Engagement for engagement’s sake is not very interesting.

There is a lot of crappy “engagement” out there -- look no further than most of the trending topics streams on Twitter or frankly, many Facebook pages. Yet, many organizations are tracking engagement as the end goal in their social efforts. But in a world where the Charlie Bit My Finger video competes with aggregate TED video views, assuming that volume and impact are related is at best naive.

Easy Engagement = Meaningful Engagement

In a rush to prove that we have "engagement," platforms have reduced the friction of engaging to next to nothing. The rub is that the easier the engagement, the less meaningful and valuable it is. B.J. Fogg has built a behavior model I find quite useful in understanding the dynamics of engagement:


Because so many organizations are chasing engagement, what many technology providers have done, since changing motivation is more challenging, is to make engagement very easy and to create a lot of triggers. The result is that people with very low motivation engage because they are triggered and it is easy.

The big issue for businesses is that individuals with low motivation are not likely to be meaningful or significant to the organization because they have no motivation to do anything but the most basic engagement. Those individuals actually create a lot of noise in the organization’s ecosystem.

I’ve always preferred engagement approaches that have higher barriers to entry because when someone engages, you know that they are motivated and therefore more likely to participate in a more constructive and complex way. This thinking comes from my understanding of systems dynamics, which show how much more efficient it is to validate agent input into a system than to manage agents once inside a system. This roughly translates to "do not allow crap into the system because it is expensive to manage."

Levels of Engagement 

So what kind of engagement matters? It largely depends on your business goals and how complex they are. The more complex the outcome you are looking for, the deeper the relationship you need to establish and the longer it will take to bear fruit.

I created a relationship development model a few years ago and it is useful when thinking about what kind of engagement -- and therefore what kinds of approaches -- you need for the outcome you want.


If you are working on a broad brand awareness initiative, you likely only need to build relationships to the "Recognition" stage in this model. That means creating enough resonance with individuals that they recognize your brand and have a generally positive feeling about it.