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Still think audience engagement isn’t essential to public relations? Three reasons why you need to think again

[This article was originally posted on Bulldog Reporter in its July 28, 2011 edition.]

Building relationships with target audiences is more possible than ever before—and far more essential. But we shouldn’t rely on a one-way push of marketing messages that we hope will find our audiences through traditional channels. And just tweeting occasionally or starting a Facebook page doesn’t mean we’re social media-savvy. Today, public relations is about more than key messages, focus groups and press releases; it’s about audience engagement. It’s about identifying key consumers and communities, listening to their likes and dislikes, and participating in conversations with the people who affect our bottom line — even when a transaction isn’t imminent.

If you think “engagement” is just a buzzword or an overrated, unattainable goal, think again. Every day, your prospects are purchasing your competitors’ products, consuming their content, connecting with them online and building relationships with them. You need to start engaging with your audiences. Because if you’re not, somebody else is.

Don’t miss opportunities to improve customer relations, your brand and your business. Here are three critical processes that can be made more successful with audience engagement:

Improve the customer experience

Delivering a positive customer experience has always been important to a company’s reputation. The real-time nature of social media has made company responsiveness even more important. A customer can tweet a negative experience to his network while it’s happening. If you’re still ignoring social media, you’re failing to capitalize on positive feedback and conversations AND you could be letting negative experiences fester and multiply. Smart companies use social media as a window of insight into real-time customer experiences, attitudes and behaviors. These companies aren’t guessing what their audiences think, feel and want; they’re listening. What’s more, there is an expectation among digital consumers that companies and brands maintain an active presence online and in social media. Consider this:

  • 46% of online customers want a company to solve a problem or provide some type of product or service information, and almost 40% want to provide feedback. (2010 Cone Consumer New Media Study, Cone LLC, 2010)


  • 70% of consumers want to be able to use social media sites to see real-time availability of company experts in technical support, billing, etc., and 58% say regular communication with a business via social networking sites improves their loyalty to that business. (Social Media Means Serious Business, Yankee Group Research, Inc., 2010)

Bottom line: You have the ability to listen to your customers’ conversations and ideas, the opportunity to participate, and the power to engage. Customers need and want to talk to you and will be disaffected if they can’t. If your audiences don’t get what they want from you, they’ll look somewhere else.

Build stronger customer relationships

Today, your best “customers” will also be advocates and brand ambassadors. The loyalty to your company, products and services plays a big part in how people make purchasing decisions. Building and sustaining strong customer relationships needs to be high on the list of goals for PR and marketing professionals. Your efforts, online or offline and via social or traditional channels, play a critical role in helping you achieve those goals.

Opening up channels of communication encourages conversations between you and your audiences, plus it allows your customers to talk to each other. Peer connections and shared experiences have become key drivers of customer retention and acquisition. Starbucks is an example of a company using social media to engage its audiences not just in general conversations, but in the product development process. My Starbucks Idea and Ideas in Action empower customers to share ideas and feedback with the company AND other customers.

Empowering customers is not as daunting as it might seem. As PR and marketing experts, we need to continue telling stories that are both shareable and share-worthy. If you want to draw audiences in, you have to frequently create interesting and relevant content, such as videos, white papers, webinars, and social newsrooms. Keep your audiences informed and you will keep them engaged.

Bottom line: Your customers (and future customers) are looking to you for education, information and inspiration. Answer the call of engagement and you’ll build better relationships by turning digerati into disciples.

Increase ROI and drive revenue

Sooner or later, every campaign, communication and outreach comes down to results. Our success is typically measured by how we’ve impacted the bottom line–the C-suite wants to know how much money our efforts have made — or saved — for the company. At times, engagement might seem too nebulous to measure. But when you consider the myriad of ways in which our audiences can be engaged, measurement becomes a lot more concrete. Tweets and retweets, blog posts and comments, positive sentiment, white paper downloads, webinar registrations, Facebook posts, page views and click-thrus—it’s about participation, awareness and conversation — not just traffic. And when it comes to increased revenues, engaged audiences can — and do — affect company profits and market share:

  • When it comes to posts about brands or products, more than half of U.S. social network users are taking action after seeing a post related to a company, including purchasing the brand or company’s product and recommending the company or product. (S-Net: The Impact of Social Media, ROI Research and Performics, 2011)


  • The ENGAGEMENTdb report compared the financial success of the world’s top brands against the number of communication channels they utilized and the levels of engagement they’d achieved, and confirmed that deep engagement with consumers through social media channels correlates to better financial performance.

Bottom line: Engaging your customers pays off, both in increased affinity and brand loyalty, but also in your company’s bottom line. Don’t be short-sighted in your measurements, and instead, learn to nurture long-tail ROI.

Learn more about engagement in the free six-part eBook, “Mastering Audience Engagement: Reinventing Your Role in a New Media World.”

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