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What is Engagement in Social Media?



I’ve been working on an article on engagement in social media for a top marketing journal and I’ve been really struggling to get a handle on the topic — much more so than normal.  It seems everyone recognizes the importance of engagement in social media, they just don’t have a good definition of it.  Look at this, for example:

Engagement—just the mention of it can spark a visceral response from marketers, partly because no one has pinpointed what it really means. Let’s get it out there: engagement is a messy, complicated idea—yet a critical one—because it gets to the heart of the relationship between consumers and brands. We know that it is valuable, but the how, what and why of it is ambiguous at best.

This shows the importance of engagement in social media, but doesn’t go very far in providing a definition.  To their credit, the authors go on to provide a definition based on what consumers say about engagement in social media.  While much better because it’s based on how consumers view engagement in social media, I’m not sure it really hits the mark – just proving that sometimes consumers are better at judging something when they see it than saying what IT is.  Here’s the consumer definition of engagement in social media:

engagement is more than just a channel. It’s a dialogue; it’s the ability to choose how and when to engage; it’s the value each channel represents; it’s whether or not expectations were met.

They identify 6 components of engagement in social media, but that doesn’t make this definition any better.

What is engagement?

Let’s take a step back in defining engagement in social media to see what engagement is all by itself.  And here is how a dictionary defines engagement:

1. The act of engaging or the state of being engaged.
2. Betrothal.
3. Something that serves to engage; a pledge.
4. A promise or agreement to be at a particular place at a particular time.


a. Employment, especially for a specified time.
b. A specific, often limited, period of employment.
6. A hostile encounter; a battle.
7. The condition of being in gear.
Wow.  Does that LOOK like engagement in social media to you??????  Don’t you just love it when the definition includes the word you’re trying to define — like that’s any help!

So, what is engagement in social media?

I posed this question on Google+ yesterday and only got 1 response from Mary Klaebel.  Here it is:

To me, engagement in social media means the ability to reach out to and get response from a company (as a consumer) or an audience (as a company). For instance, if I go onto Twitter and post a question to a specific company (@Ebay, for example), I hope to receive a response. That’s engagement. Instant, human.

I’m not sure that’s a whole lot better, although I thank Mary for tackling this thorny issue when no one else would touch it. So, now I’m throwing it out to you.

What is engagement in social media?

Please post your answers in comments and I’ll share these comments in my next post and we’ll move on to the next aspect of engagement in social media.



Join The Conversation

  • Jun 16 Posted 4 years ago Jeff Ramson

    Engagement is a conversation that is authentic and relationship-oriented.  It is more than just dialogue, as it 

    creates a forum for multiple voices.  Critical to engagement is that it be free of hidden agenda - 

    like any good relationship - it needs to be honest.

    Clearly, these thoughts as applied to a corporate communication come with many constraints - but if engagement can

    be maximized within these constraints, i believe a company can distinguish itself to a great degree.  There are

    enormous unspecified and unforseeable benefits to such participation.


  • SocialSweetSpot's picture
    Apr 4 Posted 5 years ago SocialSweetSpot
    • Increase in offsite engagement (% of consumers who desire to positively promote, interact with, and engage with a brand outside the “brands” control)
      • Brand health score (factors in both sentiment and buzz volume; indicates level of relevance among consumers, and what sentiment or feeling that they are conveying to each other about your brand; BHS, enables benchmark performance over time, against competitors and across industries)
      • Sharing, forwarding, retweeting or posting brand content
    • Increase in onsite engagement (% of time engaged with, interacting with, and spent on the website or social media platform)
  • Jan 25 Posted 5 years ago BeckyM

    Hi Angela,

    This a really interesting article and highlights the difficulties of defining social media engagement, currently I am working on my dissertation regarding engagement with animal charities through twitter and I would be very interested in reading the full article if at all possible?





  • Jul 24 Posted 5 years ago Bob Reed (not verified)

    For me, engagement is attention... about wants and needs, praise or criticism.  It can be fleeting as a Tweet or engaging as a well-written blog.  But it comes down to being able to see and respond to what ever message and channel being used and responding.

  • Jul 22 Posted 5 years ago Joy Mayer (not verified)

    I just spent a year at the University of Missouri studying audience engagement in journalism, and the intersection of community and journalism.As part of that work, a doctoral student did a bunch of research about what "engagement" means in other fields, such as social psychology, anthropology and marketing. Here's her report:

    Some of my other interviews and explorations can be found here:

    I hope it's helpful! The more of us working on this topic, the better. It's an exciting time.

  • Jul 21 Posted 5 years ago CMF (not verified)

    Your article is very interesting.

    To me, engagement in social media suppose to have an interactive discussion between people who share informations. Usually, people need the opinion of others before doing something.

