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

  • Robbin Block (@robbinblock)

    The bottom line truly is the bottom line, but it’s difficult to make the connection between an actual sale and “conversations” and “applause”. On the other end of the sales cycle, let’s not forget that people who are interested don’t always engage, so impressions should still be considered as well.

  • Jeff Epstein

    Great post! The evolution of Social Media Marketing will eventually be tied to hard “ROI” metrics..

    That’s what we are doing at Ambassador ( Enabling brands to create & reward their passionate users for promoting their brand via their social networks.

  • Kate Bordwell

    Good article. We need to keep this kind of talk up!

    This is my favourite blog article about ‘the big E’…

  • Andy M Turner (@andymturner)

    Is it really so difficult to show a connection between someone who bought shortly after conversing about or liking something on social media? Would have thought it’s pretty easy these days and getting easier all the time as ‘big data’ analysis improves and falling cost of IT.

  • Dan Williamson

    I’d replace no.1 ‘Conversation’ with ‘Engagement’ – to account for the fact that people don’t only ‘converse’. They view pics, vote, they upload, they friend, they like etc.

  • Andrew

    Very interesting article, for now engagement will probably stay as it is a good catch-all phrase but more definition is definitely need at some point and linking to ROI is critical. It is still a young sector and many have not caught up yet with what social media really is, shouldn’t we get most people on board before we start the segementing, instead of alienation. Marketing is always finding new terms which are only reinvention, surely simplicity is the key.

  • Peter Wood

    Great piece. I think the next few years will hopefully see more measurement tools come to market so we can start measuring all the points you mentioned in a less manual way.

    Stage 2 of social media marketing is upon us… making sense of the data!