Last month a piece of bacon gave me the answer to a question that has been plaguing me. The bacon in question sat atop a potato salad served up on a Eurostar train from London to Brussels and the question was "how can a mass consumer brand use social media to generate engagement".
First the bacon. The issue was, it was poorly cooked. Call me a food snob, but I believe that if you are to serve cold bacon, especially with cold potatoes, the bacon has to be well cooked, so the fat on it is rendered, crisp and tasty. In fact, I don't believe this is a matter of opinion, I suspect there is not a single chef of any repute who would disagree with me on this point. Which is why I was disappointed to find that Eurostar, in its Business Premier class, was serving poorly cooked bacon. This wasn't a culinary disaster, but it was an indicator of poor performance. It was something that, if I were CEO of Eurostar, I would want to pick up and address.
So -- I took a picture of said bacon and put it in a tweet to @Eurostar. Here it is. I didn't receive a reply. This caused me to think about my relationship with the brand Eurostar -- my 'engagement' with Eurostar to use a term that the social media revolution has now made a permanent fixture in the lexicon of marketing-speak. Before the bacon incident, I had very little engagement with Eurostar. I liked that fact that the Eurostar service, or more specifically the Channel Tunnel, had made it much easier to get to Brussels or Paris. It was kind-of groovy in its early days, especially as the whole experience was so much more up-to-date than anything else being served-up on the British railway network at the time. But, ten or so years in, Eurostar had become a purely functional thing in my life. My engagement with it was low down on the scale -- at least on the scale I use to measure engagement, which has at the top end things like relationships with friends and family. I.e. Eurostar was down there with pretty much every other brand I, or anyone else, is likely to encounter.
And then came the bacon incident. The bacon itself merely confirmed my view of Eurostar as being a brand which didn't merit any particular consideration in my life. And then, there was the lack of response to my tweet, which cranked them down a further notch or two. Frankly, I didn't expect a response. But then I thought what if @Eurostar had replied. Suppose they had said "Thanks for this, we will pass this onto our catering team". If that had happened, my view of Eurostar would have gone up quite considerably. My 'engagement with Eurostar' to use the marketing speak would have significantly increased. I wouldn't have even cared if they hadn't passed my comment on, it was the simple fact that I knew they were listening that would have done the trick. In fact, my 'engagement with Eurostar' would have risen to a point that was basically about as high as it could realistically expect to get, short of actually significantly improving the service (which is something marketing directors, unfortunately, are rarely empowered to do).
And that is when I got my answer about mass consumer brands, social media and engagement. There are actually lots of sorts of engagement you can seek to generate, but the only one that is likely to pass the test of both impact and the ability to scale is the engagement that comes from creating The Expectation of Listening. Create this and you have something of more enduring value than almost all of the campaign driven activity that most brands are seeking to build in social media.
And this is why, rather than spend money trying to recreate your website in Facebook, or 'viral' YouTube videos, or extensive social media campaigns, by far and away the most effective thing to do in social media is to listen to the spaces where people are talking about you and respond appropriately (bearing in mind that response may not simply be trying to join the conversation, but by actually changing the product or service). It all comes back to managing the four key spaces of social media:
(Note: I am probably being a little unfair on @Eurostar. If you look at their Twitter stream, they do actually seem to be listening and responding, perhaps they thought my bacon tweet was just too pretentious. However, the basic point still remains).
A more extensive version of this article is available here.
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