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We Need to Rethink Our Definition of Engagement

Over the last week, you probably saw about 40 posts talking about how you can increase your social media engagement, a few infographics that give you fluffy tips to increase engagement. Let me guess - they asked you to use more photos, be more relevant, talk to your fans, be friendly, use short text snippets and all that garbage right? Cool.

What's the eventual goal of a marketing channel for a business? And yes, social media a definite marketing channel. The eventual goal of a marketing channel is to build awareness, and more importantly - drive sales. 

Remember the last post you read about driving social media sales? It was something that told you to do more giveaways, run Facebook ads, get some media buying in place, incorporate sales posts into your social media content plan - pretty much everything that you've always been doing, anyway.

And there's the disconnect that we live with, as marketers.

Engagement, for me, should always be linked to sales or sales leads. Way too many marketing "gurus" offer engagement advice that gear your strategy towards getting more likes, shares and comments. Those "engagement" metrics, in my mind - are simply vanity metrics. They offer nothing to you in terms of business value, and agencies, brands and marketers need to stop thinking about them as pure engagement metrics.

In a recent interview on the future of Social Media Engagement, EdgeRank Checker's Chad Wittman said: "The key is to not get tied up in the novelty of another metric. Focus in on what helps your business the best, and figure out how to maximize the metrics that improve that goal."

Focus on what helps your business the best.

I understand the importance of assigning business goals to your marketing and social media plan - but eventually, those goals are going to be more about reach, shares, comments and likes.

Marketers need to stop thinking about engagement as those vanity metrics, and think beyond. It's scary. I get it. As marketers we've been conditioned to always thinking about getting those metrics in there, getting people to engagement with posts, worry about our page edgerank, worry about the amount of retweets and favorites we get - but we need to understand that all of these metrics are only a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Consider this:

Engagement, is a lot more important to marketers than sales, or increased sales.

Is this healthy?

Should we thinking about "engagement" as a business goal which in itself is such an ambigious term?

Brands, marketers and most importantly - agencies, need to sit down and carefully define what engagement means for them. Should engagement really be an end, or a means to an end? Should it be the eventual goal, or the medium that gets you to your eventual goal?

Here are the key ingredients for me, which should somehow "mesh" with your engagement metrics:

  • Conversation: Measure ONLY around the brand/product/service - that talk about the positives and/or negatives of the company or the product/service itself. Conversation around how "cute" or "catchy" a campaign was shouldn't be the eventual "goal" of engagement, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
  • Sales Leads: Does the engagement you're getting translate into people signing up with your service or registering their details with you? Are they open to receiving further correspondence from you from a channel other than social media? Are they willing to share their phone number or e-mail address with you and take this conversation forward?
  • Sales: Plain and simple, dollars.
  • Business Partnerships: Due to your content, your opinion pieces, your style of working and everything you talk about, are people reaching out to you to form a business partnership? Would they like to become your distributor/reseller/referral partner? This is usually a good sign. If someone is willing to attach their name to your brand, it speaks volumes about how trustworthy they feel you are.

For me, that's what engagement should eventually translate into. The world of likes, comments, retweets, +1s is dead. There's no point in chasing all those metrics any more. It's time to buckle up and think like a traditional marketer and contribute to the revenue of your company.

The marketing department has always been thought of as a profit generator the company, it generates sales and sales leads.

Unfortunately, the social media marketing department is being thought of as a cost center in various companies. It's time to change that notion.

Join The Conversation

  • Avtar Ram Singh's picture
    Jun 30 Posted 3 years ago Avtar Ram Singh

    Agreed Jordan! Ignoring them wouldn't be the best course of action, as Rebecca rightly brought up earlier in the discussion as well. They should definitely be used, but probably shouldn't be the core focus of metrics and analytical reporting. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Jun 30 Posted 3 years ago JordanSt

    Great post Avtar. I agree with the fact that ONLY focusing on vanity metrics doesn't make sense anymore. However, I do beleive thatthey still should still monitored, especially benchmarked against competitors. These days there are even free tools that give you access you to these stats (for example: http://www.evalueanalytics.com)  I also agree that the most important area to look at when measuring social media ROI is definately by looking at engagement and how the key ingredients you mentioned "mesh" with it. 

    Keep up it up, and thanks for the great post!


  • Jun 30 Posted 3 years ago laurentbouty

    Hey Gary, really like your enthusiasm.

    I think the Net Promoter measure is in the direction of measuring engagement (promoter are driving more value on the long term than detractors). If you clearly set engagement as a clear marketing metric, you force the CMO and the board to have a look at it. And yes you are right, engagement comes from experience (pure brand experiences or customer journey experience).

    Where I disagree with you is about forget about branding and focus on sales. Simply look at Microsoft and you will get my point.  A brand is your vehicle, it is the umbrella of your experiences and it will help you to protect you against new entrants or pure price war.

