Do Your Engagements Ring Hollow?

A wheel of cheese, with the text, "Share if you like cheese" symbolizing the ineffective and empty engagements that some companies use.

Sometimes we use words with the best intentions but those words can lose their power and their meaning through neglect.

Whether you're talking about business or politics, the Holy Grammatical Grail these days is "engagement." It has all the sexiness that biz speakers and policy wonks love – it sounds impressive and meaningful, but it's open-ended and vague enough to be effectively neutered.

Many businesses, especially when it comes to social marketing, like to talk about increasing engagement. But to what end? And what, exactly, does engagement mean?

I admit, I've fallen into the trap and used the term. But to me, engagement has always meant a tangible interaction – whether it's starting a conversation, replying to a query, or receiving feedback from a customer or client.

But some don't see it that way. To some engagement isn't a means to an end; it's the end itself.

There are businesses that are notorious for it. I once worked with a company that would ask questions to its clientele, having already decided the outcome. The engagement was a panacea to make people feel like the company was listening.

How many times on social networks do you see a brand post a seemingly random question: "Share if you like cheese..." or something banal like that? The answers don't matter – your action does. It's a cheap-and-easy engagement ploy designed to increase numbers on a spreadsheet so that the social/communications team can go in and say to their manager, "Look, our engagement metrics have increased by a factor of 24 per cent this quarter."

But it doesn't mean anything.

I half-joked on Twitter that I was considering a boycott on "engage." That may not be necessary, but what is important is taking a moment to think about what you actually mean when you use the word engage.

Here are some options for words with which you can replace "engage":

  • Talk with
  • Listen to
  • Partner with
  • Work with
  • Help
  • Share
  • Bounce ideas off of
  • Get feedback from

One of the biggest frustrations, for both people in corporations and interested in politics, is when groups, organizations, or companies "engage" with people to no avail. Employee surveys where the results dissipate into the ether; political discussions that have no impact on pre-established ideas; social interactions that offer no real value to the user.

All of the above lead to one thing: disengagement. And that's a word that carries with it very real ramifications.

Great vocabulary comes with great responsibility. If you're going to use the word engage, ensure you know what it means and why you're using it. Don't just open-ended engage for the sake of making yourself feel better.

In the end, saying "Look how open and engaged we are," doesn't carry as much weight as, "Wow, I really heard some great ideas from my employees that I'm going to implement," or "I'm so happy I asked for feedback from my customers – by listening to their challenges, I can find solutions to improve my business..."

Engage isn't necessarily a bad word, unless it's empty and devoid of meaning. That decision is up to you.

Your thoughts? Do you have an expectation that your social interactions should have a result? Do you share or like those Tweets and Facebook posts that are obviously designed just to get numbers? If you're a business, do you engage in this type of behaviour? What do you mean when you "engage" your readers?



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