Game, set, stats- Winning means putting fans and followers first

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Engagement. It’s a word we hear constantly in conversations about the PR, marketing and media industries. But an alarming number of brands still fail to grasp what it should actually mean.
So let’s say there are two companies. One has a top down approach to online and social media marketing. Content is created and shared with the focus being on the firm talking to, or perhaps even at, the consumers it wants to attract. It promotes conversations between itself and the public, but stops there. The other adopts a very different position- the most desirable dialogue, and the overall goal, is to get people discussing ideas, interests and thoughts with each other.
You might call that perspective ‘facilitating’. So, which is more effective?
According to a new report published over on PSFK, the answer may well depend on age. A survey found that 66% of 19-32 year olds value time spent interacting with peers through social media platforms as much as ‘real world’ meetings. This might seem like a logical notion in a world that is home to increasing numbers of digital-first relationships, but the potential for firms to exploit this is less obvious at first glance.
Put simply, if we encourage community building in a way that gives people some degree of control through what are now being referred to as ‘conversational assets’, then there is a far greater chance of that community evolving and growing organically. And the consumers are more likely to display loyalty to a brand that approaches online in this way, simply because they feel more involved in the relationship.
Those assets include GIFs, emojis, videos, hashtags, blogs, articles and pretty much any other type of content you can think of that promotes the sharing of emotions and opinions. The trick is keeping the company at the top of the public’s conscious, without being seen as aggressively marketing. This is achieved when users are offered the tools to steer the conversation themselves, with the brand taking on a role as ‘just’ another voice within the wider rhetoric.
IBM offers a great, and topical example. The tech giant has long been ‘chief analyst’ at Grand Slam tennis tournaments like Wimbledon- which finishes this weekend- and the French Open. New technologies now mean there is more data available than ever before, and this is not just being used for graphics on TV and to give pundits something to talk about.
In 2015 the firm began experimenting with Datables; real time, shareable animations based on stats and figures, updating followers with match results and competition news, with numbers gleaned from research making it possible to compare, say, the speed of a serve to the acceleration of a cheetah. These were then ‘broadcast’ to out of home digital advertising points, and via social channels, feeding a real world community of tennis fans with incredibly specific information at an unprecedented pace. This might explain it a little better:

Wimbledon 2016 has taken the offering even further. New apps have been created to give fans real time data streams. Social media conversations from across the word are being taken in by a ‘Cognitive Command Centre’, which determines popular topics, including those unrelated to tennis, in turn feeding IBM’s digital editorial team with a supply of ideas and jumping off points.
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So far so expensive. So how is the company benefitting in terms of its digital community?
For starters this gives an unprecedented opportunity to increase brand and logo exposure. People are actively taking in the content of the adverts. Then you have the constant flow of analytics going into the digital world, and the resulting re-tweets, shares, and comments. But then consider how vital stats are to the average conversation between sporting fans. Now you start to realise how much more useful this type of content is to word of mouth engagement.
You might not have a business interest in sports, endless reams of data or a multi-million advertising budget. Nevertheless there’s something to be learnt here. Brands that look to own a community are missing the point. Those that seek to be part of that community, and engage with that community on the community’s level, in a way the community engages with itself, grasp the social media zeitgeist. It’s not a two or even three way street (if such a thing really exists), but instead a complex road map in which multiple sources can have a say, in turn directing the outcome of a campaign. The result being higher numbers of connections between people, and more valuable ones at that- which reads like the holy grail of 21st Century marketing.