Businesses Need More than Engagement

Get new articles sent to you. 

I call it Corporate Small Talk.

It works like this. Some nameless marketing exec tells her staff that she wants to boost engagement.

The staff, after some quick research, discovers that @mentions, comments, and retweets count as engagement. Excited, the team fires up Hootsuite and starts sending out a litany of tweets and Facebook updates.

The goal is to get a reaction. Since this is Corporate Small Talk the monologue is sanitized and forgettable.

  • What’s your plans for the weekend?
  • What do you think of our holiday decorations?
  • What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Professional Twitter and Facebook dwellers nibble on the hook, registering a like or @mention. Roving social media monitoring tools suck up the datum and spit it out in fancy reports.

Thirty-days later, the team shows off their performance. Mission accomplished. Engagement has been created and delivered.

Sales? Opt-ins? Leads?

Not so much.

Do we really want small talk inspired engagement or something more?

I’ve been challenged recently to focus on the non-social media crowd. It was pointed out that it’s easy to prescribe solutions for the social paparazzi. Afterall, these folks spend their life in the space so it’s easy for them to carry out my lofty dictums.

Fair point.

When I thought of applying engagement to the local dry cleaner and cake maker – I quickly realized that something was missing.

What was it?


The cake maker doesn’t have time to banter on Twitter, he needs to be baking and selling cakes.

The local dry cleaner doesn’t have time to post photos on Facebook, he’s worried about servicing the new office building down the street.

The CMO for the ballpoint pen spring manufacturer will never line-item Google+ on her  time sheet.

These folks can’t engage. They don’t have the time or inclination. Engagement is a dog that just won’t hunt.

If they are going to take the time to do anything it needs to relate directly to profits.  They are willing to be patient but every action should lead to clear revenue-focused benefits.

What Social Business is Really About

I’ve helped hundreds of business owners get their head wrapped around social media and online marketing. I’ve sat with them as they tried to decide how to split up their marketing budget in a way that delivers the most results at the least cost.

Every single one of these professionals want to know one thing…

What are their buyers thinking?

That’s right. They want me to come into their office with a Magic Eight Ball – shake it and show them how a customer will respond to a new feature, benefit, or value proposition.

They want to know how they can get their prospects to articulate their needs.

They crave feedback because traditional marketing tools like focus groups have let them down.

I just recently put my finger on what they want from their marketing communications – RESONANCE.

It takes Two to Resonate

Engagement is about banter. I can engage with anything if I get a response. The quality really doesn’t matter.

Resonance is completely about quality.

Two notes either can clash our harmonize. Two colors can either oppose or complement.

A brand and prospect can “get” each other or clash. The social media practitioner that relies on engagement is missing the point. The real pros seek to use social media to match a brand’s vision with a customer’s desire. Once that happens, you have resonance.

Not Semantics

This isn’t word substitution. This is a mindset transplant. Resonators get up close and personal with customers. They spend an inordinate amount of time listening and questioning. They start with customer service. They ask why a customer picked one product over another. They hang out at digital water coolers and take notes.

Once they understand the customer, they look for better ways to communicate the brand. Surprisingly they may not choose social media. They may decide to do a print ad. Apple did. They may decide that a wrist band makes more sense like the Live Strong organization.

Other times, the resonator may choose a social platform. Most often they select the spot that can communicate the most meaning to the largest share of their audience. Their research points the way, their instinct for meaningful communications inspires them to create content that matters.


So the Coffee Shop owner films his ritual of roasting beans and puts the video on YouTube. Not to engage, but to show that he “gets” what it means to have the perfect cup of coffee.

That dry cleaner publishes a list of time-saving personal hygiene tips on Google+. Not because he particularly likes Google+, but because he knows that his high-tech clientele keeps talking about it on their company twitter streams.

The cake makers makes sure she gets a picture of the birthday girl with her cake because she knows that parents can’t resist tagging the photos on Facebook.

