Social media “engagement” is not a strategy

social media conversation

Back in the early days of the social web, the leading “gurus” were actively anti-business.

They made fun of measurement, strategy, objectives and any hint of trying to monetize a social media effort.  I know that sounds weird today, but it’s true. The mantra was “Social media is not about your stupid company. It’s all about the conversation.”

We’ve come a long way and even the “purists” have relented. Today, social media is being mainlined into the traditional marketing, PR and advertising initiatives, for better or for worse.

But despite this progress, every now and then I catch a whiff of the old days hanging around. Such was the case on a recent blog post when commenters vigorously defended the “true goal” of social media as being “engagement.”

I am sufficiently disturbed by this conversation that I think it’s time for a reality check. Here we go.

Engagement is not a strategy

A strategy is a direction that ideally capitalizes on a unique value proposition that serves un-met or under-served customer wants and needs. In other words, are you creating something that would be difficult or impossible for your competitor to copy? Is it possible to truly be strategic by “engaging” with customers in a singularly unique way? Difficult, I think.

I do believe it is possible to create strategic advantage by delivering great content and executing a social media initiative well. But the entry barriers to creating a Facebook page and initiating engagement, for example, are so low, I think it is unlikely that this can truly be “strategic.” Engagement should more likely be viewed as a tactic that supports an over-arching marketing strategy, unless you truly have some super-human community management skills that consistently bring customers in the door.

Social media’s place in the marketing mix is to provide consistent, small provocations and conversations through content that lead to engagement and interactions. Skillfully done, that engagement ultimately results in consumer interest, and hopefully loyalty and meaningful activity (like a purchase).

Engagement must lead to stakeholder value

The most valuable brand in the history of the world, Apple, has no social media engagement. By comparison, Dell, the gold standard of social engagement, is floundering and has a stock price hovering near a five-year low.  So “engagement” in and of itself is not a predictor of success, is it?  That’s why “engagement” is not a valuable activity unless it is tied to some organizational goal such as:

  • Customer acquisition
  • Brand awareness/defense
  • Investment
  • New product development
  • Registrations
  • Service
  • Employment/recruiting

I would not invest in a company that is driving engagement as a goal without tying it to some business objective that moves the needle. Engagement, yes.  But only in the context of business results!

You can talk yourself broke

One commenter on my blog argued that a company’s goal should be to drive engagement ever upward and pointed to her success in moving a brand from a 10% engagement level to 25%.

Again, without the tying this to a goal, that seems like a silly way to describe success. In fact, you could be hurting your customer.

Let’s not forget that all that engagement comes at a cost!  We have to be careful that we’re ready to staff-up to effectively meet those demands. And for some companies, that may not be a good business decision.

Let me give you a micro-example. Last week I wrote a blog post that had more than 100 comments.  As a small business owner, if I had this level of engagement every day, I would not have time to work on the consulting and teaching activities that feed my family.

Now if I really wanted to, I could pump up this level of engagement all the time … but it would be foolhardy for me to do so. I need to strike the proper balance of commercial activities across my customer base that optimize my business results. In fact, I purposely plan my blog postings to DEPRESS engagement on days when I don’t have the time to properly handle it.

In other words, if you’re not careful, you can talk yourself broke.

There is a level of diminishing returns to any economic activity and engagement is no different. Having a goal to “increase engagement” for every customer in the absence of strategy is irresponsible.

The conversational brand

Finally, a successful engagement level must also be considered in the context of the type of company and product.  An engagement level which would be disappointing for Disney might be thrilling for a niche B2B chemical manufacturer because it is not a very conversational brand. There are no absolutes in this business.

Likewise, not all conversation is created equal.  A company may drive an artificially high engagement level simply by posting inane polls and cat pictures that don’t contribute to business objectives in the least.

So if you’re striking out on a new social media strategy, I hope you’ll consider these take-aways:

  1. “Engagement” needs to be evaulated and supported in the context of company objectives
  2. Engagement level alone is not necessarily a meaningful indicator of marketing success or financial performance
  3. Engagement comes at a cost and must be considered as balanced part of an optimized marketing mix

Those are a few observations on engagement but I would welcome your views, dissent, and additions in the comment section! It’s your turn (and yes, I want the engagement!).

Illustration: “Conversation” statue in Calgary

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  • IMHO engagement enables me to connect to the people behind the numbers. Social Media is different than other marketing – it gives my clients a chance to connect to the person (or brand personality). Of course all of this has to be part of a larger strategy but in the long run those who know how to create engagement will be able to reach the connected consumer in a way that ultimately drives purchasing decision. Facebook’s Edgerank is one example – Pages that create more interaction gain more exposure without having to buy disruptive advertising (
    Engagement and Interactions humanize your brand and create loyal ambassadors

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  • Blogging costs money, for that matter social media costs money. There is nothing wrong with spending money for your business provided it generates a real return.

