Confusing ‘Facebook Vomit’ With Customer Engagement

Keeping advertising and social media in separate silos diminishes the power of both, according to Darren McGrath.

They stay separate because it is easier for many people to understand them, but advertising and social media are connected because they influence how people feel, and emotions are a powerful influence. This separate can cause companies to lose sight of the bigger picture, he said.

McGrath, MD of media agency, Brando, was giving this month’s talk at Refresh Dublin at the Science Gallery.

Nevertheless, McGrath said the importance of social media is often overstated. And while it does pose many interesting questions about how we interact in work and how firms engage customers, he said it is driving evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, changes.

Meanwhile, people are slapping pages up on to Facebook without understanding what they want to accomplish. “It was becoming another thing people were beginning to get a buzz about,” McGrath said. The term social media “is bandied around all the time,” but it means different things to people, he said. McGrath, himself, does not like the media tag because he thinks of traditional channels like television and billboards when he hears the word.

Once the Facebook page goes up, people begin to follow how many “likes” they get. Watching the numbers go up gives them a “warm, fuzzy feeling,” he said. But some organizations overdo it. A constant stream of updates can lead to a stream of “Facebook vomit” on your newsfeed when you sign on. This is counterproductive since users just end up hiding the company’s information.

Against this backdrop, McGrath stepped back and questioned what was happening and how it was relevant Brando’s work on behalf of its customers. On the one hand, he found himself going back to basics. On the other, a whole new avenue had opened up before him. Concentrating on “social rather than media,” McGrath said people are still swayed by ideas and emotions. They are also heavily influenced by friends’ recommendations.

Three recent efforts have tried to bridge those gaps.

Brando’s very successful campaign for O2, “Be The Difference,” married social media, technology and rugby fans devotion. Fans recorded short pep talks for the team, and the best were shown in the stadium. The numbers on the players’ jerseys were made up of hundreds of individual fan names. It was an emotive campaign and connects the fans even more with the team.

Best Buy developed Twelpforce (@twelpforce). As McGrath said, “sometimes the best ideas are the most simple.” Twelpforce brought Twitter in to Best Buy stores and used employees’ spare time there to solve customer problems. In one fell swoop, service calls dropped, satisfaction rose, and shop-floor employees became more engaged in their jobs.

Another take on social media came from Levi’s. They use Facebook’s like feature to show online customers which styles are most popular. Depending on your mindset, you could choose the most popular or least popular.

Meanwhile, McGrath said people are friending and tweeting outside work, but the workplace has changed little. Nor has it made any effort to embrace that change, even though “ideas are the strongest currency we have at the moment.”

Looking at the traditional idea process, McGrath said someone will go to his or her boss with an idea. If it is shot down, the employee’s confidence takes a hit and ideas may not be as useful or forthcoming in future. If it is approved, the worker has “permission” to share it with everyone. “This is very dangerous to an organic process,” he said.

Instead, McGrath suggested a social-media approach: Ideas can be launched. If there is no interest, they fade away and no harm is done. If there is interest, others become engaged and discuss them. The originator gains credibility.

He did acknowledge, however, that this openness would not catch on quickly in Ireland. This could be due to age difference or fear by senior staff of being shown up by younger staff. Similar cautiousness is seen among companies afraid to engage with social media, McGrath said. “The ones we tend not to work with are scared shitless” of it, he said. “They would tend to panic” at the thought of an adverse comment on their Facebook page.

But studies have shown that the companies that engage with customers — especially dissatisfied ones — have the most to gain. Echoing comments made by BT’s head of online marketing last week at the ICS, McGrath said an honest commitment to tackle the issue can be invaluable.

In the Q&A session, I asked McGrath how Brando addressed the ideas issue. The company has around 25 staff, and one of their most intriguing arrangements is I Love Fridays. This is where one person a week gets up before everyone and talks about something that makes them feel differently outside of work than inside it. “Some of them are hilarious, some of them are worrying,” he said. But in a creative environment like his, the confidence it gives people to present ideas is important.

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