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How Do You Define Engagement?


Posted by on August 19, 2010

I’m at the Alterian “Engaging Times” conference in Chicago which is full of interesting conversations and people.  One of the things that struck me at the conference is that nobody defined or explained what “engagement” means.  If someone “likes” your facebook page is that engagement?  What if they leave a comment on your blog?  What if they tweet with your brand?  Are all of these things engagement?  Does one of the above make you more engaged than another?  Engagement also really needs to be put into context depending on what is being done; for example direct marketing vs social media marketing.  A direct marketer’s definition of engagement might be the open rate of emails whereas the social media marketing person might look at engagement in terms of facebook page comments.

Engagement is a pretty serious thing right?  Traditionally engagement has really been used in two very important historical contexts:

  1. A promise to marry, and also the period of time between proposal and marriage – which may be lengthy or trivial. During this period, a couple is said to be affianced, betrothed, engaged to be married, or simply engaged.”
  2. When Captain Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek was about to blast off into warp speed he would always say, “engage!”

So have we really gone from marriage proposals and intergalactic battles for world peace to now simply clicking a button?

I’m not saying there is a right or wrong way here to define engagement but I think that this all comes back to defining the objectives and success metrics for a brand/company looking to get involved in social anything.  It’s meaningless for a brand to say it wants to be more engaged unless it defines engagement and says, “we want more comments, links, conversations, or whatever.”  Personally, I always viewed true engagement as a type of collaborative relationship where a conversation or flow of information takes place between a customer and a brand/company – something that hopefully turns into a long term relationship.  This means that instead of “liking” a facebook fan page that I would have some sort of conversation or interaction with the brand on the page.  Otherwise what we are talking about is participation aren’t we?

It really doesn’t matter what I or anyone else says about engagement, what matters it that your organization defines engagement so that it knows what it is trying to do and how it is trying to do it.  It’s also important to keep in mind that various departments and employees at your organization are going to define and understand engagement differently.  Understand this form the very beginning.

How do you define engagement?

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  • http://twitter.com/chrisyeh chrisyeh

    I think of engagement as having built up enough of a relationship over repeated interactions that when something goes wrong, the instinct is to talk rather than walk.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      I certainly like that approach, always great to hear from you chris

  • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

    I think engagement from organizational perspective is directly tied to brand values. People “engage” when they have something that they believe in. Something to stand behind.

    DM Scott and Halligan seem to be moving this direction in the Grateful Dead book. The Dead built fan engagement that spanned generations. People branded themselves with tattoos because it was a symbol of more than just music. For Deadheads, there were artifacts, signs, sayings… all of this uniting a community behind an idea.

    I think organizations can learn a lot from bands and movements. The key, I think, lies in making it so employees can communicate with each other, without hassle and a fear of being reprimanded.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      No sorry, you are completely wrong…kidding kidding!

      You actually make a very interesting point when you bring back engagement to brand values. If the brand doesn't give customers something to stand behind and believe in then it makes it very difficult to be engages. Your focus on people is great, that's what makes successful organizations with passionate ENGAGED consumers.

  • http://gmjameson.blogspot.com/ gmjameson

    Hey, Jacob. At my previous company, we were the recipient of this big hairy award called the Missouri Quality Award, which is based on these big hairy principles by Malcom Baldrige (Performance excellence crtieria, etc.) In THAT process, the difference between customer loyalty and customer engagement (which was the preferred place) was that ENGAGED customers advocate for you and your products. This has really interesting implications in social spaces, right? Because of the ease of share-ability of content, we can see how customers choose to talk about us to their networks. So the idea is, when they talk WITH us and purchase/consume what we offer, they are loyal. When they talk ABOUT us with their peers – then they are actually engaged. Sort of an interesting perspective :) Thanks for the post – as always!!

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Interesting way to break things down. The semantics don't really matter i.e. diff between engaged and advocates but I definitely understand and agree with what you are saying. However, I can be very engaged with a brand in a NEGATIVE way and still not be an advocate for that brand. Congrats on the award, I want one too :)

  • http://twittermaven.blogspot.com warrenss

    Jacob, first great meeting you face to face at the Alterian conference. Very interesting topic and discussion you've got here. I agree with you that engagement is definitely collaborative, a virtual 2 way street of conversations. And there are several different phases of engagement, from the easy (I like or RT) all the way to the committed or conjoined as in your wedding example. From a brand perspective, hopefully as our relationships progress from the simple to the devoted, the rewards are deep and beneficial for both parties.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Likewise, it was great to get together in person. Thanks for the comment and I certainly hope to hear more from you in the future!