    I have a recurring conversation with clients, colleagues and friends about the costs involved in being online because even though I think it is critical to be here I never ignore the costs of doing so.

    If you haven’t been in a position where you bill for your time you might not be as conscious of this, but it is important.

  • Very well said Mark. I think people and businesses who are starting out often get caught up in the magic glow of “being engaged”. As you point out, they don’t realize that engagement can be a major drain with little to no return. I have to admit, it’s fun to see the numbers of comments, followers and fans increase, but engagement alone is not tied to what all of us ultimately need to stay in business – sales. If you aren’t making sales, then it’s a hobby.

    I really appreciated your recent post that talked about how you do things like strategically schedule guest posts to reduce the demands on your time. As someone who places a very high priority on family time, teaching and my business, you have taught me too much engagement isn’t a healthy goal.

    Just curious, how do you set your goals for and measure your strategic engagement (so you don’t get caught up in non-productive engagement)?. IMHO you do a great job staying active online while keeping your family, volunteering, teaching and business a high priority. An inquiring mind wants to know 😉

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  • Mark – you hit the nail on the head. You basically wrote what I have been thinking & have been trying to get my head around recently. Your words speak so much truth and we all need to be willing to have the conversation on such.

    I have become concerned lately as I am seeing even some of the trusted “influencers” behaving in such a way and offering advice of what you describe. Many are both live and autotweeting 24/7, even on Holidays. For what reason, I don’t know? To keep an influence score up, keep opt-in list growing. To me it just doesn’t make sense and I will never guide my clients to do such. I guess if your goal is to sell social media execution services then some of these “guru” agencies want you to tweet 24/7? The same folks who are preaching engagement, relationships all day are tweeting and retweeting themselves every day w/the same content over and over. They spend half the day thanking people for the replies or retweets. Of course, if you tweet 300 quotes a day you are going to get a lot of retweets. You can then spend your day thanking them. Geeze, I think I’ll choose something that provides my audience, clients, colleagues, partners and friends real value.

    Without a strategy that aligns to biz goals as well as how you are going to provide value to stakeholders, it really is all for nothin.

    And sorry folks, a cat photo does not offer real value 😉

    Thanks for the great post Mark. I vote we keep the conversation going and continue to push for what we believe is right. I believe 2013 is going to be a year that separates those who are in it for the right reasons versus not.

  • Claire Axelrad

    This is spot on. It’s so important for us to always keep our eyes on the prize. Yes, engagement tends to be a step along the way. We want to move potential customers from awareness… to interest… to engagement… to investment. But if we stop with engagement, and get stuck there, then we never get to our destination. Engagement, especially in our digital world, can truly be quicksand. It’s best to tread lightly and take good care. Thanks for the great reminder!

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  • Guest

    I’m the social media manager for a decent-sized UK sports book and funnily enough, we’ve pretty much come to this conclusion ourselves in the last few weeks.

  • I work for a decent-sized UK sports book as the social media manager, and this is something we’ve come to realise over the past few months. We’ve been at internal loggerheads because some of the managers believed we should use social as marketing tool (constantly trying to drive people to site) and others believed it should be pure engagement.

    We’re now striving to drive engagement in the context of our business – which is where we benefit from being a sports book. We’re talking about the latest sporting events and news, and trying to weave gentle pushes to our website into that content. Hopefully we’ll be able to nail it 🙂

    This is a great post. It was nice to read someone else who takes a little more down-to-earth view of social.

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  • It amazes me how people regularly get this confused: Engagement shouldn’t be the sole strategy – engagement is the result of a good strategy. Great summing up Mark.

  • A very good point, Mark and that certainly gives me food for thought – in that, I may have been worrying too much about lack of engagement, when that can actually be a good thing because, like you, I often don’t have the time to dedicate to handling it. Of course, in my case, it’s not necessarily been my intention but at least I can take a fresh look at what I have been doing and what my objective is.

    I think there is a tendency from many ‘gurus’ to confuse “strategy” with “tactic” when insisting that engagement should be the former. I do agree with PamMktgNut’s response below – I sit and look at some tweeters (social media advisors especially) and wonder what the heck they are aiming to achieve with repetitive tweets, often in a long string of tweets and with no cohesive theme, which simply make me – and any sane person – want to block them so that I can see the tweets that may be of value to me.

    On Facebook, just the other day, I saw a post from one social media advisor who posts several times a day, clearly desperate for engagement. This one was “what did you have for lunch today ?” I wasted at least 5 seconds sitting there looking at it and trying to work out what business objective this was tied to. Needless to say, I didn’t come up with anything.

