Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years you know that the Web has become exponentially more social. It’s no longer simply another broadcast medium like television and radio. It’s a communication platform where friends, family, classmates, co-workers, brands and customers can gather and communicate with each other in a more vibrant way than ever before. If not already, the Internet is rapidly becoming our primary means of communication. Major contributing factors leading to this point include:
• 80%+ of active Internet users now have a broadband connection, so more people are getting online with connections that can handle the quick transfer of large amounts of data;
• Digital cameras have proliferated, making photo-sharing nearly as common as a telephone call;
• Social features like commenting, “share this” and tagging have become integrated into mainstream sites;
• Social networking, blogging and user-generated contest sites have developed and grown at such a rate that they have changed our entire notion of what Web content can be.
All of these factors lead to an Internet population that spends a lot of time online and actively shares and communicates with friends (and for some even strangers). For advertisers, this creates a perfect storm for engagement.
For the purposes of this discussion, I define engagement as the communication between a brand and its customer, a brand and its potential customer or between two customers. Put simply, for engagement to happen, there must be some back and forth between folks. A comment on a photo or blog post, the sharing of a widget ad, the submission of a photo or video into a contest or the emailing of a coupon to a friend are all great examples of engagement in advertising.
Three recent examples that I thought were particularly effective were the Scion Speak campaign, the India Jones “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” Facebook promotion and H&R Block’s use of Twitter.
In the Scion campaign users could create their own custom “coat of arms” to reflect their personalities. These coats of arms could be made into window decals or even airbrushed onto creators’ Scions. For Scion, this campaign reinforced the unique customization options of the car (a key selling point) and allowed Scion to learn more about the varied personalities of their customers. On the flip side, customers were able to express their individuality. Customers became engaged with the brand to create something together.
For the recent release of the Indiana Jones movie, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Paramount Pictures unleashed a massive campaign on Facebook that included custom applications, photos, videos, fan connections, and more. What I liked best about the campaign was it released 250,000 free Indy-branded Fedora virtual gifts. The first 250,000 Facebook users could send one of these limited virtual gifts to a friend. The Fedora’s were gone within 12 hours, a record for Facebook. Although simple, this is a great example of an advertiser integrating effectively into an existing social network and engaging with users without being interruptive and loud.
The last example technically isn’t even advertising. There was no media buy, no creative and no agency involved. During the past tax, season representatives from H&R Block monitored activity on Twitter for tax-related questions and offered suggestions from their H&R Block profiles. What a terrific way to communicate with existing and potential customers! The key to the success of this initiative was that H&R Block was transparent and it offered advice and suggestions without hard selling its services.
These examples show that consumers are hungry for and receptive to innovative approaches that appeal to their social needs without disrupting their user experiences. As social media and social networks continue to evolve, engagement will become the backbone of online advertising. As marketers, we must also evolve in how we evaluate the effectiveness of a campaign. I foresee click through rates and impressions being replaced by engagement metrics, such as, “how many interactions did users have with my campaign?” or “how many times was my message virally spread?”
Why is this so important? If you can engage with your customers you have built the deepest possible bond with them. And that’s good business.