No One Really Knows What ‘Engagement’ Means


We do know what “creepy stock photo” means, though

Given all the endless talk about PR measurement and the fact that likes, shares and retweets are no longer sufficient ways to measure success for clients, you’ve almost definitely heard a lot of about “engagement” recently. Here’s the problem: no one can agree on what the word means–even the people who get paid for their expertise on the matter.

A recent survey of dozens of CMOs sponsored by the people at Thunderhead (h/t HubSpot) makes the scale of the problem clear.

Some numbers after the jump.

  • 75% of CMOs say they don’t know how to engage with customers
  • 1/3 don’t know if customers value the relationships
  • 2/3 have no customer relationship strategy

That’s not all:

  • 80% say they’re “deluged” with data about their customers but aren’t sure what to do about it
  • 1/8 say their own customers have no interest in engaging with them

This is, of course, a problem–especially given how excited everyone in PR and marketing happens to be about the word “engagement” right now. The point of the survey is that this sea change in the way we use the term is one of the “biggest change[s] affecting businesses in the last twenty years (even more than the Internet, which changed communications but not the objective of them).”

The conclusions of survey leader Esteban Kolsky, who wrote a nice little blog summary right here, are both simple and extremely challenging.

  • Engagement is really a way of defining a customer’s knowledge and trust of your brand over a given period of time
  • In other words, it’s about delivering value, be it through content/information, products or deals, or the personal satisfaction of having rewarding interactions with a business–again, over time
  • A single interaction will not qualify as engagement because it does not amount to a relationship
  • The concept of engagement is almost impossible to quantify because it does not present an obvious data set

Kolsky writes that trust earned with time is the key metric in this equation–which is why it’s so relevant to PR. Trust and reputation are essentially one and the same.

An “engaged” brand is one that promises and, more importantly, delivers value to customers consistently and will continue to do so.

Now for the questions: What does “engagement” mean to you? More importantly, how can you demonstrate it?

Almost every client will answer those questions differently. But if we had an accurate crystal ball, we think it would show us more customer surveys in your future.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.