Let’s get engaged

What would it take for you to marry a brand? In Brian Solis new book, “Engage,” he lays out his rules for businesses, brands and individuals who are looking to utilize this newfangled contraption called social media to boost their bottom lines.

I had an opportunity to not only read the book, but also to chat with Brian about it.

Q: Tell me: Why this book; why now?

A: if you ask anyone whether this world needs another book on social media,you’ll see the eyes glaze over… But what was missing from the landscape was a book that you could read and apply to your job as you’re reading it. I wrote this book to specifically tell you the answers to apply to your world. I wanted to show that social networks are essentially tools and services that can help you achieve your goals.

I wanted to write a book that not only shows you how to use social media and help you grow and provide you value and show new ideas that can grow with you for years to come.

Q: You had Ashton Kutcher write your forward. Does he have the business success “chops” to be telling the rest of us how to do this?

A: I encourage you to read his profile in Fast Company. (Ashton is) really trying to change the landscape of new media. His co. is leading the way and working with a lot of brands to apply some strategies to a lot of brands. He’s definitely a visionary. The guy takes this pretty seriously.

Q: One part of the book I found interesting was the dive into the social sciences. Dunbar’s number, targeting audiences and how we establish influence are all shaped by an understanding of these social sciences. So, in the new era of marketing, who will win, the sociologists or the MBAs?

A: I don’t know there’s going to be a clear winner either way. There’s a hybrid at the end of the day: We’re not just marketers, we’re not just soc scientists, but we’re also consumers. We should apply that in all that we do in business communications. I would expect to see a hybrid of social, business and becoming the consumer we’re all trying to reach.

Q: As I was writing out the questions for this post, I put the book down, opened a new tab and posted on several blogs, tweeted and checked my email. Is this healthy?

A: I don’t know that it’s healthy, but it is a reality. Social Networks are a productive distraction. Science shows we need distraction to regroup and come back and be productive. Our attention span is thinning and we’re also relearning where and how to focus. In the book, I discuss the attention aperture. When it’s open is when we click through and how we find new things. Technology is also evolving quickly to apply semantic filters to us so we’re not having to manually find information that’s appropriate for us.

Q: You have a whole section dedicated to establishing what you call the “brand you” and how to differentiate it from the brands you represent. One of the statements you make is “Individuals who are currently employed are also at risk of losing their jobs based on their behavior on social networks and what they choose to share online.” Are we damned if we do and damned if we don’t when it comes to sharing online?

A: Without purpose, mission and vision absolutely. Things are only working against us because we don’t understand how they’re working for us in the first place. Our online activity is speaking for us when we aren’t there to speak for ourselves. That chapter was there to remind us to be aware on what’s we share on the Web because the Web has a long memory.

It’s just like in Ghostbusters when they say “Don’t cross the streams.” The profiles we’re maintaining as personal brands are also there for the brands we represent. If you’re an admin on a Facebook fan page, you are that brand. But when you go off that page, you are you. But that activity is ultimately coming back to that brand because the social graph is connected.

Q: This book is both a business book and a personal book. For the business user, you focus on measurement, ROI and defining success. Some firmly believe that ROI is still a monetary metric. In your book, you advocate for the inclusion of “feel good metrics” such as Return on Influence, Return on Engagement or Return on Experience as part of the ROI measurement. If a social media campaign doesn’t help a business’ bottom line, how can you justifiably call it a success?

A: What it tried to do was explain the evolution of ROI within social media. People are trying to transform the definition to suit the opportunity to rather than suit the business need. When businesses make an investment in social, that investment has to go toward moving the needle of something.

Also, things like marketing and branding in general where they won’t have a direct return on investment on sales. At the end of the day you have to be able to point to something that proves it’s working. The power of social media is that it can be measured in real time so long as it’s being defined and driven.

Q: The human network. It’s very futuristic, but we’re also seeing it come true. One of the things I found really interesting was your outbound conversational network example. Of the 29 Twitter accounts you communicated with, six of them weren’t human. Should we be worried that brands have essentially become sentient?

A: The human network is really social networks that are teaching us how to communicate online and build relationships with individuals contextually. The human network is really the idea that the social graph we maintain on Facebook may or may not cross over to Twitter or YouTube or any other network.

If you can build roads that connect the people across multiple networks, then you have a landscape that you can activate around any one cause or discussion. You can maintain conversations across those networks. That starts to disprove the Dunbar number as well. The interesting thing about that graph you’re looking at in the book is that it changed each time I changed subject matter.

Q: Is there such thing as a genuine conversation any more? Has social marketing ruined human relationships? Or is it a manifestation of a trend we had already started?

A: Social marketing as it exists today is designed to engage in conversations. And the supporting methodologies behind it are really trying to condition social marketers under the banners of authenticity or transparency. We have to understand that simply engaging in conversations isn’t enough.

That being said, I don’t think social networks are ruining relationships, but as a society we are relearning how to communicate with each other. As human beings, we have to look how we’re contributing to the social web. We’re still exploring and finding our own voices and cadence and outside of social marketing we’relearning all this together

Q: Hindsight is 20/20. What would you change in the book right now?

A: The hardest part about writing this book is to make it valuable in 2012 and 2013 understanding that tech is evolving much more quickly than our ability to master it. I’m also launching engagingbook.com, which is designed to continue the chapters. The Web site will feature “deleted scenes” and share the stories as I continue to write them.

You’re not just buying a book, you’re buying an education.

My take?
As for the book, the book is a great mix of heady, topical discussions with business skills and numerous real-world examples. The thing I particularly enjoyed were the examples that go beyond Dell and Zappos. Actual social media policies, actual ROI formulas and calculations and actual examples of what matters make this a decent read for those looking for a 101 view or those who desire a more advanced dive into social media and social marketing. You can buy the book at Amazon or find Brian at well, every conference ever 😉

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