In the novel “Oceano Mare” (Ocean Sea) by Alessandro Baricco, one of the main characters readers come across is Bartleboom, an eccentric professor, “looking for the end of the ocean”. Such is the eccentricity of this scientist that he pens love letters to a woman he has yet to meet. Of course, at first, the reader might look upon the Professor as being a hopeless romantic rather than an eccentric; after all, he speaks (or rather, writes) the language of love.
However, the story progresses rather unfortunately for Professor Bartleboom.
Instead of finding his lady love, as the reader might have hoped, the Professor ends up doing the opposite – he marries a woman he doesn’t love. Nevertheless, he leaves his wife to continue his quest for romance and, joy of joys, finds someone else! But his joy is short-lived as Bartleboom discovers that his sweetheart is already engaged.
Towards the end of the story we see the Professor laughing as he hands over his love letters to the servant of this lady.
As a reader, you might feel a twinge of sadness for poor Professor Bartleboom, or you might shrug your shoulders as if to say, “Well that’s life.”
But what does any of this have to do with the world of social media, communicate and customer engagement?
Very simple — communication without personal engagement is meaningless.
Whilst the Professor was indeed communicating his heart out in highly emotional, eloquent, and expressive terms, there was no personal engagement; there was no deepening and strengthening of relationships.
If you examine the story deeply, you will see that Bartleboom wasn’t really a romantic at all because the letters he wrote were not so much for his future lover as much as they were for himself. The man was not seeking to fall in love with a person; rather, he was besotted with the idea of love itself.
And that’s what we see in the world of social media as well — more often than not, there’s a whole lot of communication but little or no personal engagement. Billions of dollars are spent in social media campaigns however strong customer relationships are conspicuous by their absence from the results. We have plenty of statistics pertaining to the social media habits of users but ROI measurement is still a massive challenge.
So it’s not enough to have a plethora of social media channels that are able to engage users across the globe, meaningful connections need to be made, strong relationships need to be be built.
Marketers need to avoid falling into the Bartleboom trap of thinking that communication is an end in itself because all communication is pointless if it does not lead to real conversations with real people. Simply broadcasting campaigns across social media channels is meaningless unless they lead to real relationships being built with real people. After all, whether online or offline, it is relationships that drive business.
The power of social media is its immediacy and its intimacy. Simple messages can go viral in a matter of minutes. There is a very real and present opportunity to have meaningful conversations with people on a personal level. As always, however, the challenge for marketers is monetization. And regardless of how we go about overcoming these challenges one thing is for sure.
Personal engagement is the key to effective communication strategy. Always has been, always will be. Because, at the end of the day, business isn’t primarily about leveraging technology. Rather, it’s about giving real people tangible reasons for being our customers. That’s what our communication needs to be.