Let's get engaged.... or not

I've been having some interesting conversations of late on the subject of engagement, including one short argument over whether the term was overused and understood within the context of social media.  I don't think it is overuse but neither do I believe it is really understood.  So I started pondering how I might help with that understanding.  Amazingly enough, I found my inspiration from a Ragan Report post on Ray LaHood (DOT Secretary) and his social media approach.

You can read the entire report in the link, but let me summarize it for you:  Offer content readers can't get anywhere else, don't chase numbers, use other mediums other than just text, open the site to participation, learn the value of each medium, and give up control.

Most of those points are anathema to marketing and sales people... maybe even to engineers.  But the spell the difference between success and failure in social media.  This is probably going to be come a series on how to build engagement so let's start today with what engagement actually looks like.

When I say your audience is engaged, it can mean many things.  Engagement is an issue of degrees and most companies measure at the very first level: How many views are we getting.  And that violates the second rule of LaHood's effort.  Numbers are cool.  Nothing wrong with numbers.  But numbers don't tell you the whole story.  Numbers don't tell you how deep the content went, or even if the posting was read.  When I look at my numbers, I see a lot of views, but some of those views don't even last a second.  Why? because they are being picked up by RSS readers so the follower can read the post at his or her leisure.  But I have a reader, too, and I have to admit that I only scan the headlines most of the time before I "mark as read." About 1 out of 5 times my stats show that my blog posts are read all the way through and 1 time out of 10 they go to a another post within my blogs to learn more.  I also see where they follow links that I offer.  

What I find interesting, though, in talking to other SM noobs is that most of them don't even go that deep.  they just look at the total views.  I know this because when I ask, "how many RSS readers are connected to your blog," they respond, "Huh?  

Then there is the ethereal, unmeasurable, "we get lots of people thanking us for doing this."  I fell into this number trap for a while... until I set my spam filter efficiently.  A lot of "responses" congratulating you on "a great site" are just phishing.  This type of engagement is absolutely useless and potentially dangerous to your site.

To make your engagement valuable and definable, you need to go beyond the numbers and that means getting some sort of data from the readers.  It could be statistical data (name, address, place of employment, etc.) or it could be something really valuable -- like what they think of what you have to say.  I'll put them in three categories of increasing importance: agreement, disagreement, expansion.  

If readers are agreeing with you, that's nice.  You have a loyal customer or friends.  But you've already decided on a certain course of action, getting people to pat you on the back as you had over a cliff isn't very helpful.  Everyone needs course correction. so the second level can be more helpful.

A reader who disagrees with you can be annoying.  They can also be a competitor.  A nasty response from the latter can give you some valuable competitive information so don't get mad or even, listen up.  A negative response from a customer or former customer is even more important. Don't consider them stupid, find the grain of truth and adapt.

But the third level -- expansion -- is the most valuable of all.  This could come from a current or potential customer providing you with real-time market data.  This is someone partnering with you to make you successful.

This is what I would call the embodiment of engagement and you can't really put a number to it.  It's the nugget of gold found after two weeks of back breaking panning in a cold muddy creek and the whole reason you're doing this social media crap.

The problem is, you may never find it in a comment on your blog and you sure aren't going to find it in the web stats.  So where will you find it?

I think I'll get into that next time.