The Art of Engagement

23 11 2010

To engage (as per Merriam-Webster dictionary):

to attract and hold by influence and power; to interlock with, to mesh, to bind to something; to provide occupation for, to hold the attention of, to induce participation, to bring together, to deal with especially at length, to take part, to give attention to something.

Think about people who engage you in conversation. You know the ones – you could talk to them for hours, you share all sorts of things with them as they do with you, you build something together, you walk away feeling like you have come to ‘know’ something or someone. How do they do it? Is it their form? The things they share? Their energy? Their focus on you? Their sustained commitment to your relationship with them? Or is it all of the above?

More importantly, what can these kinds of conversational partners tell us about engaging through social media?

  • People engage with People. Yep. Real people. Not fake, phony, small talk, all about me people. People who are interested in you. People who ask ‘artful questions’ (the one question which you can talk on for 15 minutes). People who don’t spew forth facts about themselves. People who want to know you.
  • People engage with Those who Share Relevant Ideas. Important things. Interesting things. Things about life writ large. Things that speak to the common good/interest of all of us. Not about your dinner (unless you are a one of a kind, gourmet kitchen rogue a la Bourdain). Not about what your dog/kid/computer/avatar just did (unless they have one just like you).

The point is, there’s a difference between talking with people and talking at people, and brands are people or they should be. Multidimensional conversational partners. That’s what brands should be, just like people are. So let’s look at what counts as engagement in social media programs these days. As we review the various measurements, it’s worth asking yourself why, when the people we engage with are those who are interesting to and interested in YOU, our measurement systems are all based on what you’ve done for ME.  I understand that these are the only measures we have right now, but my question remains - what are we measuring?

If we look at the definition of ‘engaging’ above, there are obvious points of relation between the actions. They build on each other. Engagement is a process – a continuum, if you will – it requires sustained, evolving, reflective, inter-actions. Where can we see this process or continuum in our most common measures of social media engagement below (we need to look beyond these measures, by the way)?

1. Number of ‘views’ – Good work. Someone saw you.

2. Number of ‘blog subscriptions’, ‘fans or likes for a brand/page’, ‘twitter follows’, ‘LinkedIn follows’, ‘join a group’ – Better work. You’ve gotten someone’s attention and they want to hear more from you. They’ve cracked the door open for you – time to come up with something that will hold their attention now.

3. Number of ‘likes- What would be the conversational (read face to face conversation) equivalent of a hit on the facebook ‘like’ button? I’m going to say a nod, or a ‘hmm hmm’. It’s like saying, ‘right’, ‘sure’. How does it engage the other person? It demonstrates a form of agreement, perhaps reassurance, or a motion to continue the conversation. It basically says ‘I see you.’ or ‘I hear you.’ Perhaps even ‘I read you.’

4. Number of ‘shares’ (retweets, forwarded emails) – a level up from likes, this time your conversational partner is communicating that while they don’t have time to respond, they like and are willing to share your thought with others they know. That is, they are going to ‘pass it along’. Often called ‘word of mouth’, this is a form of engagement which exists indirectly because people are distributing your contribution to a larger community. It’s like when you come home and tell your roommate partner/kids/dog about a conversation you had with someone else. You know they might like it so you pass it on.

5. Number of comments in response - Now we are beginning to see some level of quality engagement. To garner a comment to something you have shared, you’ve been relevant, interesting, and created a sense of togetherness with your conversational partner. So they take the time to respond to you. They share a thought of their own, an experience of their own, or even ask you another question. This is inter-action. Acting together.

So where does engagement lie?

I am going to say that the tool (read blog, facebook, twitter) matters not. I am also going to say that to some degree, the thought matters not. Why? Because engagement happens in inter-action. In the spaces between people using these tools to contribute, share, and respond to these thoughts. It’s a complex combination of providing a space, filling it with pieces and people that attract and hold the attention of others, getting to know them and then lubricating their interaction.

Artful engagement builds qualified leads, opinion leaders, and community centers. It’s important to know what you want before you start measuring actions. So next time you’re in a performance review as a social media or community manager, or even creating a job description or RFP for a social media agency or professional, consider what you think engagement is and what you want it to do for you. Then design the actions that will ‘count’ and not ‘count’ becuase everyone is doing it, but ‘count’ towards accomplishing your overall goal. Social media people are people people, after all.

Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving – remember to go and thank all those fans, friends, readers and lurkers in your social media space. They’ll ‘like’ you for it! :)

With appreciative thanks to onigiri-kun, cliff1066 and John Althouse Cohen for their beautiful art!

Kirsti, @kblucy

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One response

26 11 2010
Leah Robl

I think you brought about an excellent break down of the levels of engagement. Far too often do I see companies becoming lazy, and do not expect people to want to hear from them via social media sites. So, they let their accounts become inactive. Part of public relations is the constant spread of information to publics and those publics, who may be latent at one moment can become active in another once the company posts something of interest. I also believe more companies need to listen to the feedback people are willing to give in order to develop that inter-action you talked about.

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