Engage or Strategically Extend?

In the words of a former mentor, "Words mean things."  This is really simple but profound if you consider how seldom we really weigh what we say.  I think it's important not to take things at face value, which is why I previously tackled the charge to "Be Transparent" in a two-part post dealing with new levels of transparency in the  business cycle.  Last week, I responded to the lemming call to "Be Authentic!" addressing our need to instead embrace "authentic goodness." Now, I'm responding to another call I see regularly.... and the call is this:


Raise the sword from the high horse and shout it loud as you lead the charge of businesses everywhere! This is the magic formula for success. It's not like it costs anything, right?  Wrong. This statement has zero context. Engage in what, with whom, and for what reason?

I often see this blanket charge is issued by people (including someone recently) who employ formulas and follow schemes to garner a massive audience.  They leverage follower numbers as a platform to try and establish "authority" or "influence" and broadcast messages out to a faceless sea of names in a manner that largely mirrors traditional one-way marketing.  They engage in a largely unfocused dialog that leads to little and usually to demonstrate their own knowledge, self-promote or attempt to game some influence.  They follow far more people than follow them back.  They rarely respond to DMs, (although they spam people with them) and haven't had meaningful discourse with 80% of their network. Beware of these people -  they don't understand business shift.

Any fool can employ a follow scheme and garner a massive audience overnight using bots and apps online - but without a plan, and decisive focus, it's a waste of energy. 


Engagement is one part art and one part science and it must be driven by a larger picture for how it engagement will drive measurable outcomes.  Perhaps this is why brainiac Brian Solis dedicated an entire book to the topic of engagement.  That's right, an entire book.  In fact, a number of smart people have written about this.  Whether your focus is broad and expansive or narrow and deep - - there's got to be a a plan in place clear goal, a set of measurable objectives in place guiding engagement.

A number of people have complained about Guy Kawasaki, accusing him for a lack of focus and taking him on for his methods on Twitter.  Guy has garnered a tremendous following through his own reputation and effort, and by employing the use of follow bots, auto responders and not-so-ghostly support staff to manage communications to his network and manage tweets around the clock.  I don't personally love his approach -- but I really do respect Guy - because he does have focus. His entire goal is to target (in his own words) "anyone who can click"  - largely to drive traffic from all walks of live to Alltop   -- although this network is also instrumental in promoting his books and other efforts.  He's got massive focus.. and massive followers. He works in a direct-to-mass capacity --> and it works for him.  My only caution for those watching is this: Guy's approach may work for a huge persona, or a mega brand -- but it's not likely to work well for the the majority of us in business today.

We can all challenge ourselves to employ better focus. Identify the audience(s) that matter(s), understand the needs of each audience, approach engagement with a plan, use the tools that help you communicate better and engage in a manner that emphasizes testing, learning and improvement. Most importantly, establish your reasons for engaging. Here are a few broad ones:


If you want to build a network that will serve as a valuable resource, attempt to build a following of smart folks who will readily engage with you to answer questions and solve problems.  They should dare to challenge what you say, probe with you, debate with you, give you ideas and promote you when you say smart things.  This is true whether you are an individual learning from others, or a person representing a company whose goal is to harness the input of the masses to better inform your brand's customer.  As you learn from them, celebrate their savvy and contribution to further bolster your network.

Engaging to learn means you'll be thinking, listening, probing, dialoging and debating as you fish for wisdom and insight within your interaction streams.  It also means you won't be fishing merely within your own stream.  Smart learners also mine available wisdom from other streams (related, competitor, etc.) using available technology and tools (disclaimer: both Clarabridge and RightNow are clients).  After all, there's a focus group happening online every day -- and smart people can readily use the knowledge exchange to create, innovate, capitalize, grow, reach and extend more strategically. 


Business is all about people:  People serving people.  If you are not engaging in social channels to serve, you're not doing business well.  Whether you're providing helpful knowledge, directing people to channels for resolution, or solving people's problems -- you will be called upon to serve others in social channels.  Some of what your assistance may not even be your jobSome of what you do may not lead to a sale  - but it should lead to affinity.  When you behave in a stupid, insensitive manner, you may be called on the carpet, with ruthless public exchange on Facebook, Twitter or one of the thousands of websites, communities, networks or customer service portals out there.  . Take a page from the winners or the losers: Serve first, or die!


