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Purposeful engagement

It's more than a metric

“To engage with someone, you first need to know their story.”

That statement sure sounds nice, and can work as a good guide for how to approach an engagement strategy, but in reality it’s impractical and isn’t going to help you achieve success through engagement, whatever engagement means to you.

So let’s start by asking that question: what does engagement actually mean? The dictionary definition of the word will only lead to more ambiguity when looking at it in the context of the contemporary marketing vocabulary. It’s become a buzzword, and we all hate those, right?

That said, let’s have a look at the language anyway for a bit of geeky fun:


[MASS NOUN] The action of engaging or being engaged

Engagement - verb

[WITH OBJECT] Occupy or attract (someone’s interest or attention)

(engage someone in) Involve someone in (a conversation or discussion)

[NO OBJECT] (engage in or be engaged in) Participate or become involved in

(engage with) Establish a meaningful contact or connection with

Adjective - Charming and attractive: an engaging smile

Those definitions do little to help us understand the true meaning of purposeful engagement, but bear in mind that the word is also used to describe a fight or battle between armed forces; this is an interesting point to remember when we’re planning how our business goes about establishing what engagement means to us, to our customers, and to our prospective customers. Successful armed forces work in unison, with briefings held in a common language before starting any mission.

Similarly, it’s crucial to determine what engagement actually means to your business and to first communicate that throughout the business itself before you start talking to the world. It’s too easy to get frozen in the headlights of needing an “engaging” campaign or brand message. It’s also easy to find yourself in-market with a campaign that will be judged purely on an ‘engagement’ metric, even though each stakeholder’s perception of that metric may not be entirely clear. At that point it’s too late, and you’re most likely destined for a less than great, and fairly awkward post-campaign report.

We’ve all been there: “How was the engagement? How many new Facebook likes did we get? Did we go viral? We were supposed to go viral! What do you mean we didn’t have enough budget? This is supposed to be an earned media campaign…” and so it goes on. Incidentally, the term I used just there, “earned media”, does not mean free media. Shocking, I know. For more on this particular buzzword black-hole, take a look at my post entitled “Earned media does not mean free media” (Catchy title, hey?). But for now, I’m going to break down how to avoid these conversations, and how to set yourself up for success instead of sob stories.

So, what’s the easy answer to this? Is there a cheat’s guide to avoiding the engagement buzzword bear-trap? Yep, there really is! And like most things, it’s a lot simpler than you think. The solution is to use clear communication from the outset and set expectations before any action is taken. Start by figuring out exactly what engagement means in the context of what you’re planning. Will you be referring to Instagram likes as engagement? Will you be including competition entries as a form of engagement? Are you purely looking to inspire a conversation on your Facebook page? If so, will you be involved in that conversation, or are you happy to spark the flame then sit back and watch? Furthermore, what are you trying to achieve from a business perspective through this proposed “engagement”? What’s the business objective it meets or supports? If you had to explain it to your CEO in the line for a coffee, how will your proposed engagement help your customers or move you closer towards achieving your key business goals?

Regardless of where you land on what engagement means to you, and why you’re trying to achieve it, just make sure it’s purposeful. Don’t create something purely for the sake of ticking a box on a report. Purposeful engagement could come in the form of a remarkable conversation with your customer base on Facebook about a product known to have issues. You’re demonstrating transparency, honesty, and a willingness to listen and improve. But if you want truly earned media for very little investment, you could try consistently re-posting (with permission) people’s Instagram pictures of your product or place. You’re showing that you appreciate their effort, and setting a precedent that will inspire more people to do the same. This method might be a slow-burner, but it will certainly get you results.

So, my opening line is starting to look a bit more meaningful now, right? The sentiment of knowing the story remains the same, but before starting to discover other people’s stories we must first have a clear perspective of our own. As with most successful methodologies, if you know the path you want to take and what your destination is, you’re much less likely to get lost on the way. Remember to take a few friends with you, but just make sure that you all start from the same place, you’re all using the same map, and most importantly you have a shared and agreed vision of where you’re all going.

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