April 25, 2017

Does Social Media Engagement Really Matter?

Yes, social media engagement matters. No, social media engagement doesn’t matter. Wait, what??? OK, the truth is, it depends.


I recently got pinged into a discussion on Google Plus centered around the notion that engagement is critical if business brands what to be successful marketing on social networks. The center piece for the discussion was an article that asserted the key to successful social media marketing is audience engagement.

Immediately, a user weighed in and left a fairly vague comment in the form of the word, ‘wrong”. The user was questioned about the comment and replied that research suggests that engagement isn’t a critical factor for success in any social media marketing campaigns.

A discussion ensued, and things got personal. The conversation quickly deteriorated.

The tragedy of it all is, the question, “does social media engagement matter?”, is material in that an answer would help business owners determine if they should be on social networks and if so, what they should be doing there. 

With that, I will attempt to answer the question for you, but want to warn you, the answer really shouldn’t be yes or no, right or wrong.

The answer really should be, ‘it depends”.

Anyone who provides an objective or definitive answer, either yes or no, should cause your eyebrow to go up, as it is a red flag that you are in the company of someone else’s bias.

In the end, even with this article, my answer to the question is really just a series of more questions that you have to answer for yourself in order to determine if engagement matters to you.


Two Things

There are two things I want you to keep in mind as you read this article.

  1. There are things you can do to be good at engaging on social networks.
  2. Being effective at engaging on social networks doesn’t mean you will see tangible business results from all that engagement.

OK, now we can begin.


For someone to be able to definitively assert that engagement on social networks for business brand is or isn’t important, or is or is not the key to success using social media for your business, the following must be true:

  1. There is only one definition of “engagement” as it relates to social media marketing
  2. Who, what, where, when, why and how are questions that are not relevant to you
  3. The current research is a reflection of flawless execution on the part of brands, and that there isn’t a better way to engage on social networks

My point is, like anything else, in order to say anything definitively, you need to do some more digging. As with any question about one marketing tactic or another, lot’s of other questions need to be answered before an answer to your primary question can be given. 

What does the word “engagement” mean?

In order to define “engagement” for the purposes of this article, we need the help of the process of disambiguation. We are clearly in need of a definition of engagment from the perspective of marketing. That definition, taken from Wikipedia is as follows:

“Engagement marketing, sometimes called “experiential marketing,” “event marketing”, “on-ground marketing”, “live marketing” or “participation marketing,” is a marketing strategy that directly engages consumers and invites and encourages consumers to participate in the evolution of a brand. Rather than looking at consumers as passive receivers of messages, engagement marketers believe that consumers should be actively involved in the production and co-creation of marketing programs, developing a relationship with the brand.”

It is important to note that the definition includes a belief statement implying that the belief of an engagement marketer is diametrically opposed to the beliefs of more traditional marketers. The importance of this is revealed in the notion that some businesses or marketers simply do not believe engagement matters in any medium, and would thus conclude that engagement on social is not important.

It would also suggest that any studies or research done as to the effectiveness of engagement on social media, if it does not exclude marketers who dont believe in engagement marketing, will be skewed by the ineffective execution of social network marketing.

The reason for this is, if you don’t believe in engagement marketing, you are likely going to suck at social media marketing.

What does “social media engagement” mean?

I think it makes sense here to use the process of disambiguation again to define “social engagement”.

From Wikipedia, Social engagement (also social involvement, social participation) refers to one’s degree of participation in a community or society.

From that definition then, one could conclude that “social media engagement” refers to one’s degree of participation in a community you build or participate in on a social network. This forms the basis then of your ability to use social media to engage in tactics that would fit into what experts would call engagement marketing. 

However, things are further complicated by the fact that social media engagement actually does mean something different depending on who you are talking to and about what. The reason it is difficult is related to how social networks actually measure “engagement” using what they consider engagement metrics. 

