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The Brutal Truth About Social Media: It's OK to Be a Little Antisocial

Here's Why Most Consumers Will Never 'Engage' With Brands or Content, and Why It Doesn't Matter

By Published on . 21

I recently did an interview for AdAge.com titled "Viral-Video Genius Damian Kulash, Lead Singer of OK Go, Tells All." It attracted a lot of interest because of OK Go's Chevy-sponsored music video, an instant hit that had a cameo in a Super Bowl ad. Plenty of people shared the Q&A via social media, spurred on in part by a tweet from our official Twitter account, @adage, as well as a plug from @okgo.

Beyond retweeting us, some people responded to the band and to Ad Age on Twitter. One guy named Mark Naples emailed me directly: "This Kulash kid was a genius even in seventh grade," he wrote. "Damian was one of my students at St. Albans in D.C. He was writing really clever raps and other lyrics even then. A great kid. …" (These days, by the way, Naples has moved on from teaching and is managing partner at WIT Strategy.)

Social savvy and highly shared group OK Go.
Social savvy and highly shared group OK Go.

The seventh-grade teacher of "this Kulash kid" got me thinking about why people "engage" with content and brands -- why they've ever engaged with them -- and how social media has and hasn't changed fundamental truths about engaged consumers.

Many social-media "experts" insist that a "two-way conversation" between marketers and consumers is the whole point of social, and anything less than that is a reflection of outdated, broadcast-style thinking. But the reality is that many people follow and "friend" brands simply because they want to hear from those brands, not necessarily talk back.

If you look at the behavior of the Twitter audience of one particular specialized business publication (@adage, with more than 350,000 followers) and one well-known art-rock band (@okgo, with more than 650,000 followers), you'll see that most folks are only listening. Though Mark Naples could have reached out to OK Go or Ad Age on Twitter, he chose good old-fashioned email -- wisely, I'd say. OK Go, even though it's one of the most shared and socially savvy bands (its music videos have been viewed at least 300 million times), generally doesn't tweet back to fans that much. And I would have seen a tweet from Naples if he'd addressed it to @simondumenco, but he had more to say than would fit in 140 characters, so I'm glad he emailed.

Besides clicking on the links we serve up, retweeting is the thing followers of @adage and @okgo seem to do most. It's a form of engagement, sure, but a retweet is at its core a republication. Ad Age and OK Go are essentially broadcasters of content, and some of our "fans" volunteer to serve basically as broadcast-repeating stations via social media.

That sharing, made easy by social media, is highly valuable but not vastly different from what's seen in some old-school media. For instance, magazines have "pass-along readership," which is what allows Time Inc.'s People to claim 43 million readers per issue even though its total subscriber and newsstand distribution is 3.6 million. And libraries and mixtapes were early forms of file-sharing for books and music.

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