    Finally, you have good sales and toxic sales (profitable on the short term but creating a lot of problems on the long term). I guess being balanced between driving sales (show me the money) and building a long term assets (like Apple, Harley Davidson, Disney, and many others).


    Laurent (www.bouty.net)


  • Avtar Ram Singh's picture
    Jun 20 Posted 3 years ago Avtar Ram Singh

    Absolutely Robbin. Very well put.

  • Avtar Ram Singh's picture
    Jun 20 Posted 3 years ago Avtar Ram Singh

    Agreed. If you're a non-profit, if you're someone like the WWF or PETA, you don't really have a monetary objective, maybe donations, but that's not what the business is.

    However, every business has an objective. :) You can't go around saying that just because you're a non-profit, you're going to measure likes and shares. "lyk dis if u care about puppies" will give you 10,000 likes but how does that help you?

    Are you educating someone? How are you measuring it? My point is, in two simple steps:

    1. Establish and understand business objectives.

    2. Get social media to achieve those business objectives. 

    End story.

  • Avtar Ram Singh's picture
    Jun 20 Posted 3 years ago Avtar Ram Singh

    Hey Tammy, start tracking it. If you're promoting something for an online sale, assign a UTM tracking code to it, check what the actual CTR is on the post, and see how many of those clicks translate into sales. e-commerce is usually the easiest to track, there are so many things in place already on it on every platform from WordPress to Facebook. Would love to see what you discover.

  • Avtar Ram Singh's picture
    Jun 20 Posted 3 years ago Avtar Ram Singh

    Hey Rebecca! Good to see you again. I agree with you that these vanity metrics shouldn't be tossed to the side completely and that wasn't my intention. However, how do you actually put some weightage behind the likes? Personally, in the last week, I actually took a look at all the likes in the last week that a couple of my pages received, and trust me, the peopl who were "liking" the posts - 80% of them were not the target demographic.

    Of the comments we got, about 20% of them were people advertising their business, 40% of them were saying things like "cool" or "thanx" or "hello friends". And the rest was a split between people tagging their friends, and some people giving genuine responses.

    My point - it's fairly simple. If you're going to measure based on those metrics, you're going to have to cut off your measurement by 40-70% based on the KIND of 'engagement' that you're seeing. Which is why I decided that I'm going to try and convince all the online presences I manage to figure out how they can start working like a business and not just someone with a Facebook page.

  • Avtar Ram Singh's picture
    Jun 20 Posted 3 years ago Avtar Ram Singh

    Thank you for the flattering words Gary!

    A lot of this stems from the fact that sales and revenue are fairly hard to achieve, but when it comes to things like likes, comments, +1s - they're a lot more achievable. Some passionate thoughts from you!

    Yes - you can find me on LinkedIn, I'm available on this link : http://sg.linkedin.com/in/avtarramsingh, feel free to send me a connection request, happy to connect.

  • Avtar Ram Singh's picture
    Jun 19 Posted 3 years ago Avtar Ram Singh

    Haha - that's extremely flattering Camilo! Thank you so much for the endorsement here and on Twitter. :) I'm not averse to the idea of dropping off those pages! Perhaps a drone would be a little less expensive and time consuming. ;) They are all the rage these days after all.

    Hopefully more client side guys read SMT as well, it's a valuable resource for them! Thanks again.

  • Jun 19 Posted 3 years ago Gary Bloomer

    Avtar, "You da man!" (as they say here in Philadelphia).

    The whole notion of "engagement" as something it's possible to measure is utter nonsense and always has been.

    Do we have authors claiming  "It's all about sentences!"?

    No, we do not.

    Do we have doctors telling us "It's all about disease!"?

    Close, but no ciagar.

    "It" is no more "all about engagement" than driving a car is all about the road.

    Or the steering wheel.

    Or the tyres.

    And yet ... "engagement" as something that can be measured is peddled and touted in marketing cirlces as if it were the Holy Grail and the Second Coming all rolled into one. And often, this nonsense is touted by those who REALLY, TRUHTFULLY ought to know far better—to the detriment of those who are clueless and who then pick up the awful habit of believing in this nonsense as if it were the emperor's new clothes. "Guru X says it's all about engagement, so it must be true!" goes the thinking.

    The truth is that Guru X needs a good slapping. 

    To anyone who thinks or says that "it's all about engagement!"—as if the mere statement is irrfutable fact—I say this: please stop. You're embarrasing yourself and you're bringing the whole profession of marketing into disrepute into the bargain.

    To be clear, engagement is an ASPIRATIONAL ASPECT of the CONVERSION PROCESS, and nothing more. There can be no engagement in any messaging train until you've ascertained interest, relevance, attention, salience, and congruent alignment between your offer or cause and the machinations of the mind and the deisred outcomes of your ideal prospect.