    We live in a world where appareance has an importance.

  • Jul 21 Posted 5 years ago Simon Young (not verified)

    To me, engagement is about giving both sides of the conversation a voice. When you have a voice, you share a sense of ownership in the result (whether that's a sale, a piece of content, or some social result).

    I find it helpful to define engagement by what it's not: The opposite of engagement is propaganda.

    I believe engagement is so important that we have repositioned our social media consultancy as an engagement firm. Social media as a buzzword may come and go, but engagement is forever, and is just as important in the "real world" as it is online. 

  • Jul 21 Posted 5 years ago Tom Buchheim (not verified)

    Interesting article and good comments. This is what engagement is all about. Sharing content and driving conversations around it. Sometimes you have to prod people to interact, but if the content is done well, you'll get the engagement without much effort.

    Unfortunately, there's SO much noise now in the social space, the loudmouths are getting all the attention, when, in reality, they don't have anything better or more interesting to add to the conversation.

    As for a true definition of engagement, I think it keeps changing slightly, but I do like Mary Klaebel's provided in this piece. It's what I try to be as a community manager - human, instant.


  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Dexter @ Garious (not verified)

    For me, "engagement" in social media is a combination of talking and listening. It's like a partnership between you and your audience. It is sad but true that there are lots of peeps in the social media sphere who just do the "talking". It's not just about self-promotion, its really a game of enchanting people to "ENGAGE".

    Talking + Listening = Engagement.

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Kirsten Wright (not verified)

    Engagement to me means three main things:

    1. Being there actively on a daily basis, talking, sharing and discussing with others on the channel

    2. Sharing things that I find interseting to prompt conversation and bring others into the conversation

    3. Actually talking to people about what they think is interesting, and not just selling my products

  • Angela Hausman's picture
    Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Angela Hausman

    Thanks.  I hope you got something out of my article.

  • Angela Hausman's picture
    Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Angela Hausman

    Tracy, nice.  I like the juxtaposition of insights from the business and consumer standpoint.

  • Angela Hausman's picture
    Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Angela Hausman

    I think you've hit on a very important aspect of engagement -- adapting to the needs of your target audience.  Thanks for sharing.

  • Angela Hausman's picture
    Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Angela Hausman

    And, of course, this is why we're interested in understanding engagement -- because it generates positive results for the firm.  Thanks for sharing.

  • Angela Hausman's picture
    Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Angela Hausman

    Great.  I really appreciate you sharing.  I think you've got some good ideas about what makes you engage with companies, and that's the important thing. Right?

  • Angela Hausman's picture
    Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Angela Hausman

    Thanks for the link.  It is difficult.  I've shared this question on G+, LinkedIN and on Twitter.  I've gotten several responses, but none really "feel" right.  I'm still struggling with this.

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago EmmaSmith (not verified)

    To effectively "engage" consumers/donors/members/etc in social media you need to be strategic in how you reach out to individuals in organizations and what you are saying. Engagement - starting the conversation or facilitating a discussion - can be initiated through social media, but for long-term impact and relationship building it could (or should be depending on the individual or organization reaching out to) continued off-line.

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Gareth Fryer (not verified)

    As a Digital Planner I've been asked this question many times, and personally, I think we all get far too hung up on defining what engagement is.

    Ultimately, it doesn't matter how we (as a set of marketeers) quantify engagement, provided (at the brand level) that a standardised process is put in place to benchmark and evaluate the success of their activity over time (and that the powers that be support that model) 

    A couple of years ago I attempted to do this by creating a model to benchmark and measure the value of digital activity  using 'engagement'. To do this I suggested that engagement is a function of two things: exposure and action.

    A consumer can be exposed to messages in social channels, these can undoubedtly have an effect on brand perception (standard advertising model). But we all know the value of digital media (not just specifically social channels) is that you can measure a physical action as well as the simple exposure metrics.

    Therefore, you can create a simple model to demonstrate the exposure of your messages and the number of associated actions as a %. Ultimately the dream for any social campaign is that you achieve an engagement percentage of 100. i.e. every exposure results in a physical trackable action i.e. commenting, rating, liking, site click through, referall etc. But in reality the percentage will be far less than 100. But this still gives a measure to benchmark and evaluate the 'engagement' of future campaigns.


  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Anita Hovey (not verified)

    Interesting...I just wrote a blog post on this the other day! It is a difficult concept for people to get. Here's the link to my post, rather than rewriting my thoughts :)



  • ideabloke's picture
    Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago ideabloke

    I look at engagement as a precursor to interaction.  In order for me to want to interact with a company communication (feedback, polls, subscribe to a feed, etc.), there has to be something that captures or engages me to begin with.  And because different people are engaged differently, I wanted to see what sorts of things would engage me if I was the customer.  I gained some perspective about the different components of engagement as it relates to me, you can see that list here, and I would think most people would respond similarly assuming the effort to engage was done correctly & sincerely.  

