The Interactive Imperative

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Forget everything you read online. Forget about whether or not you should be more engaged on Twitter or Facebook. Forget about The Huffington Post being sold to AOL for $315 milion. Ask yourself this: is your brand really and truly interactive?

The difference between traditional media channels and the digital channels (Web, Mobile, Tablet-Touch) happens at the level of interactivity. It sounds simple enough. In fact, it’s so simple that I removed this concept from most of presentations because saying it in 2011 is like saying that electricity when turned on makes a room brighter. But, you know what? People need to hear this message one more time (and really push themselves to think about it). So many brands still engage in the digital channels while offering only a modicum of true interactivity.

It’s sad.

We often struggle to understand why a newspaper or radio website can’t turn a profit or why they struggle with building an audience that is even a fraction of the size when compared to their offline endeavors. On quick glance, the answer is so blatantly obvious: the interactivity is not there. The talent (the journalists and on-air announcers) don’t get interactive with their audience and more often than not, consumers have to register or jump over hurdles to have their voices heard (they have to register and wait for an email confirmation, etc…). It’s still not uncommon for many of these sites to not link out to other sources for fear that their audience will leave and never come back. Even the ones that are pushing the envelope are doing so, still have one foot firmly placed in the broadcasting side of their business.

You won’t win online without interactivity.

It’s not just a platitude. Not only does a brand have to ensure that their content is interactive, they also have to ensure that it’s a corporate cultural imperative. It’s everyone’s job within the organization to know that the baseline expectations of the consumer is a world where they can really interact with their media. Pushing it further, they need the ability to share it, mash-it-up and push it to corners of the online channels that may not reside within the four walls of your strategy deck.

Why is this so hard?

When all you’ve ever done is broadcast a message, it’s all you’ve ever really known. Even as brands attempt to update their online presence, step one is always to ensure that the materials that they’re using to broadcast in the traditional channels have a place online. Why start there? Why not push back and ask one, simple (but hard to answer question): "if we didn’t have a legacy and we know that people have an expectation of complete interactivity online, what could we do with our brand in those channels to best meet their needs?"

Avoid the copy/paste temptation.

It’s too easy to take the current content you have and copy/paste it online. Brands do this (both B2C and B2B). Newspaper websites do this. Major record labels do this. Consumer packaged goods do this. Don’t do this. Technology has evolved. Your brand can evolve too. Think about ways to make your brand interactive. Do the kinds of things that would put a smile on someone’s face during their first brand interaction.

The consumer has an expectation for complete interactivity. A brand must be interactive online. It’s not an easy mandate to fill, but what choice do we have?


  1. Hey Mitch –
    I agree that it’s sad to have to say the things you say in this post in 2011 but, as you point out, many in charge of brand strategies don’t seem to get it.
    At the same time, I thought you were going in a slightly different direction. Making your brand’s online presence engaging and inviting of interaction is definitely important and if the brand owners haven’t figure that out yet, it’s not just sad, it’s strange.
    However, making your brand interactive seems to be a little different from making your marketing interactive. I’m not sure how a brand itself becomes interactive, but it would be an interesting exercise for brand owners to go through. (Just like when someone asked the question: If your brand was an app, what would it do?)
    Making a brand interactive online, as challenging as that may be, becomes the easy part; achieving the goal of creating a pleasant and memorable interaction with a brand when you first encounter it—an encounter that frequently happens offline—is the truly hard part.
    Thanks for the post!

  2. “Not only does a brand have to ensure that their content is interactive, they also have to ensure that it’s a corporate cultural imperative.”
    That’s certainly the hardest part, I think.
    See, which I read today; and my own post worrying about small business understanding of blogging.
    We are changing so much more than just the way we market.

  3. This what we always want, to have an interactive brand. Most people including my self are having problems how to have people engage in interactivity within our brands. This question still stuck in my mind, how can one make his/her brand interactive?

  4. Hi Mitch,
    Great post; a fair bit of lip service is being paid to interactivity. In B2B people still freak out about the risk of publicly responding to individual interactions with their audience and therefore don’t really invite dialogue. Secondary is the “who’s going to be doing this”. Everyone is looking to reduce the cost of customer interaction, now we are talking about another layer of people to people communication…
    It’s a real change of how to do business, rather than just managing a blog.

  5. Firstly I love your blog. Secondly – making someone smile during their first interaction is key. My twitter traffic greatly grew and interaction doubled when I changed my profile picture to something amusing and started being ‘more myself’ – adding humor to my posts and tweets.
    High Five!

