Below are my thoughts on engagement leading up to the Social Media World Forum in New York November 27th and 28th where we at #engagementlabs will be presenting.
I think most of us planning our trip to the #SMWF will agree that, in 2012, ‘engagement’ is as towering a buzzword as ‘Web 2.0′ or ‘cyberculture’ were in their day. Heck, at #engagementlabs, who are we to point fingers? We’ve taken this buzzword and built our brand on it!
All the same, as ubiquitous as the word is, ‘engagement’ in the mouths of different speakers means so many things that the concept has gathered a lot of fuzz around it. So here’s our attempt to pin it down to some concrete principles.
In the offline world, engagement is a touchy-feely word used in Human Resources and Marketing literature to express the quality of a stronger connection between people and their peers, objects, messages etc. Its meaning is context dependent and it is most often a qualitative rather than quantitative value. It is our impression, that these offline uses of ‘engagement’ often get transposed to the digital setting and muddy the waters.
To those shaping the DNA of social networks, however, engagement is anything but a soft value. It is the heart of a crucial relevancy filter that is instrumental in fighting information overload in settings where thousands if not millions of pieces of content are being exchanged daily.
As we know from all of our stats programs, social networks attribute numeric values to the various expressions of engagement such as likes, comments, retweets etc. To judge what pieces of content or which users deserve more attention than others, algorithms such as Facebook’s EdgeRank have built an elaborate reward system based on the number of recorded ‘engagements’ that content and users were creating.
Basically, it’s all mathematics. The more you accumulate engagement points, the more you will be seen. Conversely, broadcast content without engagement and you are throwing money at an inefficient use of social networks.
For the marketer, always a numbers fan, engagement as mathematics should be a reassuring image. The only tricks are how to measure it accurately across social media platforms and how to adjust content and strategy to make sure you are getting all the reach you can out of social networks. In other words, optimising for social.
On the measurement side, there are now tools which tap into social network APIs and tell you immediately how much engagement you are generating relative to your community size. These kind of interpretive results are key because, at a certain size, all communities look like they are generating engagement. The question is, how much is enough? The answers lies in benchmarking your communities’ score against that of competitors in your sector to see if you are ‘winning the engagement battle’.
On the content side, the key is to start real social media conversations that answer to your target audience’s first order concerns and create genuine scenarios for interaction. Social networks are designed to be peer to peer conduits for multidirectional conversation, not broadcast. Brands must monitor actively and seek out the conversation opportunities that give their public an active role in the exchange. If you are a brand that refuses to listen to your audience and instead, tries to push fluff on your audience day after day, you can kiss your engagement (and a solid ROI) goodbye.