  • Julie Musial

    Mark, Your absolutely right on “you can talk yourself broke on social media”. I am pretty active in social media and if I took the time to answer every single comment I would do nothing else and my family would go hungry. What I have started to do in order to engage is follow up with group replies answering many comments all at once. This is the only way I can tackle so many comments at one time and still remain engaged.

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  • Think we agree here. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Directly, or indirectly, every business bills for time! : ) Thanks for adding your wisdom to the conversation Josh.

  • Honestly, my biggest advantage I have right now is that my children are grown and my wife is a partner in my business. So I have more incremental time to spend on the business, but to me, it’s more than work — it’s what i was meant to do. I have fun every day and writing the blog and connecting with people is the most fun of all!

    Occasionally I am “out of balance” but I like to have fun, I put a priority on volunteering, and overall I have a very centered life.

    Isn’t it great to be in a place where I enjoy what I do every day? It was not always that way but it’s worked out. Thanks for asking! : )

  • Freaking Amen to this Mark. I can’t wait till we move past the “engagement age” and back to the “let’s figure out how to make our company more profitable age.”

    I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately and you’ve managed to distill all my thoughts here better than I could have.Well done sir.


  • I see the same kind of strange behaviors. I tend to ignore it or block it out because at the end of the day I don’t see that it has any impact on me.

    At the end of the day, I have no competitors, and neither do you. People hire you for you, not because of how many tweets somebody else is sending out or another person’s Klout score.

    Thanks for your very generous praise Pam, and for taking the time to create such an awesome comment! I appreciate you!

  • Beautifully said. Nothing to add to that great observation Claire!

  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Sometimes we have to give the clients what they want before we give them what they need! : ) And we’ll never be abel to get to that spot without patience and constant education. Sounds like you’re on the right path. Keep fighting the good fight Jamie!

  • Well said Claire. Thanks for reading my post today!

  • Apple engages in a big way. It’s just at the person to person level in the retail outlets. It seems they have that form of engagement down. It would be interesting to measure the metrics of their customer service efforts against their sales.

  • Unfollow ’em!

    Stay focused on the signal, not the noise (and there is plenty of that!). Stay true to your own business instinct (which is correct) and you will be fine. Hang in there my friend! Thanks for the insightful comment because I think you are speaking for a lot of people here.

  • We can have all the engagement we want, but if we’re not getting phones ringing and credit card payments going through, we haven’t done our job and would be out of a job soon. It’s a fine line…we have fun and are “engaging” but it still has to lead to cabins being booked.

  • “That’s why “engagement” is not a valuable activity unless it is tied to some organizational goal such as: Brand awareness/defense”

    On many major social networks, especially Facebook, engagement is tied strongly to brand awareness.

  • It’s a tricky balance isn’t it?

    I think it is important to give as much personal attention as possible, which takes careful management. For exmple, you have given me a true gift today — the gift of your time by reading my blog post and commenting on it. I am giving you a gift in return through my content and a personal content. That’s the way relationships eventually form — through these small interactions.

    The number of relationships I have formed this way have been amazing and if you and I keep at it, who knows where it might lead? So that personal attention is so important, especially for people selling personal services. Thanks for your gift!

  • That means a lot Marcus. You are such a great writer and thinker. You made my day pal!

  • This might be just my twisted thinking again, but aren’t we gradually coming full circle? Inbound with limited “engagement” being the new “push”?

  • Good observation. It is such an interesting thing though that the most valuable company — and a tech one at that — is largely absent in the social space! A realtiy check to be sure.

  • Exactly and I know you understand that well, Brad. Thanks for commenting. Hope you said hello to Colonel Sanders for me! : )

  • Let’s hope so at least. When I see most “engagement” consisting of “what was your favorite childhood pet” I wonder. Thanks for commenting.

  • Always love your twisted thinking.

    I think that is an extremely interesting idea. Wouldn’t the most cost-effective solution be leads without engagement? Wait a minute. That’s called advertising! : )

  • MrTonyDowling

    Awesome article! I love your thought process – A strategy is a direction that ideally capitalizes on a unique value proposition that serves un-met or under-served customer wants and needs.

    Simplicity itself 🙂

    Id argue, by the way, that Apple has an extremely strong social element – albeit not through the standard social media platforms we know, rather their own particular take on it.

    Their closed system or walled garden or whatever you would like to call it is very much like a propriety social media platform, and they are all about talking to customers / creating a community?

    Its through all sorts of devices and the app store / website etc. But I think building the Apple community, the Apple Fan base is an extremely valuable thing indeed?