Metrics – Each social network defines engagement using their own vernacular stemming from the configuration of their system. Facebook uses likes and shares. Twitter uses tweets and followers. Google Plus uses plus 1’s and circles. 

Relationships – Each social network provides users to interact with each other one to one or one to many. From a pure definitional perspective, engagement on a social network would imply that you are forming relationships with your audience and your audience with you.

If we are using the metrics as a definition of social media engagement, then it is fairly easy to measure social media engagement by looking at the activity reports provided by each network. However, if we are referring to the relationship side of things, it is nearly impossible to measure social media engagement.

In either case, whether we are looking at activity reports or not, it is very difficult to measure the impact of social media engagement on your business. You have to do a bit more discovery before you can determine if social engagement is a good thing for you.

Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?

Who you are and what you do and for who matters quite a bit when you are considering the value of social media engagement. Lot’s of questions have to be answered before you can determine of social engagement matters. A good place to start is the 6W’s.

Who? When you decide to engage on social networks, the first step is to determine who you are going to act as. There are a number of brand types that you could consider, but for the purposes of this article, I am only asking you to determine if you are a personal brand or a business/corporate brand before you determine how social media engagement is going to impact your business.

To simplify things, your personal brand is a brand built around you as a person. A business brand is the same thing, but built around your business. Sometimes these two things are the same. Often times they are not.

What? The type of business model you create does make a significant impact on how social media engagement works. You can go into a ridiculous level of depth and detail studying various business models, but really, all you need to understand is:

  • How do you make money?
  • How do people buy what you sell?

Where? When you start your business you are going to need to pick a location for both yourself and the markets you are going to target. Where you sell your products or services will have a huge impact on not only whether social media engagement matters, but whether social media matters at all.

When? Every business has a life cycle. The life cycle of your business is defined by the date of your inception to the point of maturation. At every stage of your businesses life cycle, you have different marketing requirements defined largely by the resources you have available and the buying habits of your target market.

Why? The biggest question you have to answer is, will I use social media to build awareness, drive conversions or get referrals, or all the above.

How? You need to establish your strategy, select your target market and define your goals and objectives. The reason is, once you know what you are going to do, and for who, you can determine the how. 

What are engagement objectives?

In order to determine if social media engagement will matter to you, and how much it should matter, you need to solidify your objectives for not only your business, but your social media marketing plan. Here is a short list of typical social media objectives and how engagement drives you to achive them.

  • Website Traffic – Your website is a critical component of your online marketing presence. It will only become a business asset if you can drive traffic to it, and that traffic sticks around long enough to take some sort of action. Social media is a tremendous source for website traffic. From something as simple as a hashtag on twitter, to actually creating engaging conversations on Google Plus, engagement, and the simplest levels, is the only thing that drives significant levels of traffic to your website.
  • Conversions – Conversions include any action you want your audience to take. A conversion can be a purchase, a download, a link or a share. If you want people to take action from your social media activity, they need to know like and trust you. Know, like and trust are all derivatives of better and more engagement.
  • Referrals – Most of the service based businesses that I work with, including dentists, accountants and lawyers, get a significant portion of their business from referrals. Offline, the only way to get referrals at a significant volume, is to engage your audience. Now make the shift to social networks and what you have is a referral network on steroids. Naturally, just like in the offline world, engagement is the only way to get a substantial volume of referrals on social networks.
  • Listening – In order to market what you sell, you need to understand the audience you are targeting. The only way to do that is to listen to them when they communicate. Well, social media is where a lot of communication is happening, and therefore, it is a great place for you set up your listening. Now, you can listen without engaging just by monitoring the engagment of others. However, the real juice is when you can engage members of your target audience and get them to reveal things to you that make it easier for you to serve their needs.
  • Education – Depending on who you are and the type of business you run, social media engagement is a great way to develop your craft, enhance your skills and just become better at what you do. How? Easy. Just hang out and engage with your peers who know things you don’t. The only way this works is when you are good at engagement.

What does the research actually show?

