Why “Engagement” is a Red Herring for Social Media

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I speak “social” fluently, and fairly nonsensically.

It’s a relatively new language. Vague words that have become so big and misused they no longer communicate much at all.

Yet already, we have become slaves to these words. We have become determined to “engage.”

And we have become very good at it. We have mastered the art of “like” solicitation. Fill in the blank posts. Comment-baiting with easy questions that don’t require much thought to answer. Posting broad and generic content completely irrelevant to our schools. And month after month, we proudly report our record-breaking Facebook Insight metrics.

Engagement? Accomplished.

Accomplishments? I’m not too sure?

Because with my University’s location in the Chicago suburbs, “Hey Lewis! What’s your favorite place to grab a pizza?” would undoubtedly be our #1 engagement post of the month. And yet, I’m not too sure if that quantifiable engagement is really worth all that much to us?

I wonder if we can all too quickly become experts at creating “engaging” content that has nothing to do with the relationship we have with those who have decided to follow us.

So what if instead, we work hard to “find and tell the best stories happening on campus – so that prospects want to come here, students are proud to be here, and alumni are proud to be a part of it?

Now, that’s an admittedly incomplete endgame. That pigeonholes social as a 1-to-many PR channel. And social media is absolutely bigger than that. That’s why we’ve chosen bigger words. But if we talk with that kind of specificity in our team meetings instead of using words like “engagement”, we might actually leave knowing what we’re talking about and what we’re all fighting for.

About the Author
Eric Olsen is the Web Content Manager for Lewis University, a mid-sized Catholic and Lasallian University near Chicago, IL. Follow Eric on Twitter.

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  • http://twitter.com/isaacson isaacson

    I agree with your sentiment (crap engagement is still crap) but I think there needs to be a mix. If the pizza posts nets you 35 new fans who will then see your more strategic posts later on down the line I think there is benefit there. There seems to be a fine, and very gray, line regarding giving the social community what they want “funny pictures, quoteable quotes etc.” and what we want them to want. But I think it’s important to embrace both sides of that conversation.

    • http://twitter.com/eolsencreative Eric Olsen

      So, do we need to provide that full spectrum of content ourselves? Or is that why individuals follow and like so many different kinds of people and entities – in the hopes that the comedians they follow will make them laugh, the friends they follow will share their lives, and the brands they follow will stay on-brand?

      • Lougan

        I’d say it depends what you want your brand and voice to be on social media. Raising your engagement with posts like that does raise the likelyhood of your posts being seen don’t they? I’m not saying every post should be a post about pizza, but they can be helpful.

        To be honest though, Facebook’s news feed is harder to predict than next weeks weather sometimes.

        • http://twitter.com/eolsencreative Eric Olsen

          That’s pretty interesting, Lougan. Because we had a debate yesterday about whether or not we should do a “Go Bears!” post? I argued no. But if you had been there to argue this Machiavellian Edgerank argument – take the occasional (hopefully rare) easy 200 likes in order to make sure your legitimate content gets seen. Hmm…

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