Esquire – the greatest magazine in human history – has a monthly column called “The Indefensible Position.” In it a writer argues against conventional wisdom, often against the ethos of the magazine itself, as a way of challenging readers and revealing bias. It’s like a little blast of cold air each month, and some of my favorites include:
- Road Rage Is Good For Humanity
- Michael Douglas is the Actor of Our Time
- Imitation Syrup is Better Than The Real Thing
In this same spirit of constructive provocation, I’d like to take an indefensible position of my own.
It is this: “Engagement” is bullshit.
My argument stands on 3 pillars; Conceptual, Practical, and Observational.
Engagement is the means, and not the end. As David Meerman Scott is fond of pointing out, social media is a cocktail party. For brands it’s the kind of cocktail party at a Vegas trade show, though, not the kind at the Johnson’s up the street.
This is not to say brands need behave in social media like shiny-suited vodka jockeys with porn star mustaches and a stack of crisp singles. No. My point is simply that brands pay to play in social media not for the play itself, but – as with any marketing medium – to change what some meaningful number of people think, feel, or do.
Our attempts to measure something as abstract and internal as Engagement invariably lead to convoluted logic and precarious assertions. Does more content always equal more value? Is staying longer always better? Is a Re-Tweet worth more than a Follow? On one level I understand the cottage industry such questions are spawning. But on another, who gives a flying hoo-ha?
Which brings me to my Observation.
Talk to the head of a business. It can be a small business, like a local restaurant or salon, or a big business, like a national brand, or packaged goods manufacturer. The plain truth is that the guys who write the checks in these businesses don’t write them to increase Engagement. They care about sales, brand perception, coupon redemption, survey response rates, and maybe genuine product insights.
If social marketing wants a seat at the grown-up table, those are the needles it needs to move. If Engagement provides some kind of leading indicator on those things, then use it. But in doing so don’t forget that while the social equity we build through participation creates the potential for value, in the end it’s all about activation.
So, measurement mavens… How is this wrong?
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