    They are one of the few businesses, most likely due the walled garden nature of the approach, that are able to leverage a fantastic premium from the social elements of their community and turn it into profit?

    Great post as ever Mark!

  • Ha ha! True. When social networks change the rules (and costs), the impact of engagement on brand awareness can change dramatically. That’s one of the dangers of being at their mercy, hence the need for an overarching strategy, of which engagement is one tactic. Nice post, Mark 🙂

  • Exactly what I had in mind. We put our content up for folks to find voluntarily (keyphrases), get them interested enough to make them expose themselves (email address or SM profile) and boom, we have a more or less qualified lead. Advertising that people brought unto themselves.

  • You know, you really helped me connect some dots here. I observed in a recent post that social media has simply turned into advertising for many companies. Maybe that is where the economics are pushing things? At the end of the day the strategy will lead to the most impressions for the least amount of money. That usually rules “engagement” out, doesn’t it? Viral without engagement would be the recipe. Interesting thinking Kimmo.

  • Interesting addition to the conversation Tony. Many thanks!

  • For me the thing that matters the most is engagement with the right set of audience. So why this particular set of audience and how to engage them becomes my strategy guideline

  • I’m so glad you wrote this Mark! It’s about time that we speak up on this issue.

    Engagement doesn’t equal results. There are some companies that get fooled by community managers and social gurus that engagement is everything. It’s not. Especially if your goal is to increase sales and generate leads.

    Sure, engagement might be part of it. You might grow a social community, build relationships with potential clients in hopes that they convert. But conversion might not be related to engagement 100% of the time.

    It’s important to establish a clear digital strategy (content, social, SEO, SEM), and map out how you want things to develop in your sales funnel. Are you building a social community to lead them to converting content, such as an ebook? What is it that you want people to do with your social presence? How will it convert to business results? How will it increase sales, registrations, downloads, donations, etc?

    Will engagement actually take care of all of these questions I just asked above? NOPE! You need a lot more than just engagement in order to get the results you actually want.

  • Word. It’s just as bad as counting likes and followers, looking at clicks and RTs. And? And?! AND?! And what? Until all that makes a difference – i.e. call center demand is 25% reduced b/c issues are being handled more efficiently online, by social – then you’re just talking. Like @PamMktgNut:disqus mentioned.. don’t care how cute the cat picture you shared is, if it doesn’t do anything to make me think of you, your company, your products and services and how I need to buy them, recommend them to others.. than you’re just kind of spinning your wheels. Most of us are all for engagement – but it’s not the end game, it’s a tool for getting there. FWIW.

  • Thanks very much for caring enough to comment!

  • Fantastic comment Daniel. Lots of good ideas here!

  • Word back. Every time I read one of your comments I think I should hire you to proofread my blog posts. You always say things better than I do. Thanks Davina!

  • Thanks! Glad you like my ideas 🙂

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  • I agree completly. The “engagement” is a kind of first level Social Media Access. I ahve hear many people talking about social media and engagement and when you are asking them “whats the goal and whats the ROI” they get red heads.
    Social Media has become a business and is no longer (ifn it ever was) a kind of philantrophy.
    Kind regards from Germany

  • Antoinette Campbell

    This article is a reminder that Social Media is still in infancy in the business realm. Mark is right, there is a balance. Engagement is important, but it must be part of a bigger strategy to create consumers. We’re all having fun having conversations, but these conversations must have purpose. .

  • Absolutely brilliant. I used to put A LOT of weight on comments with my old blog..and it lead nowhere. Then I launched my new one and pretty much stopped caring altogether. I’m probably too extreme on the opposite side of the spectrum at this point, but my blog is now a lead generator more so than a place of discussion. And while that’s certainly a sacrifice, I’d much rather have it this way than the way I had it before :).

  • Thank you for the writing this! “The most valuable brand in the history of the world, Apple, has no
    social media engagement. By comparison, Dell, the gold standard of
    social engagement, is floundering and has a stock price hovering near a
    five-year low.” A very telling point, indeed. I recently read “Social Media is Bullshit” (by Brandon Mendelson) and he points out that much of social media tactics can’t be tied to an upward shift in revenue. It’s NOT the magic marketing bullet that most people tout it to be.

    For me though, business IS about relationships. And building those relationships can, but doesn’t always, take place on social media channels. So being “engaged” with our prospects isn’t wrong — it just might be better (more fruitful) to look at other channels (including in-person like Apple does with its stores). I’m much happier with the level of engagement (and resulting sales) I get with my content on email and my blog (downloadables, etc.), but that doesn’t mean I ignore social media. It just means I don’t put all my engagement eggs in that basket.

