Monday, 26 October 2015

What does ‘engagement’ actually mean then?

Clichés like ‘engagement’ have lost their meaning. Avoiding them helps you think about what you’re really trying to say.

On the surface, buzzwords are harmless ways of easily describing an idea or its purpose. ‘Storytelling’, ‘Stakeholder’, ‘Engagement’… seemingly, these are words right for every occasion. But that’s exactly why they aren’t. Let me explain.

Vague never ages
It recently occurred to me that some words in the average teenager’s vocabulary are uncannily durable. Take ‘cool’. It’s been around for decades, yet it’s still the go-to choice for indicating anything intangibly positive. What mystical quality gives it such staying power? Perhaps the answer is indeed in its very intangibleness. It’s endured simply because it doesn’t denote anything too strongly.

Engagement is the cool of the corporate world. And not in a good way. A sort of slippery, catch-all, umbrella term, it’s used to denote anything vaguely positive without committing the speaker to any exposition of its form, nature or degree. As a bonus, it provides an easy escape from scrutiny.

Creatives creatively creating the creative
You see, engagement is the king of marketing buzzwords because it’s actually managed to end up meaning the process and the goal. Honestly. Look:

Digital agencies now say things like, ‘we drive engagement between your audience and your brand.”  

-       Then they’ll say things like, ‘The content campaign was an unprecedented success with over 20,000 engaged consumers.”

Channel your inner sleuth
That’s the thing with buzzwords: they’re like the anti-iceberg. There’s usually not much going on below the surface. That’s why, whenever the ‘engagement’ klaxon sounds, you need to turn detective. Interrogate the statement and try to unearth the substance, the grit and all that lovely differentiating detail.

So, first question: 
Agencies ‘drive engagement’ – HOW?
Do they specialise in content that’s so perfectly calibrated to its target audience it simply has to be shared? Do they deliver surprising experiential campaigns that alter people’s perceptions of the brand?

It’s all about the detail. Falling back on safe terms like engagement robs the reader of any potential insight into the thinking, processes and expertise that underpin your offering. It also masks any valuable differentiation – and that’s the last thing you want in an ‘About’ section.

Second question:
Agencies achieve engagement – WHY?
Do you have evidence that an increase in Twitter mentions leads to an increase in visits to the company website? Is there a direct correlation between Facebook likes and sales?

No-one sends postcards from the plane
"We've engaged an audience of millions"
There is a danger that engagement can become the ultimate vanity metric: pointless figures only really important to your social media department. Again, the key is in the detail. What tangible results did the campaign actually achieve? Put simply, engagement should be the journey – not the end result.

Say what you mean; mean what you say
Effective communication conveys ideas as completely as possible through accurate and precise descriptions. Catch-all buzzwords like ‘engagement’ are the antithesis of this. By lazily resorting to them, we fail to communicate anything worthwhile. In fact, the only thing we do communicate is our inability (or unwillingness) to properly explicate the thing we’re talking about. And that’s far from engaging.

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