My big problem with ‘engagement’

In a recent post high priest of web measurement, Avinash Kaushik, suggests that we look to try to measure four core metrics that will help tell us how we’re doing with our social media efforts:

  • 1. Conversation – the rate at which people respond
  • 2. Amplification – the distance those discussions travel
  • 3. Applause – Electronic approval such as Likes, +1s etc
  • 4. Economic Value – Amount of money your efforts actually generate

This is a useful, if not entirely revolutionary, packaging of some ideas that quite a few folk in the world of social media marketing have been working with for some time now.

Notice how the word ‘Engagement’ does not feature at all here?

Notice how it does appear in almost every social media brief that’s ever been written?

The thing is ‘engagement’ should be a given in any social media campaign worth its salt. Shouldn’t we all be talking about the types of engagement we want to provoke by now? Engagement is not a useful metric in itself. Clearly, if there’s been no engagement when a campaign’s run its course the campaign hasn’t worked and was probably ill-conceived or talking to the wrong audience in the first place. Either that or it might have been better classified as straight digital advertising (or even industry awards fodder?).

What I like most about Kaushik’s way of framing what’s important in social media is that it does away with vast swathes of distracting social metrics in one fell swoop. Marketing has always fundamentally been about trying to measure how your target audience responds to the things you do. The age of social media doesn’t change that.

People very rarely got to engage directly with marketing and advertising campaigns in the pre-social m1edia world. Maybe a paid-for phone vote here or there, but even that’s changing these days. Technology and the ill-conceived wisdom of the day conspired to keep customers and consumers at arms-length via TV advertising and increasingly complex and frustrating automated phone systems. Unsurprisingly it was particularly difficult to accurately measure ‘engagement’ in those days. Social media has already helped to erode this distance significantly and will continue to do so. It also allows us to measure specific types of audience reactions.

There are some really incredible examples out there of brands understanding how to provoke a wonderfully wide range of types of (both) valuable (and less valuable) interactions through the power of social media. ‘Engagement’ is a nice vague over-arching term that covers all of this, but words start to lose their meaning and can even become dangerous when they’re so flagrantly overused as a mask for actually addressing specifics (‘collateral damage’ comes to mind). This is especially true in the marketing world.

So, without mentioning the ‘E’ word, what are you actually trying to achieve with your social media marketing initiatives?

Adrian Goodsell is head of social at