Have Goals: Stop Making Engagement Meaningless


There’s a serious problem out there, and it may be getting worse.

In all the excitement and hype about social media, people have latched onto certain buzzwords and phrases so much that this “common knowledge” often falls outside the realm of questioning or further examination.

Today, let’s look at the hallmark of overused, misunderstood and often irrelevant metrics/tactics/buzzwords: ENGAGEMENT.

Being Lead By The Blind And Engagement-Obsessed

There is an entire legion of managers, directors and CEOs that know very little about social media.  However this doesn’t stop these individuals from acting as if they do and issuing stern directives to their community managers.

Without a single conversation about business goals, they begin to harp on the easiest metric to track: engagement.

I have seen CEOs and marketing directors issue directives to community managers.

“Increase engagement on Facebook…or else.”  

I’ve read frantic emails insisting that the sky is falling.

“Fix it, or else.”

They look at their competition and turn green with envy.  They fill with rage.

“Why do they have more people talking about them?!”

They insist–without the slightest mention of business goals–that the company needs more likes, more comments, more shares.  I have one, simple question…


Why does this matter?  What business objective does engagement fulfill?

  • I have yet to meet a single business that can make payroll with Facebook likes.
  • I’ve yet to meet an organization that can get an increased credit line based on their average daily retweets.
  • I have yet to find a business that has gotten a new customer as a Klout Perk.

So, if you are a community manager, and you have a boss that is giving you the directive to get more engagement, I encourage you to ask them why and have them come tell me in the comments.  My bet…they don’t know why, they probably just heard it somewhere or they don’t understand.

What keeps the lights on? Why are you in business?

I’m not here to argue that engagement is meaningless or irrelevant. I’m here to argue that if we keep looking at engagement as a business metric it will become meaningless.  Engagement is a means by which to accomplish something else…it may be an indicator, but it is not a result.

  • If the purpose of engagement is to drive sales, then measure sales…not engagement.
  • If the purpose of engagement is to increase brand awareness, then invest in social listening software and measure the change in branded mentions and the accompanying sentiment.  Doing this will test the hypothesis that engagement has an effect on brand awareness.
  • If the purpose of engagement is to improve customer service, then look at the change in your Net Promoter score, or evaluate the feedback after a customer service interaction.

The difference between 300 likes and 1,500 likes only really matters to a business if it provides tangible business value, otherwise, it’s just a number.  Any idiot can put up a meme and get a like, and you don’t win anything for having more engagement than your competitor.   We all know what “works” on Facebook and your business doesn’t stay open for earning 3 seconds of attention and a click of a mouse.

Pleading For Meaning

Looking at engagement metrics as a total number is silly; this is business, not a popularity contest.

I beg of these managers, directors and CEOs, stop pretending to know what you are talking about.  Please, do it for the good of the social web, for the sanity of your employees that are accountable for social media, and for the sake of your customers and fans.

There is only one approach that works here:

  1. Establish your business objectives. (NOT social media objectives, BUSINESS objectives)
  2. Ensure that your team is aligned with the objectives.
  3. Set tangible, measurable and realistic goals.
  4. Develop a strategy to achieve your goals.
  5. Create a detailed tactical plan.
  6. Execute the plan for no less than 3 months. (Social Media is a long term play)
  7. Measure what happens.
  8. Make adjustments.

Engagement should be part of your plan, but it should be something that is measured in service of something bigger.  It’s time to start asking WHY more frequently.  If you can’t answer why, you don’t understand it well enough and therefore should not be giving directives.

Am I wrong?  Is it “all about engagement?”  Or can we start to talk real business?

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  • Andrew
  • Andrew

    Below is an article that supports what you are talking about. You would think that tweets would correlate to TV viewers, but even that doesn’t hold true:


  • http://www.jeffgibbard.com/ Jeff Gibbard


    Thanks for providing the link to that article. It was very interesting, however, I don’t think that the position the article takes is entirely accurate or relevant. Nielsen ratings have long been the subject of criticism, and as more and more people switch off of live TV in favor of Netflix and DVRs, the significance of a correlation between Tweets and live TV viewership is nebulous at best. What’s interesting is that Nielsen is still trying to look at this new world through an old world lens. We have to remember that Nielsen uses sample audiences (less than 1% of the population) and Twitter only represents a tiny fraction of the television viewing audience. To draw conclusions at this point would be to not see the forest for the trees.

    When it comes down to it, even if the data is correct–which is highly suspect–Nielsen misses the point entirely. Their purpose of knowing these data are to understand viewer habits and sell advertising yet they only see that through the singular lens of real time, live television advertising, rather than a multi-channel advertising and marketing strategy that extends the relationship with the viewer beyond the time of broadcast.

    The audience that tweets is the more engaged audience that will consequently increase the reach of the show. Breaking Bad is a phenomenal example. I just starting watching the show as a result of the unavoidable buzz surrounding the show. But I’m an avid Twitter user, so I’m not representative of the entire population.

    At the end of the day, I think it’s far too early for anyone to determine whether or not a significant correlation exists. Thanks for sharing the article! Very thought provoking.