There’s a lot of conversation about conversation these days.
My friend Jason Falls wrote an interesting post about engagement, and the varying definitions of the term used by people in their social media strategies. He wrote “If the marketers were focused on the definition, not the word, they would actually engage. By having conversations with their customers. By asking about them, not tooting their own horn.”
PR professional Rachel Kay wrote an equally compelling post disagreeing with his definition of engagement, stating “I think it’s critical to note that I also don’t have any clients who’d be satisfied with dialogue as our campaign metric. They want to see subscriptions, referrals, reviews, sales etc… You know, engagement.” Jason, not being one to allow the last word to be spoken by another (perhaps a reason he and I are friends) responded in yet another post,pointing out that”The metrics her clients want to see aren’t engagement, per say. They’re the measurable outcomes of calls-to-action.” and clarifying his earlier position by saying “Engagement is communicating well enough that the audience pays attention.”
I think Jason got closer in his second run at a definition, because it is closer to one of the the dictionary definitions of the word: “to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons)”. However I believe that for most people in this space, engagement is more than just getting the attention of your audience, or even “occupying” their attention – which does seem to me to be more intense and involved. But I do disagree with his belief that real engagement doesn’t require a response on the part of the audience- or perhaps my disagreement is a matter of degree.
For an audience to be engaged, I think that there needs to be a response, even if that response is not quantified in a measurable online action (tweeting, liking, subscribing etc). Social Media, at least for many small businesses and professionals is a slow play – its OK if every action doesn’t create a reaction, but for there to be effective engagement those people are seeking interaction between the parties leading to a greater understanding of, and some satisfaction of, their individual and mutual needs, wants, and desires. At some point, we want there to be reaction, even if that reaction is a consumer making a referral that we are unaware of because it takes place off line. And for that reason, I think that Jason’s definition is the start of the engagement, and not the end, or desired result.
We agree (I think) that while the needs, wants and desires are obviously varies from brand to brand, from brand to individual, from business to business and from person to person, the need for businesses to learn about their customers,and for customers to feel that they are heard and their needs are being met is core to the evolution of marketing. Jason says in his first post ” Brands everywhere — even those that are allegedly doing social media right — are just doing social, not being social.” and therein lies the danger. To put form over purpose is to miss the point of building real, meaningful connections to our online community. It is not only the channels we use, or the buzz words we employ, but the impact of those communications in building relationships that we need to consider.
For professionals and small businesses being social becomes even more crucial, since our social engagement is often directed at creating a relationship with the consumer which pre-disposes them to trust our advice and expertise. Doing that means listening to the community, and communicating with them in the manner they desire, with content they value, in a context they can easily understand – and that, whether it is defined as engagement or not, will allow you to truly be social and garner the benefits of being a valued member of the community rather than just being the uninvited guest at a party, trying to look like one of the gang…