  6. Hi Mitch,
    Again, another amazing post.
    There’s a few hurdles that I encounter as the ‘marketing guy’ for small business when talking with clients about the importance of media choice and interactivity on digital platforms. In most cases, I think the unwillingness to become interactive has to do with is their general position on the adoption curve and overall understanding of consumer behaviour.
    First, there are more businesses than I care to count who defend their ads in the yellow pages ads with a “I have to be there, because my competitors are” shrug. To them, I’d guess interactivity could be defined as a YP book being torn open from it’s plastic wrap. Similarly, there are many small business owners who feel that the paper is still the premiere place for reaching any consumer. I know that these printed dinosaurs aren’t what they used to be, but old habits die hard and it seems that nobody wants to admit their wrong.
    Secondly, co-op requirements dictate where many business can be reimbursed for the advertising dollars they spend. In a surprising number of cases, advertising dollars spent online are not reimbursed as favourably as they are when buying print, billboards, TV or radio.
    Third, many of my clients wear too many hats to care. Often times, my clients are the owners, the HR contact, the sales manager and the marketer. They’re time is stretched so thin that they aren’t able to focus on marketing long enough. If they had more time, I’m sure they’d quickly see the obvious changes on the marketing landscape and be able to do make interactivity adjustments to their own plans. As it is, I’m sure most local business owners/marketers wont be able to jump onto the interactive bandwagon until its nearly full of other late-comers.
    Lastly, there’s an irony to interactivity that I can’t help but chuckle at. Most businesses that I work with have one marketer. That’s the guy who’s running ragged trying to figure all this social media stuff but is distracted by his print deadlines and creative while at the same time perform his 10 other daily duties. He thinks he’s the one who has to be interactive. While he’s busy trying to figure it all out, nearly all of his employees are logging into Facebook and being interactive (out of boredom) right in front of him.
    Thanks again Mitch, I love reading your thoughts.
    I had a question for you as well…is there an etiquette for interactivity? Buy, Buy, Buy is an obvious one to avoid, but anything else?

  7. Great post that likely will have to be repeated no matter how obvious it may be. Mitch, can you name any examples of what you consider to be good brand interactivity?

  8. It may seem a little thing, but I think about how newspapers websites handle people’s feedback.
    If you want to comment on an article, in 99% of the cases you will have to register to the newspaper’s website and login, then post a comment.
    You can’t use third-party commenting systems (a la Disqus) or name/lastname/email/url traditional methods (like this blog). You have to go through a cumbersome register+verify model, which discourages user interaction from the very start.
    It’s something I notice all the time and it makes me go nuts.

  9. Great point, but I challenge you and all us that rose up and said “yes!” when we read your post, to find, highlight, and promote the brands that *are* interactive.
    In my opinion it has to go beyond being able to leave blog comments without friction.
    And being able to point to what we believe are good examples of interactivity while keeping in tension good stewardship of the brand will help further the ability of others to take the leaps necessary into this direction.
    p.s. What is up with the error I just got on this blog that says the comment posting failed because I submitted too many comments in a short period?!?!?!?

  10. We’re in the intermediate stages of developing our client’s B2B social media strategies. Lucky for us, our clients are very social people and are excited to pursue this still relatively new online frontier. Their technologies are highly regarded and they have had us (inmedia PR) for years telling their story, but this new level of engagement, called “interactivity,” requires a lot of research and practice before a comfortable level of sociability with the right people is achieved. As you say, it may seem as simple as turning on a light, but it is a lot more difficult in practice as concerns such as time, crisis intervention and ROI are raised as critical areas that require thorough and refined strategies. We have found that a targeted approach is best. Instead of blasting information out content onto every social media platform available, we take the time to go through the heaps of content published online daily to find the pieces that are most relevant. Writing content specific for each site is also important – an answer on LinkedIn or Quora should read differently than a reply on Twitter. Again, commenting is not enough. Reading the comments of others and really participating in the conversation is much more effective for everyone involved.
    In response to David Koopmans, we have had great success doing the heavy lifting for our clients and we are able to do so at a low cost through a Community Manager (me!) I have the time to go through all of the content, find the best pieces and do the posting. It’s up to our clients whether they want to draft their own response or if they want us to do it for them. Ghostwriting may sound unethical to some, but we’ve been writing their market-facing materials – sometimes in their chief executive’s name – for as long as we’ve been their agency, so what’s wrong with us providing the same authentic voice on social media channels? Combining this approach with a social media strategy that helps them understand the full interaction process will allow them to get a good grasp of the tools and best practices and encourage them to eventually take more of the process into their own hands.

  11. @Alexandra Reid – Excellent comment! I especially like: “Writing content specific for each site is also important – an answer on LinkedIn or Quora should read differently than a reply on Twitter.” Yes, m’am!

  12. I’m happy you like it, Mary, and agree with those points. It’s important for all of us who use social media for business to help each other out with information and support one another 🙂

  13. Brands who don’t get it and don’t interact are going to die — so what’s the point of the post?
    If they haven’t gotten it by now, it’s too late, they’re simply not going to get it.
    The ones who do get will better serve the consumer, so f#$k the ones who don’t.

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