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October 15, 2012

How Do You Want It? Accepting the Value of Easy Brand Engagement

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Human interactions have a dual-nature. We seek deep affectations, touching others as well as being touched. At the same time, we embrace easy endorsements. Humans are motivated by an inner desire to have their presence seen and felt. Sometimes it manifests as piling in on the movement of a group. Other times a more intimate but more deeply felt connection is made.

Tree hearts

It’s kind of like posting initials on trees and landmarks. Some walls are scrawled from top to bottom. Places off the beaten path have only been seen and marked by a few. Even the tree with  many markings has fewer the higher up the branches you go.

Online, businesses play to this behavior by enabling user interactions across a range of intensities. +1s and likes should be implemented on a brand’s content as it makes it easy for users to engage. Those interactions which require a higher investment from the user, like a phone call or a review, must also be wooed. There’s no question that a business should provide for interactions on all ends of the spectrum when it comes to attracting user engagement online, but it does raise an interesting question about the nature of online interaction.

Does Easy Mean Cheap?

Personally, I’ve caught myself lamenting the watering down of my social networks as indication of superficial connections. Twitter’s lopsided follow-follower setup set precedent for me that networking online didn’t have to mirror the I-know-you-you-know-me relationships offline. When I accepted my first LinkedIn request from a distant connection, I hardly hesitated. Facebook was a casualty too, as I’d accept new connections from those with whom I shared several mutual friends. With the ability to turn off a friend’s updates from your news feed, it became even easier to allow integrity to wane from my networks.

It was only when I saw the unfamiliar names coming up in LinkedIn network updates or watched the list of pending invites to connect on Facebook grow that I questioned the legitimacy of my networks.

What’s really brought the issue of less meaningful social network connections to a head is LinkedIn’s new one-click endorsements. You can give a vote of support for a LinkedIn user’s listed skill or a skill they haven’t listed themselves.

LinkedIn Endorsement

I appreciate Douglas’s endorsement of my online marketing ability, but despite our being 1st-level connections I don’t know who he is. I own the fault in our top-level connection on this network, but who hasn’t accepted a few requests to connect from people we don’t really know. It’s a funny resentment to harbor, and one I’m realizing I just need to let go of.

The criteria with which we accept new people into our social networks (the network itself like Facebook vs. LinkedIn, how many mutual connections we have, if we’re in the same industry, etc.) is an interesting conversation, but one for another day. For now, it’s enough to examine the duality of online social engagement — the need for deep interactions and the need for lightweight ones as well. And perhaps more significantly for me on a personal level, accepting the light touches as a compliment from another user somewhere out there who knows me from online interactions and whose support deserves nothing but my gratefulness.

The Upside to Easy

I’ve wondered if there were any upsides to an inflated network. Can these resources actually be drawn upon to promote or vouch for your work? Are there any downsides to a network of connections in name alone? Does it weaken my brand to be associated with people whose reputation or character I have no knowledge of?

In final analysis, I don’t think Douglas’s endoresment will hurt me just like I don’t think an extra “like” will hurt a brand. In fact I’ve sometimes wished for more ways to post low-investment support, like on Twitter, I’ve wanted a way to like posts on Twitter. Not a “favorite” per se or something I’d want to retweet, but just a “like” as I’ve become accustomed to through Facebook.

TechCrunch likens LinkedIn endorsements to Facebook likes, a low-effort means of interaction. I’ve noticed the shift between my desire for meaningful moments and easy ways to show simple but personal support. Allow your brand fans to engage on multiple levels so your product and its users are the best advertisement you could want.

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