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Engagement as a Universal Constant

April 28th, 2010 · 2 Comments · All Posts, AmberNaslund

How familiar are statements like these?

“Gee I really wish such-and-such would just engage.”

“Be engaged in order to be successful in social media.”

“Social media is different than marketing because it’s about engagement.”

“We really want to engage our community.”

All fair statements, through their own lenses.

But the trick is that the definition of engagement is in the eye of the beholder. What you perceive as an “engaged” customer might not suit their definition at all. And the limited online periscope through which you view someone’s behavior (and consequently judge it) may not be all-encompassing.

When we’re asking for engagement, I think we’re applying a catch-all term, when we’re typically searching for one or all of the above:

  • interaction with unselfish intent
  • conversation
  • acknowledgement that we’ve been heard
  • responsiveness
  • unique contributions
  • personalized connection

And there are probably more. Have you thought about this?

Let’s take Twitter as the first example.

Does engagement imply responding sometimes? All the time? As much as you can handle, without discrimination? I might appear engaged to you on Twitter because I reply such-and-such percent of the time. But if you’re one of the replies I don’t see, I’m not engaged in your eyes, now am I? You feel left out, regardless of my batting average, because those great stats don’t include you personally. So depending on where you sit, your perception of how “engaged” I am will change.

(And of course this begs the question of whether or not “engagement” should be a requisite goal for anyone participating in social media, but we’ll save that argument for another post.)

Does engagement require universal acceptance and prioritization of every conversation? Is it an egalitarian approach whereby, in order to be christened one of The Engaged, an individual or company must interact with every person who wishes to interact with them, or can engagement be something that’s accepted within filters for relevance, interest, and affinity?

Is trying ever enough to demonstrate intent, or do you have to hit it out of the park every time, talk to everyone, regardless of the value of the conversation in order to be considered “engaged”?

If I comment on Bob’s blog post, I’m engaged by his standards, but if I don’t comment on yours, I’m not. So how would you define me? What if Suzie replies to one commenter on the blog, but not another? What if they don’t allow comments on the blog at all, but communicate through other means?

How about community efforts?

If you come to my community, consume content, read, learn, and share it but never say a word, are you engaged? As a company, are you engaged with your customers simply because you’re communicating to them? Do you have to be conversational or reciprocal in order to be considered “engaged”?

And for all of the above, is online, visible evidence the only proof of said engagement? Who is the judge and jury of engagement? In your context, who *should* it be?

I’ve asked lots of questions here, because I’m concerned about our universal adoption of some terms to mean the same thing in every context, and our tendency as a mob to openly label and critique those who don’t do things according to our standard. We do this with other words, too.

What I care about: Do the people with mutual impact potential feel like I’m accessible somehow? Like they can reach out and have a reasonable shot at a conscientious reply? To me, an engaged person isn’t always the one that openly and actively fights every drop of the waterfall. Intent matters, but how it manifests might be different for everyone.

So I’ve given you merely a bunch of the questions I ask myself, and I’d like to invite you to noodle them through with me. As always, I believe there are no singular answers, but I’m hopeful that asking the right questions can help us each find a bit more perspective.

What do you think?

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