Posted By: Clark Fredricksen

Most businesses have realized that when it comes to social networks like Twitter or Facebook, simply broadcasting content isn’t quite enough. Consumers want companies to engage with them on social networks — not because they want to have a relationship, per say, with a brand of soap or shampoo, but because they appreciate the opportunity to give feedback on products, receive meaningful information from brands, and catch the occasional bargain, among other things.

According to research from Cone, some 74% of US new media users have a generally more positive impression of a company or brand after interacting via new media. That might be why so many marketers are planning to move from the trial phase of their social marketing efforts towardstrategic use of the channel next year: Customer retention and engagement ranked below only new customer acquisition in a Unisfair study of leading marketing priorities among US marketers in 2010.

Still, engagement means many things. For some, it means creating a team of customer service representatives to scour social networks for complaints, questions and praise. Best Buy’sTwelpforce is one successful example of this. JetBlue’s Twitter feed is another. But here’s a question that has been raised by some, and is worth considering: Are customer service efforts on Twitter a danger when customers start to expect a direct response and brands aren’t available or have the resources necessary to deliver? Will consumers view it as the same thing as not picking up the customer service phone line?

Noah Brier of The Barbarian Group, along with Hive Awards’ Alan Wolk, AdWeek Editor Brian Morrissey and Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer, chatted about the engagement expectation in thisexcellent video. Take a look: (Watch the whole thing, or skip to the 4:00 minute mark.)

The Social Media Bubble Part 2 of 3 from Hive Awards on Vimeo.

Money quote from Schafer:

You can’t set expectations where, if you have a problem with a Best Buy gift card, the Best Buy CEO is, all of a sudden, going to help you out. It’s just not rational. Things don’t happen at that kind of scale. At the end of the day,understanding social media as a brand doesn’t necessarily mean having a conversation with your customer. That’s a real big misnomer out there. [The alternative solution, therefore] may very well be enabling your customers to have conversations with each other.

Schafer also points out how instead of directly engaging customers on social networks, brands like Apple have created forums and communities where customers can interact with other customers or ‘brand-certified’ specialists. What do you think? Are you willing to allocate the resources to manage the engagement expectation, or are there alternative solutions? What type of social media engagement is right for your brand?