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Why I Stopped Saying Engagement

Towards the end of last year I actively stopped saying the word engagement. I made a point to question how and why I used it until I realized I needed to stop using the term (and its derivatives like engage and engaging) all together.

The word has been abused and misused; and it’s time to give it a break.

Before I offer reasons for its respite, let’s step back and examine the industry definition.

According to Facebook, “[the] engagement rate is the percentage of people who saw a post that liked, shared, clicked, or commented on it.”Twitter defines it “as a click, retweet, reply, or favorite.”YouTube calculates its engagement metric based on comments, favorites, likes, shares, and subscribers while also factoring negative action such as dislikes and lost subscribers.

Elsewhere,Mashable says “engagement measures the extent to which a consumer has a meaningful brand experience when exposed to commercial advertising, sponsorship, television contact, or other experience.” AndSocial Media Engagement For Dummies (yes, this book exists) says the goal of engagement is to “connect to followers, convert them to customers, turn them into evangelists for your company, and boost your bottom line!”

In sum: engagement can mean a lot of things with varying degrees of success and measurability. The definition(s), as it stands, needs to be reevaluated and here is why…

Quantitative undermines the qualitative.

Engagement is a game where quantity is valued over quality. The number of retweets, likes, mentions, and favorites has come to mean more than the content itself.  

By default, content is rendered meaningless. For example, if I want a click through all I need is a bait and click headline (we know how well that turned out for CNN).

Engagement metrics ignores context.

With many moving parts in motion, engagement is impossible to isolate. There is a broader context that needs to be examined when analyzing engagement rates. Take Justin Bieber for example. His posts receive hundreds of thousands if not millions of likes, favorites, retweets, and shares simply because he IS Justin Bieber.    

Would you as a social media marketer genuinely say that these types of posts are “engaging”? My guess is probably not.

 Justin Beiber Screen Shot 1.png Justin Beiber Screen Shot 2.png 

The metric also fails to consider the spammers, bots, professional contest enterers, and the rest of the social media underworld that can drive engagement rates up – highlighting that qualitative is usurped by quantitative when relying on the numbers alone.

Does engagement want to have its cake and eat it too?

Engagement tries for too many things at once. Engagement lacks focus. Is it a goal? Does it work as a strategy? Is it an end result? Is it an action? Is it emotion?   

And at the end of the day, isn’t creating engaging content an obvious aspiration? Surely as a marketer creating engaging material is the whole point of what we do and I believe we can do better when describing and measuring our work.

As engagement eclipses from an industry term to an industry in it’s own right, the word is too malleable, ubiquitous, and vague for my personal and professional liking.

Conclusion: Say what you mean.

Instead of saying engagement, I say what I mean instead. I use words that reflect the marketing objective of the social media I produce.

If I want a response like a click-through, I say “clickable content.”

If I want a share, I use “sharable” (“likable” also works).  

If I want a strategy to reach a wide audience, I talk about it having “universal appeal.”  

If I want to reach a target demographic, I refer to a plan that is “focused,” “relatable,” or “timely.”

If I want emotion, I talk about it being “inspiring” or “motivating.”

Using language that is goal-oriented and purposeful words helps me find tangibles, steps, and a method. It also directs me to the meaningful variables I can analyze.  

While engagement has a purpose and a place (I’m not dispelling its use altogether), I’m just giving it a sabbatical.

What about you? What do you think of engagement?

Melissa De Witte is a freelance writer and social media consultant. Melissa has an advanced degree in media, culture, and communication from New York University; and she previously worked for the Financial Times. You can follow her on Twitter at @melissadewitte.