To Engage or Not to Engage

So, here’s my situation. I have an HTC Thunderbolt on Verizon. I love it, but I moved to it from a Motorola Droid X. Why? 4G. What I didn’t realize is that the Thunderbolt hadn’t moved to Gingerbread (the latest released Android OS) even though the X already had. I liked a couple of the Gingerbread features and so I’d love it if Verizon/HTC got it out to my new phone too.

So I did what any self-respecting geek does. I used Google to find out when HTC might release the update. It turns out that they tried once already and ran into some issues with voicemail or something. So, ever since then they’ve been saying that they will have the update out “soon”.

That’s all background. The important thing is what happened next. I noticed that HTC had tweeted something about how they planned to have updates for their phones to Ice Cream Sandwich (important note for the uninitiated, Android release names are alphabetical so G-ingerbread comes before H-oneycomb which is before I-ce cream sandwich). In other words, they are saying that “soon” we’ll have an update to the just-announced operating system and they haven’t even gotten the already-released one to me yet.

I haven’t spent to much time engaging “brands” via social media. But I tweeted this:

 how about we get some gingerbread love on the thunderbolt this week? Next week let’s discuss ICS.

I was surprised to get a reply:

 VZW & HTC anticipate the update being available soon. You will be notified directly on your device when it is ready.

Only I don’t feel better. I don’t like the brand any more than I did before this reply. In fact, I’m a little miffed. Why? Because here we have it again: “soon”. They haven’t told me anything. They haven’t really engaged me in any kind of meaningful conversation. They weren’t even snarky (which is the 2011 version of authenticity). They simply told me practically nothing. They told me that by some measure of soon-ness I will get what I was asking about. They told me what I could have easily found out through my favorite search engine.

My Philosophy of Social Media

As background, let me offer my philosophy of social media. I think every company, even every person should have one. Mine is important to how I, personally, engage in social media. I think social media should be treated like a cocktail party. Everything you post to Facebook or Twitter publicly is like something you would say to a group of friends at a party. You should expect that people who might not be standing in the circle might overhear. You should assume that if it is funny, interesting or mean that someone in the group will repeat it (or in social media terms: like, share or retweet it). Even the things that you say to close friends in a low voice or whisper (posting to your Facebook groups or Google+ circles) will probably be repeated by one of your friends who lacks discretion.

At parties where your boss might be there you probably wouldn’t engage in certain behaviors. At parties where your mom might be there you probably keep your shirt on. At parties where your dad might be there you are more discrete about how you talk about your relationships. This party might have all of the above and, try as they might, if you say something controversial enough they will probably be forced to hear it.

So, that leads to my two rules of social media:

  1. You should only post things that you don’t mind having shared, unless you post them to only people you are sure share (and will continue to share) your level of discretion (even if you have a falling out or break up).
  2. You should only post things interesting enough so that you don’t get stuck in the corner of the room because you blathered on about boring stuff no one cares about.

Rule #1 is getting more and more obvious to people every day. We’re all hearing the stories about people losing jobs, friends or relationships over things they posted on social media. If you’re not convinced, go to and see for yourself. You’ll find all kinds of people getting busted by parents, co-workers and bosses for something stupid they posted.

Rule #2 is the more interesting of the two for me. If we’re at a party and someone tells a great story about something embarrassing that happened to them yesterday and you follow up with “had a pumpkin spiced latte this morning…toots yums!”, you are going to get cut off the next time you try to speak. Who invited that guy? The ability to hide someone on Facebook was created for these people.

What does that have to do with HTC and brand engagement in social media?

Sometimes It Is Better Not to Engage

This whole “engaging in social media” thing is a new concept for most of us, especially brands. I know a lot of these companies have gone out and hired an “expert” to act as their social media manager. These people are supposed to use social media to engage their customers.  What I’ve seen from many of them, though, is that they haven’t learned to really engage.

HTC violated rule #2. I was asking the group if anyone knew when the update was coming out and I singled out HTC to say “hey, you should know”. They responded with “yeah, its happening soon”. At a party, we would all have responded with awkward smiles, unenthusiastic head nods and hopefully someone would have said “that’s great, what the heck does that mean? ‘Soon’ in the way it is measured by particle physicists or ‘soon’ in the way it is measured by evolutionary biologists?” We’d all have a good laugh at HTC’s expense and he’d eventually slink into the corner to pet the host’s cat and mutter to himself about how he really knows the answer he’s just not allowed to say.

I say, if you don’t have anything interesting to say you have three good choices: stay quiet, be real honest or be funny. Here are some examples of better responses I could have received:

@oneclevermonkey Predicting when an update will be ready is really hard. We don’t know when it will be ready. Sorry.

@oneclevermonkey We’re working on it and wish we had a better answer than “we’ll have an update soon” but our lawyers won’t let us say anything more specific.

@oneclevermonkey Wish we could, we’re working as hard as we can over here. When we’ve got an update ready you’ll be the first to know as long as you happen to be the first one to see the press release.

@oneclevermonkey Probably not this week, but if you don’t have it by the end of November we’ll be very embarrassed.

All I’m looking for is something honest. Why bother engaging me if you can’t say anything interesting?

So, what do you think ?