I’ve been working on an article on engagement in social media for a top marketing journal and I’ve been really struggling to get a handle on the topic — much more so than normal.  It seems everyone recognizes the importance of engagement in social media, they just don’t have a good definition of it.  Look at this, for example:

Engagement—just the mention of it can spark a visceral response from marketers, partly because no one has pinpointed what it really means. Let’s get it out there: engagement is a messy, complicated idea—yet a critical one—because it gets to the heart of the relationship between consumers and brands. We know that it is valuable, but the how, what and why of it is ambiguous at best.

This shows the importance of engagement in social media, but doesn’t go very far in providing a definition.  To their credit, the authors go on to provide a definition based on what consumers say about engagement in social media.  While much better because it’s based on how consumers view engagement in social media, I’m not sure it really hits the mark – just proving that sometimes consumers are better at judging something when they see it than saying what IT is.  Here’s the consumer definition of engagement in social media:

engagement is more than just a channel. It’s a dialogue; it’s the ability to choose how and when to engage; it’s the value each channel represents; it’s whether or not expectations were met.

They identify 6 components of engagement in social media, but that doesn’t make this definition any better.

What is engagement?

Let’s take a step back in defining engagement in social media to see what engagement is all by itself.  And here is how a dictionary defines engagement:

1. The act of engaging or the state of being engaged.
2. Betrothal.
3. Something that serves to engage; a pledge.
4. A promise or agreement to be at a particular place at a particular time.


a. Employment, especially for a specified time.
b. A specific, often limited, period of employment.
6. A hostile encounter; a battle.
7. The condition of being in gear.
Wow.  Does that LOOK like engagement in social media to you??????  Don’t you just love it when the definition includes the word you’re trying to define — like that’s any help!

So, what is engagement in social media?

I posed this question on Google+ yesterday and only got 1 response from Mary Klaebel.  Here it is:

To me, engagement in social media means the ability to reach out to and get response from a company (as a consumer) or an audience (as a company). For instance, if I go onto Twitter and post a question to a specific company (@Ebay, for example), I hope to receive a response. That’s engagement. Instant, human.

I’m not sure that’s a whole lot better, although I thank Mary for tackling this thorny issue when no one else would touch it. So, now I’m throwing it out to you.

What is engagement in social media?

Please post your answers in comments and I’ll share these comments in my next post and we’ll move on to the next aspect of engagement in social media.