Actually, Twitter won the 2016 Election.

twitter_politicsI know what you’re thinking. How can Twitter win anything, with its paltry 317 million users and its lame sub-$15 stock price? Compared to the giants like Facebook (1.87 billion users,) WhatsApp (1 billion,) and WeChat (846 million,) you could fit Twitter in the garage of their respective CEOs’ second mansions. Heck, even Instagram – the Etch-a-Sketch of social media platforms – has 600 million users. (Source: statista.)

So on what metric, exactly, could Twitter be outperforming all these titans of social chatter?

In a word, politics.

Trump tweets. Pence tweets. Anthony Weiner tweeted his ass off (and other parts.) And the world reads Merkel tweets. And Putin tweets. And May Tweets. And the usually-epic JK Rowling tweets.

Politics has reinvigorated the in-the-moment DNA of Twitter in a way that perhaps no other sector could. And perhaps no other social media platform could so readily respond to the challenge.

Part of it is the “gotcha” nature of American politics in particular. We’re all taken back to hear one party or one candidate say something that’s very damning in nature, and then double-shocked to hear those words come back to bite them on the ass when someone digs out a tweet from six or twelve months ago. Consider this telling headline from Mashable about Mike Pence as a classic case in point: “This old Mike Pence tweet on Hillary Clinton emails is coming back to haunt him.”

In it, we learn that Vice President Mike Pence used his personal email address (yes, still using AOL,) for official business while governor of Indiana.

The facts are what they are, and I have no intention of arguing whether it’s better, worse, or same as when the former Secretary of State did the same thing. But what’s interesting is where the hearings are taking place: not on television. Not in newspapers. Not on Facebook.  But on Twitter.

Pence’s boss is no stranger to the daily-death-by-Twitter phenomenon. Trump’s tweets are so varied and so erratic that CNN has a live website tracking every one of his tweets.

And because he’s President, every tweet becomes part of the official record of his tenure. In case you’re scoring at home, they could become evidence of any number of things in the event of any criminal investigations that may arise. (And, you know, they may arise.)  And based on certain tweets regarding certain former US presidents conducting unauthorized wiretapping, investigations are already en route, and with a motorcade, to be sure.

No other social media platform, no matter how cool, or how many fun filters it offers, could offer such a perfect distribution channel for the gotcha fodder: nasty things said, declarative things said, and all that darn fact-checking.  Why is that?

A few possibilities include the content-capping.  140 characters are just enough to say something really pithy.  Or really dopey.  Also, the in-the-moment-ness of Twitter makes it a “now” social media platform, whereas Facebook or Pinterest, as examples, are excellent “linger with it later” platforms.  And of course, the fact that Tweets.  Stay.  Alive.  Forever.  (Sorry, Snapchat.)

You don’t need to go far to see how the Twitter-back-and-forth-and-back-again is playing out. But pay careful attention to how only one platform is invited into this A-list party, while all the others huddle outside trying to sweet-talk the bouncer with their pleas of “have you seen how many registered users I have?”

Facebook, please.

In marketing terms, Twitter has a highly defensible point of differentiation, and it should seriously consider exploiting it for its own gains. How that manifests is yet to be seen, but if I were the agency of record, I would seriously be trying to strike while the iron is hot and while 45 is tweeting away.

Five Rules of Engagement

For years, marketers, editors and bloggers have been volleying the marketing term “engagement” around like a taped up shuttlecock.  The term has also been denigrated by continuous contextual evolution.  “Engagement” means one thing when referring to customer loyalty programs, another in the context of your web analytics package, and something further afield in the complex mesh of social media.

So, to give engagement a better—or at least more consistent—name, I’ve attempted to identify some key principles of what customer engagement means in the context of marketing, and in the process, hope to help marketers use these principles to focus their efforts on engaging more customers.  This will be expanded into an intelligence paper with more detail, which I will post here later.

Just to be clear, three qualifiers and definitions:  first, I’m not talking about making sales, or generating leads, or providing entertainment.  We’re talking about moving a consumer (of just about anything:  soda, music, jet engines, etc.) beyond the initial sale, into an area of prolonged interaction and even ongoing communication.

