Stop Chasing Engagement

It’s time to have a little chat about the state of social media and its content. We, as an industry, have let likes and RTs define our reputation as digital savants. We’ve become so codependent on algorithms that when one thing changes, we go up in arms.

We, as an industry, have let likes and RTs define our reputation as digital savants. We’ve become so codependent on algorithms that when one thing changes, we go up in arms. Whatever happened to creating content for the sake of the art, not the sale?*

Brands have begun looking for social media solutions at the lowest possible cost. Agencies, in turn, have begun cutting their costs (or strategic value) to accommodate tighter constraints. When costs are cut, quality is sacrificed. When budgets are tight, performance is mismeasured. Even when budgets thrive, teams are so often focused only on generating buzz that they lose sight of the work. Where is this getting us in the long run?

Good content makes people feel good. Smart. Funny. Empowered. Inspired. Good content educates audiences, evokes emotion, and builds relationships. Adding social into the mix should be like a meal where you pair a great ingredient with a nice wine: the ingredients each get to shine in their own light, but they also support each other. Neither dominate nor steal the show.

Want to know a secret? Not everything you do needs to translate into social. Or can. Or should. If your store still generates more foot traffic through an awareness-building email campaign, keep sending emails. Your social channels can play supporting roles, but don’t need the spotlight. Long-form storytelling, for example, isn’t meant for Twitter. Let the work guide you; don’t try to force the work.

Yes, it’s now 2014 and yes, you should be actively participating in the social media world, but do so intelligently. Engagement metrics can measure the health of your content (and to an extent, your brand sentiment), but they can’t tell you about purchase intent, no matter how strongly you want them to.** An impression just means someone saw something; it doesn’t mean your brand actually made one.

Think about the physical world, and how people encounter your brand away from their devices. Make their experiences memorable. Valuable. Important. Use the conversational functionality of social media to your advantage, not your detriment. Make it a two-way channel. Save talking at your consumers for your TV and print ads.

Engagement is blinding us. It’s stifling our creativity. It’s ruining our strategies. It is our responsibility, as the professionals our clients hired, to do the job to its best ability. To present smart ideas, publish smart content, and follow sound strategies. We know that people are sick of seeing our ads in their feeds. When we need to run a campaign, let’s make it count. Let’s give people something to think about. Save the bland, plain marketing messages for content emergencies. Put some heart back into the work.

*The best content typically influences a sale, anyway, but maintains its integrity.
**Posts driving to purchase links and fancy things with tracking pixels are exempt here.