What is engagement?

August 1, 2012 8:37 am

‘Engagement’ is now a bullshit bingo word within the media industry. But irritation aside there must be a good reason why everyone appears to be ‘seeking engagement’, ‘measuring engagement’ and – some hope – producing ‘engaging content’. It’s because those things, even though we lack better phrases to describe them, are important.

The problem is that the word we’re using lacks a common definition.

Wikipedia lets us down for once: An engagement or betrothal is a promise to marry…” it begins. We knew that. That’s an existing, useful definition of engagement.

Good old Social Media Explorer comes in first on any Google search with a relevant result for What is engagement? (article no longer available). Good for them – they even call it a “bullshit term”. (The article is two and a half years old, so must be still striking a chord.) The writer goes on to make good points and struggles to find an answer. Funny that.

Then this ‘Engagement is a real metric’ infographic from socialbakers (great name) does a robust – mathematical, even – job of explaining different ways of measuring it.

But we have something much simpler to put to you.

Engagement’s evil twin is mere old exposure. Exposure just happens. It is usually fleeting. It is those ‘500 marketing messages each day’* you see, whether you like it or not.

You don’t choose most of them – they’re outdoor ads you only glance at on public transport, signs above shops, the logo on that passer-by’s T-shirt, the side of the cereal box at the breakfast table.

While you are exposed to them, you don’t choose to stick with them. (I would love to see a version of that with the passer-by’s T-shirt as they’ve passed you by – “Hey, you – STOP!”.)

Mostly, in the vast majority of cases, they are not engaging.

So if ‘engagement’ is the flip-side, what is it?

You are happy to spend time with engaging content.

You choose to come back for more. It is the bookmark, the subscription, that section of the bookstore, the person who speaks and you shout “Hold on, don’t change the channel”.

A headline can be engaging, though it doesn’t follow that the following article will be. (You’ll eventually discount such headlines in those contexts.)

A wrapper brand can be engaging. Someone who doesn’t say a lot but curates the best links? Engaging. Could be a friend’s blog, could be Mashable, could be Facebook.

And to come back to that Wikipedia definition…? Maybe it was relevant. Maybe the engagement we’ve been discussing is the difference between matrimonial engagement and a one-night stand.

(*Or whatever huge number various research throws up.)

Photo The Proposal Number 2 (43/52) by timparkinson used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic (CC by 2.5).

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