Don’t get engaged … be engaging

The word engage has been taken hostage by the social media marketing community, and I am probably as guilty as the digital comms person of bandying that word around just a little too much.

I’ve written countless blog pieces, opinion articles and PR plans in which I extol the virtues of a three-step plan to social media nirvana .. listen, analyse and engage.

When you were a child did you ever say a word over and over and over again until it sounded like meaningless nonsense? I’m fairly sure I wasn’t the only one to do that. But if you’ve never done it, give it a try.

So it is with words that get hijacked – they can begin to lose their meaning.

I was reflecting on this in the wake of Facebook’s most recent set of changes, which are designed to give users of the service more control over what shows up in their News Feed. At the moment the News Feed is an all-in-one repository, but users will soon be able to filter different types of content into separate feeds. A little like the way you might sort your emails into folders.

There are two points of interest for businesses using Facebook as part of their marketing mix. The first is that from now on they will be able to use bigger images and video in the advertisements they place in the Facebook News Feed.

The second is that their potential audience has now been given the tools to automatically siphon advertising into a separate feed which they can ignore completely for as long as they like.

Which brings us back to the E-word.

Brands have been trying hard to engage with people via social media for years. Facebook just shifted the goalposts.

Want to be seen, listened to, remembered for your Facebook marketing? Well, you’ll have to be that much more interesting, memorable and shareable.

It’s not a revolutionary concept. But if it stems the flow of lazy thinking that lurks behind too many companies’ attitudes toward social media marketing, that’s not a bad thing.

Stop trying to have a conversation with me about the things that matter most to you but least to me. Instead, show me something that holds my attention, that reflects well on you without your products being the hero of the hour, and which makes me want to spend my money with you rather than your competitors.

Be engaging.

You can’t teach creativity in PR

You can’t teach creativity. That’s what I hear. I’ve heard it a lot, too. Well, relatively speaking. It tends to be the reaction some people have to the idea of creativity training or workshops.

To an extent, it’s hard to argue with the outlook that says you’re either born creative or you’re not. Picasso was born with an innate desire to create – to challenge the accepted ways of doing things and to push the creative boundaries.

He didn’t learn that in a workshop held in a medium-sized conference room in a hotel adjacent to an urban ring-road.

So, there you have it. Creativity… it’s either in your genes or it’s not. And if not, tough… you can’t learn it.

That outlook’s nonsense though, isn’t it?

I came to that stunning realisation after a conversation I had recently with a friend about the importance of collaborating with like-minded people. Some of her comments brought to mind a remark made in an interview I read with the guitarist Johnny Marr, who said something like “if you really want to open up your creative side you need to surround yourself with creative people.”

It may be true that we are all born with different talents and abilities, and that there is no substitute for natural ability. But it’s also true that it’s important to create an environment in which creativity flourishes.

It’s also remarkably easy to create an environment – particularly a working environment – in which creativity has no chance of flourishing.

So, while it might be true that you can’t teach the people in your agency to become creative geniuses from scratch, you can certainly achieve a great deal in terms of challenging existing working practices and fostering a culture where it’s ok to be creative, and to have ideas… even really bad ones.

I’d take a really bad idea over no idea at all any day. You can improve on a bad idea and make it a great one.

But those people who put hierarchy before ability, who put their own cosy self-interests before that of the client, the agency or the team… there’s not a lot you can do with them unless you challenge them.

Just how challenging you need to be in such cases depends on how entrenched their attitudes are and how willing – or otherwise – they are to accept that change can be a good thing.