  • Ha! That is great. Thanks Hansjörg!

  • So true Antoinette. You nailed it there.

  • You can’t feed your family on blog comments. Whatever works! Thanks Eugene. Good to hear from you!

  • Great wisdom here Tea. Thanks for taking the time to share with us today.

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  • Hello Mark,

    Thank you SO much for this post!

    People who base their success on engagement alone drive me nuts. As you said, it is not a strategy!

    “Engagement should more likely be viewed as a tactic that supports an over-arching marketing strategy, unless you truly have some super-human community management skills that consistently bring customers in the door.” – Amen!

    Which is why I have always refused to play the numbers game on Facebook by posting silly pictures on my FB Fan Page, for example. I am all about great conversations with my audience, but my topic is social media, not cats, recipes, or quotes.

    It’s not that I hate cats and recipes. They just don’t make sense in my overall strategy. Engagement for the sake of engagement, and without seeing the big picture, makes absolutely no sense.

  • I’m glad this post resonated with you Cendrine. Thanks for taking the time to let me know!

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  • Matthew Perosi

    Other than worthless cat photos, I also get disgusted when I see post that say “TGIF! Click Like if you are happy it’s Friday!” I just want to gouge my eyes out and fire my own clients who are paying someone to manage their Facebook page to increase their engagements.

    Companies that sell services to increase your online engagement sometimes use general online contests that rapidly increase numbers of fans. But those new fans are mostly bottom feeders that engage only to win. Very little ROI ever comes from online contests that are not associated in some way to other local marketing. So I tell people that online contests are good, only if they are one part of your overall marketing strategy.

    For the specific industry I serve, I’ve been able to measure how worthless massive time spending on engagements actually is for increasing business. On the other hand I have another client with less than 200 Facebook fans who interacts very little through his FB Page, but some of his more popular posts are photos of the dog that serves as the store mascot. Clients often come into the store and say “I came in today because I saw on Facebook that Spot would be here today.”

    I know several social marketing “experts” who insist that social logos and links should prominently be displayed at the top of every page of a website. I’m never going to understand that recommendation. I waiting for someone to show me the analytics that prove to me how beneficial it is to invite visitors to return back to your marketing channels instead of figuring out how to improve your website for conversions.

    Mark, thank you for this well thought out post. I’m a believer in “social” being a single tactic within the overall “marketing strategy.” Regretfully I don’t think many small business realize this, what’s worse is that I don’t think many of the agencies providing social engagement services realize it either.

    Within my industry, very few are correctly monitoring what the analytics of their social engagements are telling them, then comparing those to the money they make, and then learning how to improve the process.

    My personal social tactics change every week, but they are geared toward very specific goals which I started to attain in 2012, and hope for further reach in 2013.

  • Nick

    Great post, Mark. I think you definitely bring up a lot of great points.

    Do you think sometimes “engagement” can lead to developing relationships which can then can indirectly lead to customer acquisition down the line, though?

    For example, as a social media marketer, I find it difficult to find the balance of posting a bunch of “sales-like” tweets that actually have value with those that are “engaging.”

    Even though a “cat photo” may have nothing to do with my business, do you think it could still be thought of as a meaningful way to “engage” and develop relationships with potential customers? And, in turn, those relationships will then lead to sales. I understand that this alone isn’t a full blown strategy, but couldn’t it still be valuable?

    I’m sure glad I came across your post! Thanks so much!

  • Let’s hope folks have a marketing plan in place with priorities, strategies and tactics to accomplishment their BUSINESS goals and be successful. And let’s hope that engagement is not their sole strategy! I’m always for increased engagement, but clearly it’s not going to pay your bills at the end of the day. Thanks for another fine post, as always, Mark. I so enjoy reading them.

  • Great post! I’m about to give a speech to NAWBO members this week and I’m going to shamelessly steal some of these points.

  • Lots of interesting points here! Really interesting observation about companies trying to move people AWAY from their website. Seems like they have it backwards! Thanks for the superb comment Matthew!

  • Yes of course. That’s what it is all about. It’s what I meant when I wrote: Social media’s place in the marketing mix is to provide consistent, small provocations and conversations through content that lead to engagement and interactions. Skillfully done, that engagement ultimately results in consumer interest, and hopefully loyalty and meaningful activity (like a purchase).

    Hope that clarifies it some.

  • Very kind of you to say. I have a lot of fun writing them! Thanks for commenting.

  • I’m here to serve. : ) Good luck with your speech!

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  • Thanks Mark for the post,

    You got my thoughts running while i was reading through this post. You are right, Engagement is a important social media tools if it’s been used effectively. It can assist an individual or an organization to peach a strong presence that can influence brand patronage. i have been anticipating on this issue for a while now. This really going to come in handy as I plan to work more on my engagement in future.

