Engagement Is More Than A Marketing Outcome

My daughter Zoe recently turned 16: a big birthday, one that in normal times would warrant more celebration than sitting at home with her boring parents. Her friends, not content to simply Snapchat or Instagram their well-wishes during quarantine, prevailed upon their parents to drive them in a 10-car caravan past our house, honking horns while the girls hung out their car windows screaming “Happy Birthday!” as Zoe watched from our driveway.

If the current crisis proves anything, it’s that we as humans will find a way to connect, even when we’re forced to stay physically apart. 

This is the very reason social media has become so integral to our lives. It allows us to feel a connection to those we care about, wherever we are. And it’s why we marketers have become so reliant on it as a vehicle to get our brands in front of consumers. Social media is where consumers’ attention is increasingly focused, and it’s where they share the things they care about. 



Quarantine analytics prove this. According to Similarweb, Facebook visits are up 25%. TikTok and Youtube are each up 15%. Nextdoor is up a whopping 75%. 

Seems obvious. People are trapped in their homes with nothing much else to do, right? They’re sharing experiences, information, opinions.  

But I suspect there’s something deeper going on that’s revealing a new normal in consumer behavior. People are reassessing how much they rely on direct connection. Some of the biggest spikes in usage are in messaging apps like HouseParty, Google’s Duo, Hangouts, Zoom: vehicles for rich, live communication that’s not possible through the “call and response” nature of most social media like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. They’re the virtual version of the drive-by happy birthday. 

This makes things like ads, articles and social posts seem pretty static, doesn’t it? It belies the idea that views, likes, follows or comments equate to “engagement.” True connection, as we humans know it, is actual dialogue. It’s shared experience. It’s real time. 

Does the current marketing model for reaching consumers enable this type of connection? Leveraging these live, real-time platforms in a way that’s fresh, entertaining — and, critically, useful to consumers? Have we built our brands to show up authentically, geared toward a human connection? 

At the very least, we need to look beyond traditional notions of social media to begin finding new ways to connect with consumers in this “live” environment. 

Perhaps the answers lie in looking at brands that seem to have embraced and harnessed social media as a creative medium rather than an advertising platform. That contribute to the current zeitgeist, not just tap into it. Breakthrough brands don’t co-opt popular culture, they drive it. 

According to the 2019 Meaningful Brands survey, 77% of brands could simply disappear and not a single customer would care. The other 23%? They’re creating connections between consumers, facilitating conversation and fostering communities. Sephora and its "Beauty Talk" online community, LEGO Ideas, Xbox ambassadors. These are the types of brands best positioned to take things to the next level. Breaking through by actually facilitating and enhancing human-to-human connections, instead of interrupting them.

Because that’s where this is all headed, isn’t it? At the end of the day, if this quarantine has taught us anything, it's that engagement isn’t an outcome or a metric, it’s a human drive.

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