Engagement: Buzzword Bingo Term, or Something More?

by Sandy Malloy, Senior Information Specialist, Business Wire/SF
Sandy Malloy, Senior Information Specialist

Sandy Malloy, Senior Information Specialist

I had two experiences recently that started me thinking more deeply about one of the 21st century’s hot topics, “engagement.”  One was a webinar on the topic.  The other, which I found more compelling, was a blog post about how the Veterans Administration launched Facebook pages for all 152 of its medical centers.  (I was not biased toward this story just because its genesis was a Business Wire release, by the way.)

There is nothing wrong with measuring engagement and, in fact, it’s a critical part of a proper measurement program.  Communicators should be concerned not only with who might have seen their messages but how many cared enough to take some kind of action.  That’s really the simple definition of engagement: It’s active, not passive.

But some of the articles, blog posts and presentations I am seeing make me wonder whether some of these communicators are going far enough when they say they want to promote engagement.  Engagement isn’t just a buzzword, nor is it simply getting people to like (or “Like”) your company enough to buy something, although that CAN be your objective.

The reason I was impressed by the VA initiative is that they had a clear goal in setting up their social media accounts.  Said Secretary Eric Shinsheki:

“Veterans and their families told us from the beginning that they want to engage and they want relevant information delivered at the local level. By leveraging Facebook, the Department continues to expand access to VA, and embrace transparency and two-way conversation.”

This statement encompasses two goals:  “relevant information delivered at the local level” and “two-way conversation.”  In addition to Facebook, the VA produced 64 Twitter feeds, a YouTube channel, a Flickr page and a blog, all with the aim of helping veterans understand their benefits and “receive the health care their service has earned them.”

With the goal established, it becomes possible for the VA to measure results.  Are veterans receiving the information they need, and is their care improved?  Are they communicating with their local VA office?  In short, are they taking the actions the Department set out to promote when they established their social media program?

A goal can be as detailed as what the VA outlined, or as simple as increasing visibility for a brand.  Either way, though, measuring “engagement” is not an end.  Measuring engagement in the service of [fill in the blank] is a much more meaningful exercise.

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