  • mankul65

    On a recent webinar,the presenter said “we should not spend time on LinkedIn; instead,we should invest our time on LinkedIn.”

  • I’m so pleased this post helped you Akan. Good luck with your efforts and thanks for commenting!

  • I like that. I think that strikes the right tone. It is really easy to waste time on these platforms!

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  • I am glad to read this as well. As an author, I’m my own boss, promo team, everything. So “engagement” takes my writing time. Social media is a real challenge for the fiction author. So much of the advice and “wisdom” is geared to the non-fiction author. My “product” is entertainment, or possibly “escape” from the real world for a short while. I’d never have thought of posting low engagement blog posts during busy times. I like the idea (though there are times when I seem to do it by accident. LOL) Thank you for another thoughtful post.

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  • Nice post, Mark. I totally agree.

    I sometimes describe the value of a follower or a ‘like’ as the same as acquiring a business card: zero. In both cases, value is added by acting upon an opportunity; the opportunity itself has no inherent value.

    Social media engagement is that process of following up on the opportunity. It’s really not that dissimilar from calling or emailing someone who gave you their business card last week, except maybe that it’s on a larger scale. Of course, none of this means that the communication has to be dull or boring; smart, funny, and/or creative communication is by its very nature “engaging.” (I say this for the benefit of those who would accuse us of trying to strip all of the life and fun out of social media.) BUT, the bulk of these communications should have purpose—as you said, they should map to actual goals.

    Thanks again for stoking the fires of discussion with your post.

  • useradvocate

    The timing of this post is perfect for me because I’m currently preparing a blog post on the topic of ‘Building a Meaningful Web’.

    I agree with the essential point you are making however I see things a little differently. In my article I’ve been using the term ‘engagement’ in a much broader way – as the act of influencing behaviours through web technology. Likewise I see ‘the conversation’ as the global exchange of ideas through site-owned or user generated content.

    I put things in that frame of reference in order to remove assumptions about our understandings of web pages and also about social media. Breaking these assumptions down helps me get at better questions about strategies for content and Information Architecture – and that’s my area of
    concern as a UX designer.

    But the logic is very simple. Any web site would have to be regarded as a *strategic* mechanism. It’s a significant investment for any site owner. However, the use of it for communications between site owners (or their representatives) and end users is *tactical*. Personal communications with end users (such as responding to comments) is highly tactical and potentially a costly undertaking.

    I believe there is such a thing as strategic engagement. I would use that term to refer to methods for getting users interested in a web site and subsequently in the business and ultimately exchanging value (e.g., money for products/services). These are all core business goals.

    The Web is a communication tool. Everything about a web site is related to communication. What is being discussed here is the nature and degree of ‘fine tuning’ of the communication. Specifically the point of debate is around the thresholds at which a given business can afford to invest its resources in addressing individual points of communication (e.g. commenting) versus general (static web pages) or points in between (blog posts).

    Given that, all of this communication has to be evaluated on the basis of furthering the business goals. I think this is essentially your point. In my opinion all activity through web technology is about engagement. But, as you said, it’s “not a valuable activity unless it is tied to some organizational goal.”

    Thanks for the great post Mark.

  • Refreshing, a realist… some real dog meat in a world of cat biscuits 😉

  • Glad I could help you think a new way Pauline. Sounds like you’re doing some interesting stuff. Many thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Love, love, love that business card analogy. It’s a touch point to build on. That idea will probably show up in a new blog post some day Hal! : )

  • I believe that is a compliment, or at least I choose it to be : )

    Thank you. I will joyfully tell my wife that i have been proclaimed “dog meat” by a loyal blog reader. Many thanks Jon!

  • You’re welcome to borrow the analogy. Anything that helps make clients smarter helps make business better.

  • Who said anything about “borrow?” It’s mine, all mine. : )

  • Haha! Your blog, your rules, right?

  • First, let me say I smile every time I see your name in the comment section because I know we are all going to learn something!

    I think in the context you have described here you are certainly correct. I agree with you that absolutely a website can be strategic, can provide some competitive advantage. And “engagement” in the terms you describe would be strategic too. Very good take on it Michael. A nuanced but important point and i thank you for taking the time to make it in your always-thoughtful and elegant style.

  • This is not a democracy. It is a benevolent dictatorship : ) At least there is ONE place where I am in charge. Barely.

  • I know the feeling.

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  • mankul65

    You might consider a blog post on how to do this.Perhaps you could also ‘borrow’ Jamie Goodwin’s idea!

  • That’s the spirit! Thanks for the encouragement.

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  • Great points Mark.