Resonators don’t consider themselves social media experts. They take pride in knowing their audience better than their audience knows themselves.

These folks aren’t engaging. They are resonating.

Time to rethink. Engagement just won’t cut it anymore.

Image Credit: eurok

About Stan

Stan Smith is the Managing Director of Pushing Social a content marketing consultancy for aggressive, results-focused organizations.

10 thoughts on “Businesses Need More than Engagement

  1. VinceSkolny

    Hi, Stanford. When I consulted with small businesses on marketing (before the social media boom), I called what you described here the Marketing Perspective, the ability to see the world through your customer’s eyes and speak to that world in marketing. This is the first time I’ve seen anyone apply it to social media beyond the vagueries of engagement and value. It resonates with me. 8)

    It also occurs to me that the Marketing Perspective is harder to find and maintain in the new media because:

    1. While it’s always tempting to talk about ourselves, social media encourages it; and,

    2. The point you raised: Engagement defined as response-getting is easy and not being ignored feels like success. I think that’s compounded by social media being “free” (no dollar investment) and which leads to companies ignoring conversion rates; but,

    3. As you also discussed: Small businesses with an eye to revenue do recognize the time investment of social media and its opportunity costs of revenue-producing activities. And unlike traditional marketing, social media doesn’t feel like a necessity, so small businesses tend to ignore it.

    You’ve given them a profitable alternative and begun what is going to become an important discussion. Just as the Marketing Perspective could break through the clutter of traditional marketing noise, resonating will be the tool to cut through the growing noise of engagement.

    Thank you for this great stuff. You’ve earned a twitter follower.

  2. Stanford

    @jennwhinnem Jenn YOU are the star. Excited to see you hanging around. My wife is vetoing the Resonator superhero stuff – she says my head is already too big :D

  3. SallyE

    Hi Stanford,

    It’s sooo time that this point was made. Bravo! We can work all day at engagement, but not accomplish a darn thing until we match the media to our market. I’ve “talked” to many “friends” on FaceBook about the weather, the town’s activities, the holiday plans, but none really did the job until I understood that my market was not using social media. That was what I was trying to teach them, so, duh, they weren’t there yet. Thank you for the nudge into reality. And you do it so well. Keep it up, please!

  4. ShakirahDawud

    Shooting the breeze is fun, and I won’t knock it at all. When it comes to capturing a customer, though, it’s engaging to ask what weekend plans are and business-smart to use weekend plans to create a link between you and the customer. Like @jennwhinnem I appreciate positive reactions. But I like it even better when I can build a business relationship with no question that it’s a business relationship.

  5. jennwhinnem

    Stanford – standing ovation for you. Thanks so much for thinking about what I wrote and writing this. This is fantastic.

    I “like” some pages on Facebook that do stuff like this. What are your plans this weekend? So what about that #epicfail on American Idol last night? and I think, what does that have to do with you selling me your tool for making Facebook landing pages? Help me see the connection. Oh wait, there is none, you just really want some “likes” to show your manager.

    On the other hand, believe me, I get it. Sometimes social media can get awfully lonely when you’re not doing it for the social media crowd. Every time I get a comment on my organization’s blog, I cheer! I’m happy to say that after six months I’m cheering more and more, but dang,, it is hard work. I got very little interaction on Facebook and was discouraged…but then someone pointed out I should look at our referring sites. Well, quite a few people come to our blog via Facebook. So I’d say Facebook is a valuable activity, wouldn’t you?

    Back to this post – I really like the ideas – those resonated with me, Stanford! You are a resonator. Or The Resonator. Someone needs to photoshop you into a superhero, quick.

  6. Stanford Post author

    I agree with you. We forgot to push for quality and relevance or just didn’t shout loud enough.

  7. alisonmacleod

    Great post. I think the original deep concept behind engagement (interested listening & involvement) has been eroded to the point where it gets meaningless.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes