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@ is the Universal Sign of Engagement

For decades, companies were very good at pushing messages into markets and talking at people rather than with them. Now companies are embracing the idea of two-way interaction. Monitoring conversations is becoming standard procedure as small and enterprise businesses alike make substantial investments in tools such as Radian6, Sprial16 and Brandtology. And, not only are companies monitoring conversations, they’re adopting social media management systems (SMMS) such as Seesmic and CoTweet to operationalize conversations and platforms such as Objective Marketer, PeopleBrowsr and Buddy Media to automate engagement campaigns.

There’s a difference between monitoring and listening and there’s certainly a difference between conversations and engagement. How social media is employed today promotes monitoring as a reporting function and conversations as a symptom of reaction. In many ways, the state of social media is eerily reminiscent of traditional marketing. We’re fooled into a sense of collaboration and co-creation because people can respond. But programs are not measured by functionality, they are valued by the value customers take away from the experience. It begs the question, is social media in actuality anti-social?

New media philosophies, while rich with good intentions, are confined by the culture of the organization they’re designed to help. Corporate culture is pervasive and planted. It is not anything that will change suddenly because of the popularity of Twitter and Facebook no matter how strong your case. Culture shock takes place because a business is subjected to the harsh reality that customers no longer support the way business is conducted.

Value is not Stated, It’s Delivered…and It’s Felt

Social Media offers a window to the future and a means to earn relevance, nothing less, nothing more. It is an enabler to reinvigorate the mission and vision of the company and extend its value only when the purpose and value have been redefined for a new generation of consumers. This is where it all begins. Otherwise, your engagement strategies activate a timer that counts down the journey to irrelevance.

People have choices. They have options. They can make decisions with or without you. How they’re marketed to today is the beginning of the end of social media 1.0. Social streams are brimming with information, promotions, and friend requests that compete for a finite amount of attention. Something more is required and it’s needed now.

Brands are doing well at building communities in social networks once they realize that there’s an art and science to engagement, content, entertainment, and community activation. But a community is only as strong as the aftereffect that’s produced when it is tested. For example, do customers click through to landing pages? What happens when they get there? Are referrals active and how do they pan out? Are individuals addressing the problems or challenges of their peers when you can’t be there? Or, are they merely interacting with each update within your domain because it’s easy to do so?

@ and Found

The future of social networking lies in conveying value and delivering against the brand promise not only within your communities but also in the communities you do not own and are not present. I refer to this as the “@ and Found” formula for engagement. Businesses are getting better at monitoring conversations where the brand name is mentioned. Some are proficient in comparing mentions to the volume and reach of competitors. Mastering the cycle of monitoring goes beyond reporting however. It must be supported by a conversation framework that pushes important opportunities to engage or learn through the organization to return a response or trigger change or adaptation within.

A conversation framework has a beginning and an end with various pathways to business units and functions in between. Responding to opportunities and communicating the act of listening and adapting form a solid “@” quotient in this equation.

These individuals represent would-be advocates for your brand. If they’re happy with the product or brand experience they are candidates for an ambassador or advocacy program. Note, advocacy programs require different engagement techniques than that of influencers. Advocates operate from a genuine passion for what you do. Influencers operate from a basic perspective of, “what’s in it for me.” They are most likely not customers or users of your product or service today.

As referenced in the image above, MarketingSherpa found that outside engagement represents a greater degree of difficulty but equally offers a greater level of effectiveness.

Responding to mentions is just the beginning. It’s the low hanging fruit of conversational marketing and social media in general. The “Found” side of the calculation is where the future of brand relevance takes shape. It’s not about who you engage with today or those that engage with you, it’s about those who don’t. These prospects are active in your markets, your brand is just not an option for whatever reason. It’s your job to figure out how to earn attention and significance among them and the communities in which they populate and influence.

While advocates are discoverable by brand-related keywords, the “Founds” are identifiable by keywords related to markets and interests.

– They define communities of opportunity
– Recommend other products and services
– Answer each others questions
– Share experiences
– Earn authority on subjects tied to your industry

Listening to what they say and understanding the challenges and opportunities they face provide intelligence to inspire a meaningful engagement program. Once activated, the responses will funnel through the existing listening and conversation framework to ensure continued engagement, resolution and closure.

While the “@’s” represent an opportunity for advocacy, the “Founds” reveal potential influencers. Earlier I mentioned a difference between conversations and engagement. Influencers do not gain value from random acts of conversation. They do however, respond well to informed engagement where value and mutual benefits are inherent in the outreach.

The next era of social media is not based on a one-to-many model but instead a one-to-one-to-many continuum that naturally triggers a measurable social effect. Indeed, 1 + 1 = Many.

We are situated in a market that is in transition. Operating with what we know must be balanced by learning what we don’t know and then applying it to the mix based on the needs and expectations of our customers. Doing so may push us outside of our comfort zones, but in the end, it is how we earn relevance today and over time. Welcome to the end of business as usual.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook

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Image Credit: Tristan Savatier –

31 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “@ is the Universal Sign of Engagement”

  1. Andreas Mannal says:

    Absolutely amazing analysis of ‘Social Media’! Why are we talking about ‘companies’ and ‘marketing’, instead of humanity and justice in this context?!