    Engagement focus might be a product of B2C Big Brand thinking when likened to say TV advertising audience figures of PR column inches. Tactical but of no direct monetary value.

    Likewise Content Creation and Content Marketing in isolation may create a great ‘library’ of stuff on the interweb, but unless it moves some people through the sales journey, and is a qualifier for others, it’s not helping the business or organisation achieve positive cost:benefits.

  • Good stuff. I just need to get better at helping my peoples define those objectives! Thanks for the post.

  • Well said, Mark. Thank you.

  • I find that is usually the root of most problems! Good luck with that Greg!

  • yvo84

    I completely agree with this. I’m the Online Communications officer at my company’s marketing department and solely manage all our social media as part of this role. Every social media conference I’ve been bangs you over the head with its speakers preaching about “conversation” and “engagement” equalling value. But it doesn’t. Money does.

    But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a conversation (this plays a role in increasing loyalty). I’ve found a good mix of “conversation starter” posts along with real product promotion via the promoted post feature on Facebook is the best way to increase awareness, engagement and paying customers. The fan numbers have increased, actual questions about our products have increased and the amount of users clicking through to our website from social media has sky rocketed.

    I’m not just going to chat to our fans. If we don’t sell, we don’t have a job.

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  • Couldn’t have said it better myself. Great comment! Thanks.

  • You bet! (Nice little museum in Corbin, KY)

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  • “You can talk yourself broke” – how exceedingly true. I think part of the reason on why people are getting desperate for engagement is due to a realization of the fading appeal towards likes, and perhaps the pressure to keep up with Edgerank. Nevertheless, it’s all about the balance and mix. Awesome as always, Mark 🙂

  • Agree with you that engagement is not a strategy; rather it is a tactic. Engagement is the interaction with a customer that is supported by your acquisition and retention tactics the is part of your overall customer relations/building strategy.

    It is not about you “engaging” with the customer. I beleive it is the customer engaging with you. Consider that you’ve followed your social media and “Personal Media” marketing plans perfectly. You’ve identified the customer, understand the market, have insitutued tactics to acquire cusomters, and then to make sure they remain customers you’ve carefully implemented your retention plans so now, the result should be the engagement, over a long period of time, of the customer with you.
    Great post Mark. Thanks!

  • mankul65

    I do really enjoy your sense of humor.

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  • Well done! Another post in this line from Seth Godin: The Attention Paradox:

  • Thanks for the rational thinking Jan! You are always such a valued contributor to this community!

  • I generally agree with you Tom but want to push your thinking a little further. If we are trying to create a relationship with the customer, why wouldn’t it be two-way? Why wouldn’t we interact with them, too. This blog post explains more:

    Let me know what you think. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment.

  • Thanks for sharing Julio!

  • Yet..driving engagement generates brand interest which in turn can lead to purchase intent. That’s the strategy. There are many leavers brands can pull to drive sales, but social media is an ambient tool to create that fuzzy feeling which may help you decide to buy a coke over a pepsi when staring at the refrigerator door.

  • Great post Mark – saying what needed to be said in a well thought out and convincing manner. In all honesty, I’m wondering if the term “engagement” would appear at all in a corporate social media strategy! Keep rocking it cuz 😉

  • Mark,

    interesting blog and a good discussion.
    I think a lot of what you are disagreeing with is misunderstood semantics. Seems to me that when people call engagement a goal they generally see it as a sub-goal or tactical goal, a means to an end, not the end goal. And I think you agree with that.

    It’s the same misunderstanding people get into when talking about strategy vs. goals…the important thing is that the overall plan makes sense and is executed well.

    This whole engagement strategy stems from the misguided approach of abusing social media channels as a mere medium to amplify, instead of mixing it with engagement. More and more people pipe Tweets from other sources through their channels to be “relevant” on a particular topic, without even adding their own commentary.

    Less can be more in social media. As you say, understanding the needs, identifying knowledge gaps and filing those, vs. trying to be a sole curator. Sometimes I wonder how often the same content gets piped around without much originality left… and if everybody just retweets and reshares, where is the competitive differentiator?

    Warm regards,


  • Excellent point! Too many people waste their time on LinkedIn instead of investing time interacting in ways that will support their business goals and objectives.

  • Love this post, @businessesgrow:disqus So many of my clients want to jump straight to tactics without creating a strategy that ties directly to their business goals and objectives. Engagement is definitely not a strategy! Your post gave me a great idea for an upcoming workshop I’ll be facilitating for a group of Grand Valley State University students. I’m thinking about hosting a panel of local social media practitioners via G+ hangout. Perhaps we can debate the difference between strategy and tactics.

