On the surface, engagement in social media is relatively simplistic. Members of the social network “like” posts, comment on them, or share them. Or users create their own posts about brands or upload images containing branded products, which are posted to their own social profile or on that of the brand. Members can also choose to further engage brands by “Liking” them on Facebook, which transforms them into a fan of the brand or they can follow the brand on Twitter (on Google+ fans put brands into their circles). Taking these actions spreads the firm’s message to other members networked to the engaged user, thus amplifying the message. Engagement also acts as tacit endorsement of the brand message that functions similarly to product placement in film and television. Wharton calls this earned messaging or earned marketing. But, engagement goes beyond these simple actions.
Engagement in social media must build and sustain a relationship looking more like a real friendship; one that conforms to societal notions of friendship including self-disclosure, expressiveness rather than instrumentality, regular interaction, and reciprocity . Engagement, then, must be authentic, looking more like a conversation between friends than a commercial message. Otherwise engagement in social media becomes a “polite way of talking about audience, consumer demographics, and segmentation while seeming sensitive to Internet users, the culture, and their community”.
By the same token, engagement in social media is much more than technology, although effective engagement requires an understanding of the technology underpinning social media. Understanding how messages travel through specific social media platforms, for instance, is critical for message sharing. Expertise in creating engagement tools, such as sharing buttons on blogs and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds is also required. While tools and technologies enable engagement, message content creates engagement.
Engagement marketing involves more than understanding computer and mobile technologies, apps, software, and computer language, just as traditional advertising is more than simply visual technology, music, video creation, and printing. Engagement marketing is not merely a simple combination of traditional advertising and public relations, with elements of customer service thrown in, as suggested by Richard Branson and the Virgin Group. Engagement in social media is a distinctly different type of communication supporting true relationships and requiring an approach with deep consumer understanding, support, and value extending beyond the exchange of commercial communication. Engagement in social media looks more like a commercial friendships, using authenticity, transparency, empathy, and celebrating the value of the network, not the firm.
But, engagement in social media can’t stop at creating a friendship with your network. You must exert subtle effort to get your target market to do what you need them to do — buy your brand. I interviewed some folks on Google+ and one of them stated this very well:
Like you said, engagement is a tricky definition to understand. I think each person has their own interpretation of the word. Some may feel it is an interaction between two people, a company and consumer, etc. I think social media engagement goes far beyond the comments back and forth. Yes, dialogue between two people or companies, or a combination of the two is necessary to properly engage one another, [but] I think engagement in social media has more to do with what is being done to entice a decision. Buy, or not to buy. Sign up, or don’t sign up. I would have to say engagement in social media is the formation of a relationship with the intent to make a decision or form an opinion.