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.