Research is a funny animal. Often, by design or by accident, it is laden with the biases of those doing the research. You should always try to gather research from people with opposing points of view before you use any of the conclusions to draw your own. That said, here are some of the more recent research studies that may help you understand the relevance of social media engagement to your business.

Frequency of Metrics Used by Companies – This is a CMO survey that compared survey results from 2010 to 2014. The research was designed to determine how top marketing executives are measuring the impact of social media on their overall marketing plan. The results are revealing in that most of the metrics are directly related to engagement, and, the findings suggest that, as I said above, you need to set goals specific to your business, and then set up metrics to measure the achievement of those goals.

Stop Measuring Social Engagement – This is a study done by Forrester that suggests that the data social networks use to define social engagement levels is easy to collect, but almost useless as it pertains to measuring the impact of your social media efforts. The key here though is that stopping at the metric is not good enough. You have to determine if there is a correlation between the likes or shares or pluses and the ultimate objectives you set for yourself. For example, does website traffic from social media go up when engagement levels go up?

Trust In Brand Social Media Posts – Another Forrester study that helps in a number of ways. One is, it tells you what consumers are most concerned about, in general. That is, most consumers are heavily influenced by what other people say about a brand. Additionally, it suggests that social media posts are not very influential at all. Now, this could mean a lot of things, one of them being that brands don’t post the right things on social networks. Additionally, this report suggests that engagement is indirectly very important because of the link from personal connection to the positive review.

Social Signals and SEO – Just read this post by AJ Kohn. It represents the findings from observations about how things like social shares result in improved SEO. AJ is quick to point out that it is not the actual activity that matters as much as what happens as a result of the activity. In the end, social media engagement has an amplification effect on your content. This results in not only better SEO via folks linking to your content, but much more exposure to your target audience.

Conclusion: More Questions For Your Business

The ultimate objective for you is to determine if any of the things people refer to as engagement on social networks actually could have an impact on your business. You can’t know definitively until you answer a whole lot of other questions.

Clearly if you are on social networks, the more engagement you get the better, but only in so far as social engagement is concerned. The next step is to consider, or test, whether the social engagement helps you reach your business goals, and how. You have to consider things like:

  • Do you get business from referrals? If so, can you meet referral sources online? If so, what level of interaction is required to form the relationship?
  • Do people buy what you sell by seeing you for the first time on a social network, or hearing about you there? If so, what do they need to know about you in order to make that connection matter?
  • Can you use social media to drive website traffic? If so, what do people need to see once they arrive at your website to make that traffic convert?
  • When people share your content, does it result in more website traffic? If so, who are the people most likely to share your content and to who do they share? What do they need to see in order to know like and trust you enough to share your content?
  • Are the people you sell to engaging on social networks? If so, can you join their conversation or start a conversation of your own that they will want to join? Do those conversations result in more sales?
  • Are your current customers on social networks? If so, do they talk about you with other people? If so, how can you encourage more of that conversation? What level of engagement is required for you to be proactive about motivating others to talk about you in a good way?

Just remember, as a final reminder that marketing starts with people knowing liking and trusting you. There are a million ways to get your target audience aligned enough so that they know like and trust you, engagement on social networks being only one. The key is to determine for you and your world, how can you get the type of engagement you need in order to do what you need to do. Anything short of this is a waste of your time.

One important thing to keep in mind is that no matter your business type or model, there is a good chance that relationships with people matter. Engagement on social networks, when done right, is a great way to build better relationships with the people who matter most. That really can’t do anything but help your cause.

When it is all said and done, you are unique, and need your marketing to reflect that. Like everything else, when you do it right, it works. Now you just have to figure out what’s right for you, and go do it. 

Other Resources

Co Created Value

Why Engagement Does Matter – By Mark Traphagen

Social Engagement and Site Visits

What Social Media Metrics Cant Tell You

What Social Media Metrics are Useful

Business Value of Friends Followers and Connections

Metrics that Marketers Think Matter Most



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