True Engagement: a new methodology to reconnect with your social audience

Marina Hernández

1 September 2021

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In a previous episode of Rebel Thinking we explained how at Good Rebels we have spotted a turning point in social media. We are not the first to identify the gap between brands’ expectations and reality in this channel, but we do have a clear diagnosis: we have forgotten the true essence of social media. Symptoms such as the commoditisation of likes, the decline of communities and the loss of credibility only confirm our hypothesis. 

In trying to respond to this situation, we set out to find the keys for reconnecting with users. To do so, we followed the hints that users themselves had left us, which unequivocally reflected their desire to establish authentic connections through the creation of micro-communities, private spaces and common experiences, which brands had gradually distanced themselves from. 

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel: unlike traditional media, social networks provide a two-way environment where we can generate moments of truth. A space where interaction is authentic and genuine, and which is also accessible to brands.

That is how we consolidated our True Engagement methodology, aimed at discovering and developing actions that challenge users and encourage them to actively engage with branded content. 

But what exactly is True Engagement?

True Engagement is based on a simple premise: focus on what keeps us connected in the social environment. It is our vision to generate unique experiences that leave one-way interactions behind and give way to authentic user relationships, such as user-generated content, real-time conversations or spontaneous reviews. 

True Engagement is the basic principle guiding our entire strategy, from the initial approach to the implementation and, of course, measurement. The latter part is especially relevant, as KPIs should measure success based on the level of True Engagement, leaving aside vanity metrics. This allows us to complete the strategy and nurture it organically. 

As with fine wine, the True Engagement methodology is meant to improve over time: the lessons learnt will allow us to get to know the user better and, therefore, to continue improving the quality of our activations. 

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Another feature of True Engagement is it reaches all corners of our communication, affecting every stage of the funnel. The concept of engagement is commonly associated with higher parts of the funnel, such as brand building. True Engagement, on the other hand, seeks to engage users in an authentic and relevant way, so it can also take place at other stages, such as at the actual purchase. 

For instance, during lockdown, our Toyota team realised the brand was losing one of the most important touch points with users: dealerships. Thus, we created the first virtual dealership on Instagram, which allowed us to keep users engaged in the sales experience and channel real conversions that could not be taken care of.

Building meeting points through empathy and UX

We began to define our methodology by developing the strategy, since in order to successfully implement True Engagement we first needed to understand which spaces could be used to connect with consumers. 

The initial context was challenging, with up to 41% of users acknowledging their lack of interest in branded content. Indeed, one might think that brands’ communication plans often do not match users’ real interests and needs. However, finding such points of connection and putting them at the centre of everything we do through user-oriented is one of our main priorities. 

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We thus followed a user experience process, in which we analysed users’ expectations and needs, as well as the pain points they experience when interacting with brands. Once identified, we established common communication territories on which to build the remaining elements of the strategic framework.

Next step was designing communications strategies that could awaken authentic user interaction. To this end, we relied on empathy-based frameworks to explore the true personality of the brand. It is only through complex feelings, with different intensities, that we will be able develop deep relationships with users and achieve True Engagement. 

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More and more brands are choosing to let user behaviour guide their social media strategies. More and more brands are choosing to listen to user behaviour. As Chipotle’s senior social media strategist Neiv Toledano points out, the key to their success lies in “constantly putting themselves in the shoes of consumers”. Whenever he identifies a shared behaviour among their audience, he asks himself  “How can we come up with an idea that is authentic to Chipotle and really resonates with our customers where they are with their lives right now?” Following this approach, Chipotle launched a TikTok trend, where users shared their own content under the hashtag #boorito, resulting in a record total of 4.2 billion views.

Taking user experience one step further

When opening new communication channels, we often end up —almost unconsciously— following the same codes and logic as in other media, and leave behind what makes social media interaction different. That’s why, in the experience development phase, we sought to make the most out of the unique features of social storytelling

  • Continuity: Ensuring momentum expands over time and accompanying users in the emotions generated by a brand’s content. Unlike traditional media, social platforms allow us to impact users more frequently, as well as to generate messages that better resonate with their day-to-day life. 
  • Depth: In social media, a single idea can generate a “micro-universe”, unfolding into different formats (GIF, image, video), different dynamics (contest, filter) or even different copies. This depth makes our actions more consistent, which leads to a higher level of recall. It also gives users the possibility to relive branded content, at their own pace and in their own way. Therefore, we can communicate messages that we would not be able to convey through other media, as social networks constitute a space for constant and broader communication with users, extending their relationship with the brand before they lose interest.
  • Interaction: Two-way communication is one of the main advantages of social networks. They are the ideal space to establish unique relationships between what we communicate and who is actually listening to us, which are the main interactions that our strategy should highlight. As such, activations will have to be designed keeping a 360º interactive bidirectional approach.

Quantifying experiences: how to measure success when it comes to True Engagement

Unlike traditional KPIs, the True Engagement methodology no longer focuses on the accumulation of interactions, but on the intensity of those interactions. . Not all interactions carry the same importance, as each indicator reflects a different type of message and a different level of user engagement.

While this is nothing new —marketing professionals have been differentiating between soft and hard engagement since we started to suspect Facebook was manipulating reach and videoviews results—, we would like to go one step forward. 

Same as algorithms associate different values to each kind of interaction, which eventually influences what content will be first shown to users, our KPIs reports give more value to interactions that denote an active participation of users (conversations), those that imply greater engagement (UGC) or those extend the interaction over time (saved to read later).

To this end, we have developed a weighted model that would guide us towards what we consider True Engagement. The KPI system can be adapted to each client, making it as complex as the project requires. In order to set it up, we will need to answer three questions:

  • What is considered True Engagement? This includes any “golden actions” providing us with information about what the user thinks and how they relate to our brand. For example, a saved post, the use of our hashtag or the generation of UGC.
  • What is their equivalence with more passive interactions? True Engagement interactions can be easily compared to likes, which are a standard metric we are all familiar with. We could say, for instance, that one saved post equals X likes, thus establishing multiplier values that determine how important each interaction is for the final result.  This interaction hierarchy can be based on a soft, hard and true engagement model:
Soft EngagementInteractions showing passive user interaction, which confirm they have correctly received the content. Video views, clicks, reactions, likes, sticker taps…
Hard EngagementActions that take users one step forward, leading them to show their interest on a given contentProfile views, comments, shares, link clicks…
True EngagementMoments that involve active user participation, leading them to create their own version of a given branded content. Mentions, UGC, hashtag use, saved posts, participation in challenges…
  • How to draw learnings and continue generating True Engagement? In addition to studying ratios, we must be able to learn from what has sparked active user engagement. To this end, we will include qualitative analysis, based on the empathy frameworks included in our strategy, to continue to understand our audience and develop more engaging content. 

Measurement and assessment are two of the most crucial elements of a True Engagement strategy. As such, we must aim for reporting models to evolve towards methodologies where the focus is on building a genuine relationship with users, and not on big numbers. However, falling into the trap of vanity metrics is easier than it might seem, so sticking to true engagement will require active commitment from everyone involved in the project. 

The future of social media is written with True Engagement

At Good Rebels we know there is no going back: we have reached a turning point and will continue working to nurture our strategies with more True Engagement methodology. Some might say the social channel is just undergoing a moment of change,  but we choose to interpret the current context as a warning to rethink our strategies and be able to get where other media cannot reach. Only in this way will we be able to generate unique experiences that bring the social component back to social media.