Interactive Application vs. Social Campaign

If someone asked you what defined an “interactive application” versus “social campaign,” could you explain it and then defend your answer, maybe even citing some examples? It’s a question worth asking if you’re involved in the planning or implementing of either.

A reasonable place to start might be: what defines an interactive application, in particular within a marketing or business context? By “interactive,” we don’t mean “talking with a salesperson” or “responding to a piece of direct mail” from the discussion. Sure, these are “interactive,” but no one is losing sleep over how these particular channels work or what they mean going forward.

Instead, the challenge facing marketers is understanding your relative orientation when building a Facebook page or Twitter presence. It’s important to distinguish between desires for yet another “talk” channel versus the desire to enable social participation. While there are good arguments for both, the former is typically interactive in some way but not social, and is all too commonly passed off as “social media marketing.” Used this way, Facebook pages are closer to interruptive online marketing.

So, back to the question: what’s the difference between interactive and social?

Consider instead the question from the participant’s perspective: when the “engagement” is primarily between the customer and the brand, it’s interactive. When your customers are engaged and talking with each other, the application is social.

Seeing this distinction sets up the effective use of both interactive and social applications. Interactive applications are useful: think of a Web site menu, an order form, or a product “configurator.” Self-service, choosing one’s own path, and individual empowerment all flow directly out of Web-enabled interactivity. Interactive typically ends with the completion of a task, again demonstrating why “interactive” is so incredibly useful. Interactive is how individuals get things done.

By comparison, being social means that something is happening between people, not just objects. Further, what’s happening is two-way and peer-to-peer; what’s commonly referred to as a “conversation.” Add on to this the idea that the conversation is intended to influence or shape some ultimate outcome. Collective influence, by comparison, with the task-orientation of “interactive,” is how groups of people get things done. That’s what social is all about.

Here’s a quick example: in making an online purchase, I might place an item in my basket and then check out. That’s an interactive process that leads me to task completion, assuming the process has been built and implemented correctly. In the process of making the purchase, if I dive into the reviews and alter my purchase based on the experience of other customers, or create and share my own reviews after my purchase toward the same end, then the application has social aspects that become part of the basic commerce process.

Savvy marketers are sorting out how to blend interactive and social to produce solid online applications that connect people and get them talking. Atari is doing just this. Tweet in Klingon, a new Twitter Klingon translator developed for Cryptic Studios by Friend2Friend through the agency SocialTyze, taps into the widespread enthusiasm of “Star Trek” fans wanting to tweet in this invented language. (Note: I am a shareholder and advisor in Friend2Friend.)

As one Twitter user put it, “Oh loD, jaH Daq tlhIngan ghaH vaj nerdy je Doj!” or, for non-Klingon speakers, “Oh man, tweeting in Klingon is so nerdy and awesome!” My favorite? “Hab SoSlI’ Quch,” which translated is “Your mother has a smooth forehead.” Trekkies will understand the soft poke implied here, again pointing out how smart plays like “Tweet in Klingon” build on underlying collective knowledge, naturally incorporating social actions into a spot-on brand message through a well-built interactive application.

How do you design, implement, and manage social applications? Andrew Cherwenka offered his ideas on the issues facing social media agencies in his Huffington Post article last week. At the center of his article are two basic thoughts: for marketers, it’s essential to understand the relationship between interactivity and social interaction, and the role of your internal marketing team, social media agency, or practitioner helping develop and implement your social marketing campaigns.

In addition to strategy, you need to think through the actual implementation. Implementation is tactical, technical, and, too often, looked past. Cherwenka takes traditional and social media agencies to task for sometimes failing to appreciate this, implying that you need to pay special attention on this point. You need a business-backed strategy and the ability to execute on it.

This is where the opportunity for innovation, improvement and advancement is right now: For social media agencies, it’s no longer sufficient to offer “strategy” as an isolated end-product.

Based in business objectives and an understanding of the audience, the right strategy is critical. But without implementation, it’s a bit like being given car keys and a roadmap, but not the car.

Having been through this a couple of times, the “lights come on” for the client when the solution is complete. Objectives, strategy, technology, tactics, and metrics — the components can be built up (a team of multiple practitioners operating through a single point of control) or delivered by a single, full service shop. Either way, what matters is having a complete program, including measurement and clear accountability for results.

Interactive applications enable and empower your customers, and are fundamental to business success. Social actions, occurring between (potential) customers, multiply your return on the core application, even to the point of forming the core of your overall marketing program.

Social is, in many ways, the starting point now: get your customers talking among themselves and orient your business into the positive, useful, and beneficial aspects of what they’re talking about. Build the rest of your campaigns and business around the resultant social actions. It’s the keys, the car, the roadmap, and the confidence that will lead customers to your door, where they’ll arrive with friends in tow.

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