This is placed intentionally at the center of these admonitions - because this aligns with the objectives you must have in mind as you focus.  When I sale - think of it this way.  Everyone is selling something. You might be selling your post, an ebook, a product demo, the menu of the day, or a product directly. That's why all of us should be able to drive measurable and meaningful transactions - from clicks to comments, cvisits to conversions, calls to foot traffic, leads to sales.You must master the art of the sale by presenting the right message, to the right person, at the right time - and that takes finesse and practice.  It also takes trust.  So, outside of NOT assuming everyone wants what you have to offer, there's no magic formula, here.  Leverage what has worked in the past but think outside the box. Experiment, measure and improve - and as you do, make this your mantra:


Whether you are large or small, the goal of engagement is to endear the right audience, by providing value in a thoughtful manner.  Contrary to popular thought -- this doesn't mean everyone will always like you, or that you should please everyone.  In fact, if we're being honest, for most brands - and even people - there's an aspect of acceptable loss in all relationship building efforts. However, in the shakeout, you must manage all relationships in a manner that leaves you with a pretty loyal group of followers who support you for what you bring to the table.  If you play your cards right with your end-to-end experience, you may just find yourself emerging with a raving group of fans who will take a bullet for you - or at least brave the wait to buy your product.


By all means, it's okay to look at the qualitative and esoteric benefits of engagement, such as the friendships you have built, and their contribution and enrichment to your existence, how they make you feel.   However, it's essential to go full circle to and measure your performance against your plan and objectives using real data Are you moving the needle, driving desired results?  What trends do you see, and how can you boost results?  What have you learned, about yourself, your competitors and your audience?  What did it cost you?  What did it take to manage it and, forecasting ahead -- what's it going to take to better what you've done in the future? How can this and how should this grow or change over time?


In the end, our engagement must be about adding value and improving the experiences we offer. If we are not engaging in a focused and intentional manner:  to learn, to serve, to sell, to endear, to measure... we may just be engaging for nothing. What do you say?  Please Add your thoughts... links, etc.    


Debra Ellis said...


Excellent post (again!) The challenge I have with the charge of "engage!" is that most of the people calling for it, don't do it. A quick Twitter search on any user ID is always enlightening.

Quite often the people who are leading the charge have a multitude of people talking to them, about them, and retweeting them with zero response. Engaging with your community means that you respond to most of the people who are reaching out to you. Chatting with your buddies doesn't count as community engagement.

Guy Kawasaki is an excellent example because he is focused, responsive, and transparent (different post, but still relevant). Scroll through a search on his user ID and you'll see him answering almost everyone who reaches out to him. He publishes his Twitter strategy so anyone who wants to know what he is doing and why can see.

Now compare this search to the Twitter "rockstars." Most don't respond to anyone who isn't in their inner circle. They post about how others should behave on Twitter, but not about their strategy.

If you take it a step further, you'll also notice that they don't respond to comments or publish their email addresses. If engaging is the key to success, why aren't they doing it?

Unknown said...

Hey Deb,

Yeah, that's why I don't like people busting on Guy. I think it's easy with a large mass of followers to zero in on the ones you like and not talk to the rest. Guy (and his three headed support staff) does a great job of responding to people.

I do attempt to respond to EVERY tweet and DM (unless it's DM spam, which prompts immediate unfollow). I don't publish my email address but anyone can contact me easily through my blog.

I can't answer why many "thought leaders" in this space don't do the same... but I'd argue they're really not rockstars after all. They may have once behaved like Trust Agents, but it's as if crossed some kind of magic threshold that made them immune to the principles they once expounded. They have forgotten, they're not rockstars, they're geek bloggers who got lucky, and I'm pretty sure it'll catch up with them.

Olivier Blanchard wrote a post on this topic yesterday (stupid blogger won't let me embed a link today. GRR) - did you see that?


I agree a quick twitter search can be very enlightening... I think we all have circles of trust we commune within -- AND if we're networking right - and with the right people the circles should be expanding and affinity building --> for a purpose.

Thanks so much for your comments, Deb.

Debra Ellis said...

I did see Olivier's post. I found it amusing. I agree with you that it'll catch up with the rock stars. Hypocrisy always ends poorly.

Unfortunately, until it does, some people will be misled. Hopefully it won't cause long term damage.

Promotional Products said...

This is a terrific post. Words can mean so much. A word or phrase can create a connection, emotion or action within the reader and engaging readers with words is an effective way to get your message across.

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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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