Brand engagement takes a knocking at #FutureComms14

Click to embiggenI feel ignorant for not knowing that it was Bill Gates who first said content is king back in 96. I know context, needs, and the appropriate channel are crucial, but conversations start with content, so I should have known where this maxim originated.

The Future Comms line-up provided many such insights, but the most striking theme was knocking brand engagement as an unethical intrusion, and a waste of time.

Considering that engagement has been perhaps the hottest topic inside the enterprise and outside in the marketing world, this is jarring.

At Content Formula, we dont see engagement as the end goal its either part of the journey towards happiness and productivity at work, or it’s part of the relationship companies build with customers.

But Tom Foremski felt engagement could be ethically dubious; I think Tom suggested that engagement activities took people away from time with their families! I interpret this as meaning that engagement for the sake of engagement is the criminal here.

Not everyone was so down on engagement, as O2 said:

But for hundreds of examples of engagement for engagements sake, see Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook, which showcases awful uses of social media by companies that should know better. Some are so bad (especially the older ones) that you want to believe theyve been faked. Jon Morter (he who growth-hacked Facebook to make us all get Rage Against the Machine number 1 for Christmas in 2009) created the Page after Persils irrelevant engaging image and instructions, below.

Jon found, through years of feedback from consumers and agencies forced to push out this sort of thing, that people are happy to be sold things in their timelines, and find all this fluffy engagement stuff annoying.


If those were the lessons, here are the actions

If were to build relationships, engagement will always be important. But we should stop thinking of engagement as a result or an activity that we put in front of people.

We, the communicators, change agents, PRs, and marketers need to be engaged in the story, in the relationship, in the process. We must be involved ourselves, as individuals and as organisations. We need to be authentically present, and committed to the purpose of our relationship building recognising the social contract between everyone involved in multi-way communications.

We cant churn content out without meeting a need or want. We have to add value, not just activities and noise, to peoples online lives.

A strategic marketing approach is needed so that we focus on the outcomes, not merely the inputs we create. Tom Foremski said it clearly when he suggested we need to shut up more.

More from the Future Comms conference:

Align your internal and external communications

Apple and orangeWhich of the following scenarios is best?

Your company announces an innovative partnership with a major brand the press release goes out, and the newspapers are engaged. The BBC website mentions your initiative within its business section.

From which of the following routes might your colleagues discover the news?

  1. Your websites home page;
  2. The BBC;
  3. The newspapers (tomorrow / next week);
  4. A link on your intranet to your websites news;
  5. An intranet story (the press release);
  6. An intranet story (custom written for employees).

Which comes first? The internal intranet story, or the external press release / content marketing?

If were frank, the purpose of a press release is to catch the interest of journalists or publishers and give them something they can easily edit or readily publish. The original press release might not be all that interesting to consumers and employees press releases can feel a bit formulaic.

If the marketing and internal comms teams are well aligned, it may be that employees can be provided with details days before the press release is published. This shouldnt be seen as breaking the embargo, but rather as good, normal internal communications and employee engagement.

In the example scenario, the partnership would have legal caveats involved, meaning that details could not be released, even internally, beyond those who need to know. But once the agreement has been reached, staff should be informed, and the innovative initiative explained. This could be done through several internal news stories and blogs from the project leaders.

The project leaders might want to focus on the marketing value of their initiative, and the announcement, so the internal comms team might not even hear about the project until the press release is published. This seems backwards, and shows a disconnect within the organisations culture.

Employees can be your brand ambassadors if they have marketing campaign details and the permission to share. If the marketing and comms teams had good inter-team communications, they could each find more and better stories to share, and work together to create more impact with little extra effort.

How to align the internal comms and marketing teams

In some companies, it can seem that the internal communications team and the marketing team are combined and separated every five years! But alignment doesnt have to mean amalgamated.

Comms and marketing may well report to different directors, but theres no reason why team members cant sit close to one another. Would you consider sharing space with the other team? If not as a whole team, what about hot-desking as an individual? It may be useful to invite a member from the other team to monthly meetings.

Not all teams can sit together, or even work in the same location. For good inter-team communication, digital channels are needed, and so a collaborative intranet platform can be invaluable. An intranet that supports private or open Team Sites would allow each team to invite the other to take part. It may not be about collaborating together in the first place, but simply giving sight of your work to the other team will raise awareness and trigger conversations. Those conversations can happen within document comments, discussion forums, or on the internal social network (if you have an ESN).

When considering how to publish material, create a shared process where each team agrees with the order and style of news publishing. It may be that you agree to publish a custom written news story for the internal audience a day or an hour before the press release is externally published. This internal-only story will need to go through its own approval process, without causing any delay to the external comms, so an agreed schedule is needed so that everyone can be involved at the right time.

In other words, its nice to put employees first, so the internal comms story will need drafting and approving in sync with the drafting of the press release. Its not like the marketing team should just hand over the details on the day of release the internal comms team should be fully aware of the subject in good time, just as the marketing team is. This will help both teams keep an accurate calendar of news stories, even if it is the marketing team that sets the dates for release.

The work of each team can remain separate, but shared objectives (like supporting business goals) can be better addressed; specifically, employee engagement, campaign impact, revenue, and ideation. Getting more people involved at the opportune time can be a force magnifier for your marketing campaigns and employee engagement. By making better use of the intranet, you can involve both internal comms and marketing people without inadvertently releasing information early, or creating misinformation on the grapevine.

Your intranet platform should support the separate needs of teams, but also foster inter-team collaboration when needed.

Comms and collaboration are conerstones of a good intranet — take a look at our case studies to see how we help clients.

Photo credit: John Lodder

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