smallest, tiniest c^@p about you and your business, if you go out there and think that all you have to do is “engage” those people so you can “attract” them to you, you’ve got a serious lesson to learn, and here it is: you can only get by giving first.
Be Interested: That’s Where The Power of Connection Lies
Remember when you were a teenager and you really really really liked someone? Remember what your mother told you about how to get someone’s attention and be fairly certain of securing a second date? It wasn’t to “be interesting”. It was to “be interested“.
Ask questions. Get your date to tell you the details of his last hockey game or her trip to the mall. Inquire about families and hobbies, broken bones and homework assignments. If you dated smart, you did a lot less talking than you did listening and responding.
In today’s parlance, we’d call that “engaging”. But we’d be wrong.
More and more, engaging is turning into broadcasting, just on a different channel and with a different fuzzy word attached to it.
What This Means In Reality
This may sound like fun theory and maybe a little wordplay but how does it translate into real marketing? It starts with an attitude.
Engage says, “Come to me”.
Interest says, “I’ll come to you.”
Engage says, “Attract people to you.”
Interest says, “Make other people feel attractive.”
This is not theory. This is highly practical. Psychology has proven time and again that the people we like the most are the ones who make us feel good about ourselves.
As a marketer, you’re just some nerdy guy hoping for a date. It’s your customer’s party and there you are, trying to be engaging and interesting and failing miserably. Do you know why?
Because people do not like people who are interesting.
People do not like people who are funny, charming, or even engaging.
All those things may get attention but attention is a fleeting thing. Just ask the “funny guy” who has an off-day.
People like people who are interested in them, who make them feel like the engaging ones.
This paradigm is the complete reverse of what we’ve come to accept as social marketing.
That’s why I want you to stop engaging. Stop “attracting” your customers, relinquish your power altogether. And start being interested.
When you publish a Facebook update or a Twitter post, stop trying to be the nerdy guy at the party who wants attention. Curating content, sharing photos and videos, retweeting or sharing someone else’s post, +1s, repins, stumbles – these all get amassed under the umbrella of engagement and they may all be quite interesting; but none express true interest.
Yes, these are part of your brand’s personality, they add value and they demonstrate reciprocity. I don’t suggest giving them up. But I do suggest that you turn the attention away from yourself for a moment and start asking, talking and communicating directly with your customers.
It behooves you to forget what you know about how to “do” social and remember how it’s done every day in the real world. It’s hard. It takes time. It takes work. It’s so much easier to shoot off a retweet or “like” a post and call it engagement than it is to figure out what people are talking about, what they want, and meet them there.
Stop Telling Your Story
In the brave new world of social marketing, we’re bombarded constantly with advice to “tell the story of our brand”. Facebook has turned storytelling into a marketing ploy unto itself, with its new Timeline and ads-turned-sponsored-stories.
But next time you think anyone cares about your brand’s story, I want you to think about what I said earlier and remember that the only way you’re going to get a second date with your customer is if you ask for his or her story first.
There are no how-to tips on the planet that can teach you how to have a relationship. That can only come with practice, with intent and with a true expression of interest in the people you’re involved with.
If you really want to “do” social you need to stop drawing customers to you and start going to them. Only then will you be able to unlock the power and potential of social marketing. Otherwise, you’d be just as well off sending out a postcard to ten thousand people on that mailing list you bought last week.
Do you think I’m crazy? Am I overthinking social and turning it into something it wasn’t meant to be? Are we all just fine with spewing out content into social streams and calling it a new kind of marketing? Or is there something to the idea of losing the tired term “engagement”?
Yes, I am really interested in your thoughts!