Engagement: the buzzword blinkering your vision

We hear it being optimised, deepened, broadened and measured, but is ‘engagement’ really a metric we can rely on to measure success?

By Mark Wilson, Founder Partner, Wilson Fletcher

I seem to have been a broken record over the last few months, suggesting to some of our clients that they ban the use of certain words in describing their aims, objectives or purpose. Enter, the offender of the moment: engagement.

It lives in a category of buzzwords I’d describe as a bucket. Bucket words sound important but lack specificity, often deliberately. At worst, they’re used to justify or mask poor decisions.

How many times has ‘increased engagement’ been used as commercial rationale? How often has ‘driving up engagement’ been used as a strategic objective? Engagement is apparently optimised, deepened, broadened and measured all the time these days. But used in isolation, without context, it means nothing.

A curious thing happens when you ban people from using the word engagement. Activity starts to be described in more specific and meaningful terms — usually against which decisions can be assessed and performance can be tracked.

Instead of talk of ‘driving up audience engagement’, we’ve been encouraging clients to discuss ‘increased article views’, ‘completion of more video tutorials’ or ‘increased product searches’. Objectives have become, well, more objective.

Move on a step and add some constraints and things get better still: ‘increase average product searches per person from 3 to 5’. That’s something you can measure and track progress against. ‘Increasing engagement by 66%’ is not, until you define what engagement means.

Setting a purpose like ‘drive up engagement with our brand’ might lead to some positive effects, but it’s pretty hard to argue that something does or does not drive up engagement, so almost anything goes. Make that purpose ‘drive target buyers to our product pages’ and you have both a specific objective and a measurable one.

More importantly, removing bucket terms forces you to examine and measure functional purpose more rigorously. Engagement is not guaranteed to be a good thing. It can lead to masked inefficiencies and wasted resources. Being specific may make the difference between being able to afford that activity or not, because ‘engagement’ costs money — whether that’s the cost of team resources or the cost of delivery.

So my advice is try it. Make a conscious decision to avoid bucket buzzwords like ‘engagement’ and challenge yourself to articulate purpose and objectives with more specific language. We’ve seen first-hand how much more effectively focused people’s thinking and actions become.

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