Audience involvement is the process and act of actively involving your target audience in your communication mix, in order to increase their engagement with your message as well as advocacy to your brand.

This trend in social media marketing is also partially responsible for a new understanding of the power of social, from being an afterthought in the broader communications mix, to a crucial element in prime-time television spots.

There are three different ways in which brands can involve their audiences….

The way in which brands are actively using their audiences differ, but it is all based in the same sound principle.

As Seth Godin says:

When you hand someone a photo album or a yearbook, the first thing they will do is seek out their own picture.

Narcissistic or not, the majority of your audience gets a sudden rush from seeing their input in the big screen or in an online video. Likewise, the prospect of gaining 15 minutes of fame helps in driving user generated content and buzz around your campaign.

1. Second Screen engagement

One of the easiest ways to involve your audience in your broader comms mix is though second screen engagement. According to a survey from Deloitte, nearly a quarter of people aged 16+ use communication tools to discuss what they are watching on TV, with about 50% of 16-24 years-old doing so.

This will only grow with smartphone ownership, since 86% of smartphone owners are reported to use their devices as a second screen, according to a survey of 2,000 respondents by Red Bee Media.

Last week saw Mercedes asking Twitter users to decide the outcome of their television spot  launched on Saturday night, during X-Factor ). Definitely not the first time that viewers get to decide the outcome of an ad, but surely the first time that they do it in real-time through prime-time television and via the use of a Twitter hashtag.

Such a level of engagement can make the advertising campaign more interesting than the content that it is supposed to be interrupting, as you can see in the picture below. It is no longer about “crashing the party and bringing champagne with you”, as Bob Thacker once famously said, but about throwing a party and inviting the viewers to it.

When advertising becomes the content

2. Collaborative storytelling

Even creative geniuses at top agencies can increase the level of engagement with the digiterati (and the shareterati), by simply involving social media followers into their narrative. In doing so, they can also skyrocket their reach.

Great examples of this practice are Old Spice’s “the man your man could smell like” and Cravendale’s “Thumbcats”.

For the former, Isaiah Mustafa responded to questions from the Twitter audience with online videos. Buzz built in such a manner than online and offline celebrities including @biz, @kevinrose, @guykawasacki, Perez Hilton, GQ, Huffington Post, Alyssa Milano and Starbucks participated in the conversation and got videos responses filmed for them.

In what Wieden + Kennedy calls “the fastest-growing and most popular interactive campaign in history”, results of the social media campaign are hard to be ignored:

  • More people watched its videos in 24 hours than those who watched Obama’s presidential victory speech.

  • Total video views reached 40 million in a week.

  • Campaign impressions: 1.4 billion.

  • Between the campaign launch and August 2010, Old Spice Bodywash sales increased 27%; in the last three months (May-July 2010) up 55%; and in the last month (July 2010) up 107%.

A similar campaign, also created by Wieden + Kennedy prompted people in social media to challenge Thumbcats, the main character of their ad campaign for Cravendale, to do different tricks and deeds.

Clever, as the internet is made of cats. I can’t help but share my favourite online video ever.


3. Famebook Fans

A personal favourite of mine and quite more recent, the idea of a “Famebook Fan” is to use a natural, organic comment on a Facebook page and create a campaign concept from it, usually adding a layer of surreal comedy to it.

Losing control of the conversation has never been so profitable for brands as it is these days. Instead of fearing an offhand comment from a fan, or downright ignoring them (quite a common practice actually, with 70% of Facebook posts from fans on brand pages being ignored, as claimed by Social Bakers), brands can create campaign concepts from the very sentiment of their core communities. This way, they ensure it will resonate.

A Great example of these initiatives is Paddy Power’s “Chav”, a hugely controversial advertising campaign that was extensively covered in the news and banned from TV due to their extreme nature.

Fortunately, Paddy Power is a brand that can take the risk and reap the benefits from a few raised eyebrows.

At the very core of the campaign is the comment from Dan Collins, a Facebook fan that posted “Hope the chavs don’t ruin Cheltenham like they did Ascot”. Far from ignoring it, they built their concept around it, unleashing a “Chav Hunter” on the racecourse with a tranquiliser to gun down all the chavs he saw.

A more recent example that has gone from Mashable to Metro in less than 24 hours is Bodyform, a sanitary towels company. After Facebook fan Richard Neil posted a tongue-in-cheek accusation to the company for altering the perception of what going through the period really entails, the brand did the unthinkable.

The Facebook rant is, in itself, hilarious

Bodyform created a hilarious video featuring a fictitious CEO confirming Richard’s fear; society has been living a lie since the dawn of civilisation, based on the fact that males simply can’t bear to know the truth of what menstruation does to women.

As I write, the online video has earned almost 200,000 views.

The act of elevating some kind of user input (be it a Facebook post like this incident, or a more traditional letter to customer service like the case of Sainsburys Giraffe Bread)has yielded brands loads of benefits, such as:

  • Portrays the brand in a more human manner, making the brand more approachable and easy to forgive when something slips through the crack.

  • By adding a layer of comedy and a sprinkle of shock, they generate a lot of sharing,  buzz online and earned media. Humour is proven to be one of the most powerful sharing triggers online.

  • Bridges the gap between creative planners and strategists, and the audience they are trying to target – opening up a bidirectional conversation.

  • It gives users a reason to be fans and engage with brands.  

There are many different ways in which you can use the input of your social media audience at the core of your advertising campaign.

Being OK with losing some control and understanding the motivation of your audience to contribute with content or actions is key. From there on, it is a rather sweet journey to reach, advocacy, and engagement-lands.