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Why Engagement is a Misnomer in Corporate Social Media

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A lot of people misunderstand the overarching point of social media for businesses.

If you’re a teenage girl, social media is (generally) about looking cool and getting validated by your friends. Teenage girls love to validate each other by posting supportive, “you-go-girl” comments on each other’s Instagram feeds (“OMG ur gorgeous”).

Teenagers have a lot of free time, and their phones never leave their hands. Naturally, then, their activity on social media is full of comments, likes, and other “engagement.” In the case of teenagers, engagement is proof that the content being posted was good—even if it was a selfie.

For organizations, the objective is, well, different.

Regardless of the business goal that an organization is pursuing—i.e. sales leads, recruiting or brand awareness—or the industry that the organization is in, the key on social media is leadership. As you might imagine, leadership is a very different thing than the engagement I just mentioned. But how can an organization be perceived as worthy of following—how can a business be a leader on social media?

At its core, leadership is about influence, and influence is subsequently a decent measure of success on social media. But getting back to my original point, if no one pays attention to you, then it’s impossible for you to be a leader.

The cycle of social media leadership is an interesting one that involves a few steps. First, we have influence, which is about being respected and being heard. To be respected, you need both to behave ethically (cheaters aren’t leaders) and to say things worth hearing (people who chatter meaninglessly or just try to sell to you aren’t leaders). To say things worth hearing and to be heard, you first need to make sure that the things you say are available to be heard. People who don’t communicate aren’t leaders.

All of this is a little complicated, and this structure can sometimes be tough to follow, but that’s not my point here.

The big point is that, as multi-faceted and in-depth as the process of becoming a leader on social media is, nowhere in this structure is the word “engage.” There’s a reason that John called engagement a misnomer a few days ago in his social media glossary for beginners.

If someone asks you a direct question that’s relevant, should you answer it? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that “number of questions asked” is the definitive measure of whether or not you’re succeeding in social media. A teenager using social media may have a million questions to ask (or a million comments to post), but many potential customers—especially B2B—on social media don’t. While someone looking for coffee might post on Facebook that he loves Starbucks, the likelihood of a small business looking for a machine part commenting on a manufacturer’s Facebook is much slimmer.

It’s tempting to look closely at these sorts of statistics because, well, they exist. For generations, media wasn’t directly measurable. Now it is—or at least, it’s getting there. But just because something can be measured doesn’t mean it’s relevant.

Social media gives you the ability to have a two-way conversation, which, for a long time, was something that didn’t even exist in the media world. This is an exciting new capability for social media, marketing and even advertising, but you shouldn’t think that you’re failing just because you’re not maniacally chatting away.

For most our clients, there is an immense amount of value that comes from creating a library of content that answers FAQs, creating a robust Twitter feed that increases your distribution and from showing Google that your organization is a trusted publisher of reputable, fresh content. Interaction for B2B businesses on Twitter or Facebook is always nice to have, but focusing only on engagement as discussed here can easily lead you off track if you make it your only goal.

Your kids get something different out of social media than your organization does. The companies that we see with the biggest social media issues are those who try to run their Facebook page like an individual using social media would.

Don’t concern yourself with metrics that don’t matter. Instead, start worrying about whether you’re establishing yourself as someone worth following.

Reprinted by permission.

Image Credit: CC by Marc Berry Reid

About the author: Adrian Blake

Adrian began his career in the television industry, leading the international growth of Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central. Adrian has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an A.B. from Harvard.

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