  • This post is absolutely spot on. And it’s funny because Jay Baer inadvertently proved your point when he recently said, “…I’d say we’re most like Mitch Joel’s TwistImage with a narrower focus, or Mark Schaefer’s Grow with a less involved reader community.” In other words, you could easily look at his “engagement” numbers (i.e. blog comments) and conclude he was a failure. But, oh my, how incredibly wrong you would be!

  • mankul65

    The age old golden rule- Quality over Quantity!

  • Agree. I hope that point came across in my article. Thanks Richard.

  • Good point cuz. I find that you need to express goals in the “native language” and I think engagement would probably get some blank stares (or icy ones). We need to align with real goals, not lazy ones. Thanks so much for commenting my friend!

  • This is a wonderful comment Natascha. A lot of wisdom here.

    I think for the most part you are correct. People sometimes confuse strategy with tactics. But the reason I wrote this post is that I was getting feedback from people arguing that engagement IS the strategy. That the end goal was to push up ever-increasing amounts of engagement as the “win.” I thought it was a teachable moment. : )

    Thanks for the gift today. Much appreciated!

  • Hey, why not invite me on the panel? It doesn’t have to be “local” if it’s virtual and I would be pleased to help out a {grow} community member if it fits my schedule. Send me an email through the website. Thanks for commenting Michael.

  • I didn’t know Jay said that. Boy, that is a wonderful compliment to be in the same league as those guys. @jaybaer is a wonderful blogger and one of the most important thinkers in the social media space. I agree with you. Both of those guys are amazing talents. I probably comment on each of their blogs an average of once per month but that is no reflection of their impact on me!

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  • I would hope that the latest, greatest place to be where all things social are concerned is the place where organizations understand how to use social, understand when it is important to measure effects, up to and including conversions, and hence, ROI. But I also think we have other areas where the once again resurrected ROI crusade really, really, is misguided. Customer support, though it is a poor channel when used as a standalone, comes to mind.
    We also saw a sea change movement over the last year, wherein social collaboration moved into the enterprise, and social business became the new mantra. But there is a bit of a disturbing aftereffect in the enterprise narrative. So many of those who criticized the value proposition of social have gone silent, now that it has moved to the internal, social collaboration narrative. So, part of me agrees with you, Mark, but another part hopes that we all can agree that measurement is relative.

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  • Susan Joy Schleef

    I agree: engagement doesn’t mean much unless it is contributing to a business goal. A few months ago I was bragging about my 4,000+ views on a new slideshow posted on and I was reminded that I was measuring the wrong things. “Measure income, not views!”

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  • Well said Susan. Completely agree.

  • Of course. A valid and wise point, Marty. Thanks.

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  • One can do as much engagement as one wants but at the end of the day, the effort itself doesn’t really count when there is no desirable output produced.

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  • Pacifiq Mass Media Services

    Good thoughts Mark. However, the short cutting, negligence, and ignorance of the amateur marketer never ceases to amaze me. Engagement is not a stand alone guarantee of success, outside of strategic brand exposure, and an ultimate goal of website redirection and calls to action, ideally purchases. How does one come to believe that “simply” having a social media buz on a few profiles equals “business success”?

    I agree that misguided and over indulged social media frenzy will become a problem instead of a proponent for business success. However, an intern or two properly oriented to the brand image and marketing strategy can handle that task with minimum micro-management.

    Very good distinctions made Mark!

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  • One, or a few, key objectives, supported by one strategy. That strategy can use multiple tactics, defined in a marketing program. That program can leverage many channels, many tools. Seems pretty simple, eh?

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  • I literally laughed my brains off at this “A company may drive an artificially high engagement level simply by posting inane polls and cat pictures that don’t contribute to business objectives in the least.” A year ago, this was exactly my partner and I used to say for our social channels. Number of likes, tweets and plusones is not that metric that a corporate business would be needing to get to their goals for sure. Great post @Mark W. Schaefer:disqus

  • Thanks for adding your insight sir.

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  • CraigT

    Great post, makes me wonder why so many agencies and partners I work with still focus on the pushing a generic ‘sales pitch’. That and engagement were so 2009.

    If we are not focused on growing our business with a solid strategy and defined goals then we are just adding to the social chatter and not moving the needle.

  • Well said Craig. Thanks for commenting.

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  • Great read. This is what we talk about with every client we have at RebelMouse. Our platform gives you the tools to drive engagement, but if the content isn’t going to directly help you be successful, it’s wasted effort. We talk a lot about having brands develop an ‘editorial thesis’, so they can act like a media company, and get all the benefits of doing so, but in a way that drives business goals. Engagement starts with building an audience for your content, but it needs to end in some sort of desired action.

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