Second, engagement does NOT necessarily have to follow a sale.  But it does follow the initial conversion from “I’m not interested” or “I’m not aware” to “I’m interested and want to hear/learn/see/do more with this brand.” For instance, I don’t buy anything from Mashable, but I’m deeply engaged with their content, and couldn’t imagine starting a day without visiting that site and consuming that information.  The same is true for almost a billion people and Facebook: nothing has been purchased, but the engagement level with that brand is incredibly high.

Finally, customer engagement tends to be transactional.  That is to say that it seems reserved for those brands that involve multiple interactions.  You might buy a coffee brand or read a certain blog every day, so the opportunity for repeated experiences—as you’ll see, one principle for engagement—exists.  On the contrary, you may only buy a funeral plot once in your adult life, if it all – there’s not much of an opportunity for that marketer to drive engagement with that customer.  (Not to say it doesn’t happen  – the singular experience may leave a lasting impression.)

The Five Principles of Engagement – in relative chronological order.

Principle 1:  It Starts with Triangulation. Although many marketers believe that they can engage customers in a linear, point a to point b fashion, this is actually quite difficult to sustain.  At some point, the customer needs more attention, and thus triangulation becomes a pivotal element of customer engagement.  When you and your customer can triangulate on outside interests—features like design or performance, affiliations like music, or sports, or a cause like the environment, or travel rewards like Broadway musicals—then the opportunities to engage multiply exponentially. Now you can offer your customer more of what they like/want/need, (while simultaneously creating a deeper bond, since you and the customer now have a common interest or two or six,) and tie the resulting benefits back to your brand.

Principle 2: It’s Fueled by Passion. Passion is the fuel for true customer engagement.  When you triangulate on something together, it’s based on both of your passions for it.  (That’s why you choose your triangulation points carefully. If you don’t have passion for that “other thing,” your customers will see right through your shoddy aims.) If your brand can demonstrate real passion for the industry, for the craft, for the process, or it continues to demonstrate passion in the form of your new products and services, that passion tends to be matched by your engaged customer. It’s in the nature of relationships to want to reciprocate what the other party is doing.  This in turn, leads to a process of ongoing exchange between the two parties that continues to amp up the interchange.

Principle 3:  It’s an Ongoing Relationship.  Many sales professionals (and I say this with the utmost respect for what they do) have an understandably myopic view of what marketing is about…they think lead>conversion>end.  Today, marketers know that the sale or conversion is just the beginning of a long and hopefully fruitful relationship where the initial conversion is an indication of some assent to continue communicating.  Brands that form relationships with their customers tend to provide a more enjoyable, and more sustainable experience for the customer, where each has their own voice, and after some trust is built up, can even begin to ask things of each other.

Principle 4.  It’s Based on the Experience.  Even if a marketer can provide every one of the above principles, engagement typically only occurs when the marketer can provide a certain (unique) experience to the customer.  It could be a benign feature, or something very personal, (but as we know from our brand training, the more emotional the benefit, and the higher up the ladder of self-actualization, the better.)

Great brands with deeply engaged customers provide a single certain, can’t-get-it-anywhere-else kind of feeling for those customers.  In many cases, those brands provide repeated experiences (even simple ones) that add up to something similarly special.  That leads to an unmistakable takeaway and a glowing perception of the interaction between the consumer and the producer.  Apple does that.  Wired magazine does that. The Ritz-Carlton does that.  And just to prove it doesn’t have to be some hoity-toity-Fortune-40 brand, the guy on the corner who sells you your bagels and coffee can do that.  And so can your private voice teacher.  And, likely, so did your best sports coach.

Principle 5.  It’s Gotta Be Consistent. Okay, so you’ve triangulated on something cool to create some commonality.  You’ve demonstrated passion with turning out great products that set or buck the industry trends.  You’ve forged a relationship with your customer that’s based on a unique and singular experience.  Now the challenge is sustaining this good will.  The easiest way to do that is to exploit the principle of consistency.  Be consistent with how often you’re communicating with customers.  Be consistent with how often you’re upgrading your products or services. Be consistent with your brand voice.  Because of all the things, this is most important.  Your customers fell for you because of something you did, or the way you did it, or the way you packaged it.  They remembered that experience and the feelings it created.  They came back for more, and continue to patronize—maybe even evangelize for—you and your brand.  Make a left turn on them, and you’ll likely lose all that good will.