    As a concept, engagement is to marketers what the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny are to little kids: FABRICATIONS to peddle a belief that in turn is used to peddle implied (and often empty and baseless) authority and sometimes, expensive courses that promise the keys to the kingdom.

    Many moons ago the legendary ad man George Parker gave me six words of advice that changes my live. At the time I was attempting to persuade several colleagues about the importance of branding—an arguement that at the time was going nowhere.

    George nailed it in six words when he said "Forget about branding, focus on sales.!"

    So yes, Avtar, SALES—it's all about making that graph go UP and keeping it up.

    To create those sales, let's have marketers getting their fingers out of their bottoms and let's have them focusing on generating the best possible experiences for prospects and clients.


    Because it is the experience that generates the engagement.

    Avtar, I'd greatly appreicate the chance to connect with you on LinkedIn. How might I contact you?

    Regards, and thank you for stating your case with such verve, honesty, and passion.

    Gary Bloomer





  • Jun 19 Posted 3 years ago bbraglio

    Nice thoughts.  However, I think this article misses one point by not discussing the value of feedback (which is often shared on social channels).  And typically comes in the form of a comment, an unlike (or like), etc.  Feedback is engagement and is of enormous value.  It's an opportunity to win back a customer, find a brand advocate, when you have a customer service issue, and even more.  And that feedback is measured in terms of number of comments, etc.  Sure, these numbers can't be the only thing that gets chased...but in a branded online community, for example, these type of metrics are critical in determining the health of your community.  If you're not receiving comments or feedback, your customers don't care enough about you...and it's our job to make them care.

    These metrics shouldn't be completely tossed to the curb, but they do have value. I think there's a happy medium between the two.  For example, we do need to consider the value of that type of engagement.  After, if a site only has a little engagement but the people who are leaving those comments are also providing emails and buying, it's worth a lot more than the site that has 1 million likes/comments but none of the fans buy/visit the site.  Quality over quantity I say!


  • Camilo Olea's picture
    Jun 19 Posted 3 years ago Camilo Olea

    This. A million times.

    I want to print one trillion pages of this, and drop them off planes worldwide.

    Seriously, I've had it with "agencies" selling uninformed clients the idea that engagement is the end, and not the means to truly valuable business objectives.

    Keep preaching. Hopefully, eventually, clients will catch up. Thanks for the great post!


  • Jun 19 Posted 3 years ago Tammy Allen

    I agree with all of your points, however it depends on what your business provides. I manage shopping mall pages. Vanity metrics = loyalty when the conversation is with a core group of shoppers. I offer information on sales, promotions, fashion and special interest. My goal is to provide a service that makes people want to visit the mall and shop. And they do. I actively watch insights and look for what works. Thank for this blog, I think I do all of the above which is to say I engage heavily in Vanity Metrics and focus on Insights to improve those metrics. That's what drives people to the brick and mortar stores. 

  • RobbinBlock's picture
    Jun 19 Posted 3 years ago RobbinBlock

    Avtar, you're certainly not the only one. I've been talking about this since I came out with my book about 4 years ago. Social media should be part of an overall marketing strategy that leads to specific goals that benefit the firm.

  • Jun 19 Posted 3 years ago Jamieofficer

    I too agree about vanity metrics. We all need actionable insights that tie back to wider strategic objectives....and real evidence to underpin our decisions...but....what about if the bottom line isn't all you're interested in?

    What if you're a non-profit, a government organisation or a charity, where perhaps it's behaviours you're trying to change or awareness you need to raise?

    We can't focus entirely on ROI as monetary sense. Social in it's purest sense is about nurturing long term relationships, and perhaps, maybe, leveraging some influence for the future. That takes long game investment. And something commercial orgs should bear in mind for continued longevity. Instead of always focusing on the dollar.

    How about measuring loyalty, using qualitative and quantative inights from online and offline data and research, sentiment changes, and using social to earn a better understanding of the audiences you're trying to sell to and what they might want in the future, helping you to optimise and change business direction in an agile way, and market products that you already know your customers want?

  • RobbinBlock's picture
    Jun 19 Posted 3 years ago RobbinBlock

    Engagement may be just one step on the path to sales. If engagement isn't what gets people on the purchase path, then it's better to use other tools in the promotional mix to get you there. Or at least adjust your allocation of resources to the appropriate mix.

  • Avtar Ram Singh's picture
    Jun 18 Posted 3 years ago Avtar Ram Singh

    Hey Stephen! Thanks for reaching both here and on Twitter, and I of course, agree wholeheartedly. Glad that it's not just me who seems to think this way, always good to get some validation from others in the industry! 

  • StephenSlavin's picture
    Jun 17 Posted 3 years ago StephenSlavin

    Good post Avtar and I think the ending point is probably the biggest factor here that social media marketers are still battling against. I agree that the vanity metrics need to be put in the sidelines and that a bigger focus needs to be put on measuring insights that are meaningful to the business and actively driving its objectives.


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