    I identified 5 habits that are critical to engaging my audience.  Would love to see what other habits you folks use.

    Great post, Angela! 

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Mike Kirner (not verified) I don't like the word "engagement". Why even use it our define it, or write about it? Just write about why a business needs to participate in it. I was the marketing/social media director for the past 3 years for a technology company. I managed three websites, including one blog. My daily task was to write blog entries, provide quality content, analyze google analytics and update our twitter and facebook accounts. When you combine all the things I did, here are the results: - more unique visitors to sites - more time spent on sites - more leads generated for sales team - more positive content on google and search engines - significant increase of google indexing. - online brand creation augmented Write about stuff like that...I would forget about making it more complicated or cerebral, like defining "engagement." Regards, Mike Kirner Marketing and Social Media Director
  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Alex Griffin (not verified)

    Good topic! Hard to say, but it takes a real understanding of your target audience to try and work out what 'engagement' to encourage and expect. From basics, such as gender, age, to their lifestyle: what they get back from it, say about them. You probably need to take a real holistic picture of your typical audience and then think, if I was them, what would I do with this bran and its usersd if encouraged.

    As a website that is relevant to so many different ypes of business owners and sme managers, we really have to create quite a general engagament message apart from our weekly business offers, but it svery trial and hopefully less errors. Too many of us (guilty) are trying to get what we think the audience wants, as opposed to they want. Same old story, but very apparent still.

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Tracie Bertaut, APR (not verified)

    For me, social media engagement is a tangible result of the dialogue offered through the various platforms.  I can give examples, but you're right - defining it is hard.  From the organization side, when I'm able to respond to a question posed by the community, that's engagement.  When someone answers a call to action, that's engagement.  When I share information that assists someone in making a decision - and they tell me that - that's engagement.  From a personal perspective, I agree with Mary.  It's the opportunity to reach out to a company or person and connect with them to meet either my needs or theirs.  Or the opportunity to share my opinions when asked in a post online ;)

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Photo Contest (not verified)

    New subject to me, very nice article on engagement in social media

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago William R (not verified)

    Like you said, engagement is a tricky definition to understand. I think each person has their own interpretation of the word. Some may feel it is an interaction between two people, a company and consumer, etc. I think social media engagement goes far beyond the comments back and forth. Yes, dialogue between two people or companies, or a combination of the two is necessary to properly engage one another, I think engagment in social media has more to do with what is being done to entice a decision. Buy, or not to buy. Sign up, or don't sign up. I would have to say engagement in social media is the formation of a relationship with the intent to make a decision or form an opinion.

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Mathew Vattolil (not verified)

    Engagement is 'good interaction' in the conversation, probably contributing or adding value to the topic in question, and which would naturally lead to a long term relationship.

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago La Tige (not verified)

    Excellent question ! 

    I've worked on an analysis which will be on-line soon, and initiated a collaborative project on the subject...

    In my opinion, engagement in the social media is the personal investment a consumer will make towards a brand, while this latter will be determined to give special attention to the quality of the link that is created. Engagement is a two-way relationship encouraged by both parties. 

    But it's a truly vast subject that deserves a lot of reflection, both to determine what engagement really is, and how it can be quantified as brands truly expect a measurable return on their Social Media strategy, if not R.O.I, then maybe R.O.E, less based on quantitative criteria and more on qualitative...  

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Craig Davidson (not verified)

    I see social media engagement as any sort of back and forth between two seperate identities via a social platform. Whether it is a question and answer via twitter, or a comment on a blog or article such as is all to me engaging with others online.  It is definitely a tricky one to pin a solid definition on.

  • Jul 20 Posted 5 years ago Rohit (not verified)

    "To me, engagement in social media means the ability to reach out to and get response from a company (as a consumer) or an audience (as a company). For instance, if I go onto Twitter and post a question to a specific company (@Ebay, for example), I hope to receive a response. That’s engagement. Instant, human."

    While this definition of social media engagement is not incorrect, IMHO there is more to it. Engagement on social media should not be limited to communication between a company and a customer. The customer should be able to track what other customers are saying about the company, and likewise the company should be able to track what its customers are saying about it and engage them accordingly. Social media engagement should help the company to manage its reputation and take action in case of a problem or crisis.

    So, when you say, "engagement is more than just a channel. It’s a dialogue; it’s the ability to choose how and when to engage; it’s the value each channel represents; it’s whether or not expectations were met." seems like a more complete definition. Expectations of both the company, and the customers must be met.

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