These are exciting times to be in PR. I know industry leaders say that every year, but this time it feels as if there is some substance to the claim. This year's excitement is born out of the desire for marketers to deliver 'engagement' between their brand or organisation and its key stakeholder audiences.
Engagement is valuable to communicators because it is a finite resource. Engagement with one thing is always at the expense of another. From a digital perspective, this is demonstrated by the huge significance of search - the value of being the first seemingly relevant link in a list of results is enormous.
Weber Shandwick recently published a white paper called The Science of Engagement, written by Adam Mack, our chief strategy officer, EMEA. Nineteen elements of engagement - key personal motivators that drive people to engage - were identified. All 19 have a role to play in delivering enhanced engagement between a brand or organisation and the audiences it is trying to reach, but some are more effective digitally than others.
Access is a significant driver of engagement. Our research tells us that UK consumers regard online retailers as more engaging than their offline counterparts. It is access - the ease with which people can obtain what they want - that drives this engagement. All brands, but especially retailers, must consider enhancing access to their brand proposition through work across the entire digital spectrum.
Another critical driver of digital engagement is belonging. Social media have a big role to play in helping people feel like they belong to a community, be it professional, personal or built around a brand. For those brands that can bring audiences together digitally - supporting a common cause or providing an opportunity for sharing knowledge - belonging is easily delivered.
Allied to belonging is empathy.
Some online retailers share other users' recommendations - ticking the belonging and empathy boxes. Beyond that, digital gives brands the chance to explicitly show consumers they understand them. A more sophisticated manifestation might be the use of data to create personal campaigns.
Brands should never overlook the role of enhancement in terms of driving engagement. People use social media to brag about their status. Entities that can attach social status to their brand and what it is doing can reap the rewards of enhanced engagement. Similarly, giving certain people exclusive access to online content will encourage them to share it, as this enhances their reputation among their network.
Successful digital comms encourages people to invest of themselves in a given campaign, activity or brand. Involvement is an obvious engagement driver, but it's not delivered by simply having a Facebook page. True involvement encourages people to help others enjoy the brand experience more.
The two most significant engagement drivers are 'herd behaviour' and 'social totems'. Herd behaviour shows us that people find things that are seen to be popular as more engaging. Our research shows that brands with lots of fans are regarded as more engaging.
Social totems are talking points, issues and miscellanea around which people can congregate. Social media are where people share and discuss things. Relevant, visually appealing and clever content is the ultimate icebreaker, giving people something to consume, talk about and share.
If addressed correctly, these drivers of digital engagement highlighted here will dramatically enhance the engagement around your brand or organisation. But in our experience, few brands are addressing the wired science of engagement effectively.
Views in brief
Pinterest: the online equivalent of a teenage girl's bedroom wall or useful corporate resource?
Something in between, which goes a long way to explaining its popularity.
What is the best example of user-generated content this year?
It's not 'loser-generated content' per se, but I enjoyed Kraft's Bacon Barter (see baconbarter.com).
How can Facebook likes be turned into pounds?
I'm not telling.