This is a response to a great article by Syncapse CEO Michael Scissons, since I was jogging right behind them both that night in Central Park (wink) and also overheard Zuckerberg's four warnings. There was one, though, that Mr. Scissons might have misheard. So I thought I'd add to the conversation on the role "good" social media agencies can play for brands.
It's not Facebook's fault.
I'll start with a simple theory, which Scisson's data seems to support. The decline of Facebook engagement rates is entirely related to a declining perception of usefulness that the experiences brands create for consumers actually bring to their lives. Some call it "fatigue", I call it failure to move value exchange into a richer, deeper territory. And yes, that's not Facebook's fault. And it's not the consumers' fault either. After all, they're still entertaining daily messages from the 200+ brands they like on their feeds. As a matter of fact, the theory applies well beyond Facebook and to all of the ways we connect with social consumers, and all of the things, good and bad, we do with them (and them with us).
So what's a brand to do?
Many brands clearly have to roll up their sleeves and rethink a few things. As brands have grown their social audiences and slowly learned to measure their value, they have also built a biased focus on their ability to recruit. They now face a harsher reality, which is to focus on their ability to retain and interest. It isn't related to fatigue, and it has little to do with channels. It has everything to do with creating deeper context for engagement with fans. Many brands are clearly having a hard time doing this. Two things are critical for success:
- Moving from attention to interest: Successful social brands understand how to create attention, how to drive fans close, how to get them to engage. Successful brands also understand that this is only a first step in their relationship lifecycle, a step towards an interested audience and one that can also spark interest in others. While attention is largely focused on establishing connections in media and driving communication through those, interest is grown by creating deeper context for experiences (such as local pages, as Scissons mentions) and telling brand and consumer stories through compelling content.
- Context is not optional: Successful social brands know their consumer down to the local, sometimes community level. They live and breathe insights and take action in ways that are not organized around global brand voice, but rather around how that voice should exist within cultural consumer circles around the country or the world. Fatigue is equivalent to lack of growing context, an inability to stay relevant. Successful brands have figured out, for example, how to engage at the local level, whether geographically or culturally, and drive people yet closer to fruitful exchanges. They sometimes even do it all from a single page, with a solid strategy in place. Storytelling and content which brings to life these reasons to engage, both from brand and consumer, plays a key role in this life stage.
But don't go at it alone!
In his telepathic exchange, I doubt Zuckerberg would have said that brands should stop outsourcing their brand "voice." In fact, encouraging brands to go at it alone is really ignoring the very problem that good social agencies are best at solving. Again, fatigue isn't related to a failure to communicate, to maintain the right voice, or anything like that. It isn't a conversational challenge, but rather an experience challenge. It isn't just about community management anymore, but becomes about serious integrated planning. It's about seamlessly bringing together a bigger arsenal, and building more powerful (and profitable) engagement for your audience. An arsenal which today can includes many skillsets, namely creative, insights, mobile, media, social, PR, guerilla, events, analytics and more. Brand voice is crucial, but only a small part of this new game. And most brands simply don't have the scale, connections, relationships and skills to take on this job alone.
In a changing media, advertising and agency landscape, one thing is clear. The "good" social media agencies can truly think with an approach that is rooted in experience. They can think of social marketing as "how", not "what," can comfortably create across a wide array of channels, technologies and skillsets. They can bring this articulation of skills to life with a new breed of services and relationships, including but ranging far beyond community management, PR and media. They can deliver mind-blowing creative, captivating experiences, awesome technology, can drive deeper engagement, all while focusing on delivering strong results beyond the short term and knowing how to strategically measure them.
[Image: Flickr user Andi]