Is It Truly Engagement?

What is True Marketing Engagement

If I talk to my girlfriend 83% more this month than last month, am I more engaged? How about if I made a few comments about her? Am I engaged?


The definitions of engagement are clear:

(1) A formal agreement to get married.
(2) An arrangement to do something or go somewhere at a fixed time.

Merriam Webster Definition of Engagement

Over a decade ago, I first published this rant that I wished marketers would quit expressing the term engagement as a business metric. Today it’s still an issue in our industry so I’ve followed it up with the below video.

Time measured on the page, number of comments, number of followers, number of votes, or even the number of minutes of video watched are not helping your business unless you can align the engagement to an actual business result. If you can’t, it’s just a vanity metric.

I’m still complaining about the abuse of the term engagement today because I witness far too many clients spending large sums of money on content that doesn’t provide any business benefit.

It’s not engagement, it’s dating. And that’s not to mean that marketers shouldn’t pursue some type of interaction between viewers, followers, fans, listeners, etc… they should. But marketers must be ultimately align that interaction with actual business results.

Dating is any social activity undertaken by, typically, two people with the aim of each assessing the other’s suitability as their partner.

If your visitors are spending more time on your site, congratulations! You’re dating more and it’s a good sign… but it’s not an engagement. When your visitor buys the ring and puts it on your finger, tell me that you’re engaged. When the number of those visitors increases and they purchase more off your website, then you can tell me that your engagement is increasing.

Marketers who can’t measure return on investment with social media use terms like engagement to legitimize their efforts and wow their clients… while wasting their money.

When Jeffrey Glueck did the opening speech at the eMarketing Association Conference a decade ago, he told a great story of Travelocity starting up social media campaign using the gnome and MySpace.

By engagement standards, the campaign was a huge success… everyone befriended the gnome and comments and conversations flew! People spent more time on the page and there was a ton of exposure. Unfortunately, though, the campaign cost $300k and was a failure at driving business to Travelocity. In other words… no engagement.

PS: On a side note… I have a girlfriend but we are not engaged.

PPS: Thanks to Ablog Cinema for producing this spectacular video! This is the second in our Myths, Misconceptions, and Rants series.


  1. 1

    Good Lord… I about fell out of my chair in the office after reading the title to this post. Traffic doesn’t matter in the long run.. the sales are what count.. Revenue. Revenue. Revenue.
    Good post.

    • 2

      Hi Kyle!

      Congratulations on bringing Stephen on board. He’s a great guy and I’m glad he’s joined you guys… I think you’ll be amazed at how he digs in and figures things out.

      Re: this. I think building a relationship with your customers and clients is incredibly important – and some things are very difficult to measure. One of the reasons why I love blogging and social media so much is that I CAN be transparent, I can be honest, I can give my customers a lot of attention – but most of all – I KNOW that all of those things that were tough to measure before are measurable now.

      I just want to challenge marketers to provide their clients with a visible funnel that provides them proof that a leads to b, b to c, and c to d. When customers figure out that being open, honest and available… they’ll be better off for it! We just have to prove it for them.

      Great to see you here! When are you coming to The Bean Cup?

  2. 3

    Perhaps we’re going to get into a semantic argument here, but I think it’s one worth having.

    A. It seems that engagement is a singular event in your analogy (or at least an event triggered solely by purchases). I would argue that another definition of engagement is to “draw into or involve” an individual in a conversation or relationship. Engagement isn’t a singular or even a climactic event. It’s the small relationships that culminate into a richer relationship between company and customer. It’s shrinking the distance between them.

    B. Each one of those expressions of “engagement” you list can be quantified and I, too, define them as engagement. Where I share your skepticism is when each of these expressions are quantified for their own sake. Just because someone leaves a comment doesn’t necessarily mean they’re closer to taking a business-defined action such as making a purchase. Engagement actions should build toward some end result that a business wants. Marketing must complete this (often non-linear) path. For instance, where Travelocity failed was just creating some cool awareness campaign without thinking how each customer engagement would get the individual to complete an end-goal.

    C. If we do want to work with your analogy…I don’t think companies every truly get a ring from their customers. Companies must constantly woo a customer, engage them, build new relationships with them. If a company thinks they’ve finally walked their customers down the aisle in matrimony, they’ll be real surprised how fast divorce is in their picture.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment, but I do believe that engagement is a vital metric for marketing and that it can be built more effectively. Just a different point of view.

    • 4


      Great feedback and good conversation. Within your feedback, I would challenge the notion that any of these events actually ‘lead’ to a monetary relationship. Show me a single company’s sales funnel that provides evidence that the primary means of getting people to buy from your business begins with them commenting on your blog… or that there’s a relationship between the number of followers that you have and your overall marketing budget.

      I guess my frustration lies in the fact that people believe that this is becoming some kind of pseudo performance indicator for businesses. As a marketer, I need to provide EVIDENCE and analytical data that shows a cause and effect relationship between these things and the actual purchase. To date, I think it’s b.s.

      With much respect!

  3. 5

    Doug, this is a great analogy, and I agree ‘engagement’ is overused and worn out. Ultimately marketers need to focus on what drives business and brings in people serious about giving up their money for your products and services. -Michael

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