    • briansolis says:

      Andreas, agreed. All I can do is provide the foundation for what is the
      “right thing to do.” From there, I hope people replace words like
      business with something that matters to them…the words are

  2. NEENZ says:


    Shit just keeps getting real! (and I say this with the most caring and supportive tone). Your analysis should be used as the guidelines to separate those that “hustle” from the “hustler”. Communities are not cliques, it’s an all inclusive effort even when there isn’t 1,000% buy in, and especially if there’s disagreements. The “Found” part of your analysis is very powerful, it’s reaching those that do not show up on the usual keyword searches, it requires intense listening, and something magical…like “mind reading”. Keep it flowing, I’m picking up what you’re putting down. 🙂

  3. Ann says:

    Fabulous post. Its just as important to know about the things we don’t know (Found) as the things we do (@.)

  4. I had an interesting conversation a few days ago with a new client for whom social media will be a big part of our program. As with most clients, he wanted to know just what we were going to be doing for the money he was going to be paying.

    Since many clients have a hard time figuring out how to monitor social media, I put a fair bit of emphasis on that end of things.

    As this post points out, effective monitoring needs to go beyond searching just for mentions of the client’s company name; it needs to also monitor for “keywords related to market and interests.” I call that “concept-based” monitoring and it’s designed to find people who are talking about the problems, issues and opportunities a client’s new product or service can address.

    My new client wasn’t terribly impressed. He’s an engineer and, to him, monitoring, even concept-based monitoring, was a dead simple affair. The part he found difficult was acting on the results of his monitoring; in other words, starting conversations and engaging with the people his monitoring uncovered for him. He wanted to know more about how we did the conversation bit.

    As a story-teller, the conversation part comes rather naturally to me and I tend not to emphasise the value inherent in that end of things. It was interesting that each of us saw greater value in the half of the equation that did not come naturally to us. Both parts, of course, must be done effectively.

  5. PamMktgNut says:

    Great post Brian! I agree there is so much we don’t know. 

    I love the notion of “earn relevance.” Wow, so true yet I never thought of it that way. We seem to think we can decide what is relevant and that by using traditional marketing and research methods we are comfortable we assume relevance based on doing the right research, measuring the scientific side of social media based on measurable engagement, not what is felt.

     I agree with Andreas’s comment in the use of the word business. When writing I often struggle when using the word business when in reality I am describing humans. 

    I am working on a very important business strategy and plan today. This post helped me put some framework around our thinking and where we need to go. Thank you!

  6. I like how you basically said operating with what we know is ok.. as long as we get the fact that we really have to do some serious learning to align with the giant changes in communication social media positively disrupts our lives with. 

  7. I love this line :The next era of social media is not based on a one-to-many model but instead a one-to-one-to-many continuum that naturally triggers a measurable social effect. Indeed, 1 + 1 = Many.” 

  8. I love this line :The next era of social media is not based on a one-to-many model but instead a one-to-one-to-many continuum that naturally triggers a measurable social effect. Indeed, 1 + 1 = Many.” 

  9. I love this line :The next era of social media is not based on a one-to-many model but instead a one-to-one-to-many continuum that naturally triggers a measurable social effect. Indeed, 1 + 1 = Many.” 

  10. I love this line :The next era of social media is not based on a one-to-many model but instead a one-to-one-to-many continuum that naturally triggers a measurable social effect. Indeed, 1 + 1 = Many.” 

  11. Craig White says:

    Is social media anti-social? I have worried a bit about this generation of young people not being able to hold a face to face conversation with people due to the influence of social media. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m just old fashioned and actually enjoy having a good conversation when my eyes actually engage the other person. 

    Obviously I use Social Media in my day to day activities, but I believe that this generation has become somewhat addicted to their portable devices and lack the ability to engage on a more personal level. 

    Am I off topic here or what!

    Thanks again for your truly valuable content.

    • It is sad to see many younger adults and teens glued to their phones when out in public.  Instead of interacting with the few people they are hanging out with, their on facebook checking status or chatting with friends with SMS.

      Nice article Brian.  Listening can also shape the way a brand does business in the future if people are open to giving feedback.  

  12. Agreeing with you. Amazing insights and i have to agree also with Andreas Mannal, I wonder about it too.

  13. Fullkum says:

    Thanks for sharing

  14. Tim Clark says:

    Being in social marketing myself, I can completely relate to this since there have been many instances where the fans of my clients have engaged in discussions on there latest work. This includes all forms of media but mostly the musical kind. There will emerge a new form where the brands we like will have to engage us on a more personal level such as those mini van ads that finished on YouTube for instance. Well if you would like to more about my clients just Google…  somethingnewnow  that’s how you can find my companies online, Thank You.

    Tim Clark, Owner
    The SNN Companies

  15. The next era of social media is not based on a one-to-many model but
    instead a one-to-one-to-many continuum that naturally triggers a
    measurable social effect. Indeed, 1 + 1 = Many. Nice article. This is very practical matter. Thanks for sharing this article.

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