Engagement as an ‘Objective’

Gotta hit the bullseye (creative commons)

True or False: The point of social media for business is to engage with people.

That statement is being used as a club to pummel the reluctant into the social media world. Remember the glory days of the dawn of the World Wide Web?  Businesses needed Web sites because customers who weren’t on the Web now would be soon… Because people would look up your business on Yahoo! or Alta Vista or AOL to try and learn about you…Because it was so cool to be on the Web!

It took a while to get there, but now the idea that a business could be viable without a website is ludicrous. It may well turn out that way for social media too.  But back to the first sentence — there’s a defensible body of wisdom that says social media for businesses isn’t about direct selling (Southwest Airlines excluded, as well as other online businesses), it’s about engagement.

So how do we know if our audience/stakeholders is/are engaged?

It could be blog comments, Twitter @ replies and RTs, Facebook “likes” or any number of seemingly independent activities. But do those activities really constitute engagement in a meaningful way?

I surmise that there needs to be more independent research to answer that question. As well, I wonder whether engagement really matters to the business, which is the pregnant elephant in the living room in measurement circles. I’m most concerned with what happens as a result of engagement than of engagement itself.

But I am comfortable with the notion of engagement as a goal, a weigh station on the way to a business objective. To use the academic vernacular, it’s likely an outtake — a measurable step on the way to business results — rather than a business result of its own.  Though some folks have averred that those who engage with a brand are more likely to spend and spend more than those who do not, the research is self-serving — it’s coming from firms who have a vested interest.  Open up the methodology in that black box and let’s have the math types run it through a wringer!

In the meantime, go ahead with your plans to engage publics — just be sure that engagement is in service to something that matters to business results.

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3 Responses to “Engagement as an ‘Objective’”

  1. Judy Gombita says:

    Just because a business sets out to “engage” with publics via social media, doesn’t mean people are overly interested or will engage in return.

    Not only is it companies with vested interests who are promoting this, but on my social media platforms I’m observing that most of the “engagement” is peer-to-peer, including various business marketing efforts and/or not-for-profit campaigns.

    The main point of social media is not to reach out to the people you already know (“people like me”), it’s to allow individuals who are truly interested in the product or service or social initiative to find you, increase their knowledge, ask questions and/or champion the same.

    For me the ones who are doing it best (or correct) focus less on the engagement and more on providing the information (information that is wanted, as well as information you didn’t even know was available) and answering questions when asked. Two examples of exemplary social media “engagers” that come to mind are Avril Benoit (@avrilbenoit) of MSF Canada (whom my colleague, Madeline Lunney, profiled on PR Conversations), as well as Lisa Middleton (director of marketing & audience development) of the Stratford Festival (@stratfest).

    Neither uses her Twitter account to directly raise funds or sell theatre tickets, but from a public relations perspective, both have immensely added to the reputation, value and relationship building spectrum of their respective organizations.

  2. Judy raises some excellent points. Engagement levels are a measurement of success to which social media strategies contribute as part of a larger communication strategy.

    While obviously social media is about interactivity, to put engagement mainly on the social media piece is to deny a more wholistic approach.

    Social media is excellent for brand building… which grows regardless of the audience being ‘lurkers’ or full-out engaged. And folks prefer to engage where they trust the brand. Perhaps that is a better goal?

  3. Sean says:

    @judy and @Dennie — thanks very much for your thoughtful comments. There’s no strong consensus on the most effective use of social media — the U.S. marketers point to Dell and Southwest Airlines as paragons for their ability to sell product, and the “integrated marketing” bell tolls for making Public Relations a mere subset of marketing, which would tend to place PR in the same business as sales — which we are not.

    Paul Holmes, in writing about the PR measurement agenda offered at this month’s AMEC soiree in Lisbon, calls upon the measurement community to develop and engagement metric and stipulate its impact on relationships, a more Holistic and yet more tightly focused mode of operation for PR. http://bit.ly/mvFj59

    At the heart of the issue is indeed defining engagement –Judy, your examples are good ones — we don’t need to sell through these channels, and it’s possible that selling turns off people who are looking to explore an organization prior to purchasing. Dennie, you too make a good point — building trust isn’t served well by over-reliance on social media (the say-do disconnect is particularly rife in social media, almost as bad these days as in political media relations) — and good use of social media is no antidote to poisonous behavior.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment.
    S.