  • http://twittermaven.blogspot.com warrenss

    Jacob, first great meeting you face to face at the Alterian conference. Very interesting topic and discussion you've got here. I agree with you that engagement is definitely collaborative, a virtual 2 way street of conversations. And there are several different phases of engagement, from the easy (I like or RT) all the way to the committed or conjoined as in your wedding example. From a brand perspective, hopefully as our relationships progress from the simple to the devoted, the rewards are deep and beneficial for both parties.

  • http://alteriansm2.com Connie Bensen

    Hi Jacob,
    It was great to meet you in person again at Alterian's summit this week!

    I felt the differences in perception of 'engagement' too.

    We know that it's widely agreed that engagement is difficult to define. I'm wrapping up a white paper that outlines examples of five different possibilities to measure. The biggest problem is that some people are lurkers, some share content, and others may contribute. And the most important are the advocates. All of the groups need to be fostered and that growth measured. I completely agree that in order to measure that it requires the organization defining what 'engagement' means. What is the desired behavior change? and then goals can be established in regard to the % increase or decrease.

    Thanks for an insightful post & extending the conversation!
    Connie Bensen
    Director of Community Strategy, Alterian
    @cbensen

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      I agree, it was great seeing you again, I had a good time at the event. Engagement is certainly hard to define, as is pretty much anything. I'm not looking for a definition but for context around what engagement means. As I mentioned it really only matters how orgs define engagement for themselves. Always good to hear from you and thanks for stopping by!

  • http://twitter.com/LittleMart Anika Nafis

    I know I went on about not believing in relationships in consumer markets with regards to CRM before but I think @chrisyeh is right. When you have provided a human representation of the brand in order to generate conversations, consumers have an opportunity to “socialise” with you by commenting and sharing content and you know you've got it right when things go wrong, they stick around and continue that engagement to contribute to your policies instead of switching. The result of engagement is when people stand by your product and your values and advocate your brand perhaps not always until death do you apart (because of changes in consumer life cycles and tastes and preferences) but you know… in general.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Absolutely, the human relationship side of things is crucial otherwise you might as well be talking to a vacuum cleaner. Thanks again for your comment!

  • Natalie A.

    Engagement is simple. It is when your customer is involved in your brand and actively seeks more information or involvement in it (i.e. Twitter). This is opposite of more traditional methods where the information is forced upon the consumer.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Seeking information is one thing but engagement is something entirely different in my opinion. I seek for information on brands and services all the time but I'm far from engaged with any of them. I get what you are trying to say though and thanks for your comment.

  • http://twitter.com/tewksbum Marcus Tewksbury

    No doubt “engagement” is overplayed as some Lady GaGa songs right now…

    At Alterian, the concept is analogous to traditional “1:1″ or now what is more contemporarily being called “content” marketing. It's less about “what” engagement is, and more about “how” you bring it about. How do you repeatedly create impressions that inspire engagement.

    We espouse a 4 step process that is fundamentally based on data.

    Listen: We live in a socially connected, digital world. Nearly everything is trackable and attributable to an individual. There is no excuse to not have attribute and behavioral data.

    Learn: What can you extract from all the data you've collected. What are your customers signaling? What search terms are trending? Social buzz around a channel or brand? An asset driving higher conversion rates? There are numerous data points to help guide content creation.

    Understand (or Plan): Focuses on the generation of data driven creative. Where's your keyword list? And laying out a distribution plan that most efficiently generates the right level of awareness. Yes, social is huge, but the other channels are still relevant. The stamp lickers are alive and well. From a brand perspective you have to be multi-channel.

    Speak: Building on the multi-channel perspective, you need to be able to then distribute your content cross-channels. The etiquette and form varies by channel, but at the end there is a push of content.

    So…. that's the methodology. If you can repetitively do this you increase the likelihood of creating “engagement” on any given impression.

    btw, one last throw in. In response to Chris and Anika, I would suggest “talk rather than walk” is a definition of loyalty as opposed to engagement. Whereby engagement is a step, or multiple steps, on the path to loyalty.

    - Tewks
    themarketingmojo.com

  • http://twitter.com/IGLOOSoftware Lucas Lu

    With the advent of real online identity, I think engagement in this era really is about creating genuine personal relationships. Unlike chat rooms and ICQ, where you were allowed to have a fake identity, that populated the web space a decade ago, social network profiles based on genuine and accurate information can create meaningful relationships because one can trust what the other one has to say on the other side of the world. Thus, I'd define engagement (in web 2.0 era) as cultivating meaningful and genuine personal relationships.

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