Good Engagement? Bad Engagement? Time to Check Your Cholesterol!

My post on engagement from a few weeks ago, The Myth of Social Media Engagement in the Public Service, generated a healthy debate on the nature and inherent value of engagement in the public sector. Some interpreted my post as saying that I held little or no value in engagement for the public sector. This is not the case and I felt the need to clarify this and saw this as an opportunity to dive deeper into the nature of engagement.

Engagement to me is any type of interaction initiated with you that emanates from your audience. This can be as simple as a “like” or as complex as a series of detailed comments, retweets, mentions, MTs, trackbacks, mentions, DMs, pins, favorites, etc, etc, etc!

If you read the article, you will know I likened engagement to cholesterol, with a good kind and a bad kind.

Good engagement: any interaction (positive or negative) that is on topic and justified.

So a good comment regarding one of your programs is good engagement but so is a criticism of said program. I.E. you posted something about program A and got feedback on program A

Bad engagement: any interaction that is unrelated to your content or that seeks to sidestep your content to make a different point or simply to cause harm to your organization’s reputation (trolling). I.E. you posted something about carrier wave regulations and got a comment on how cellular waves are making men sterile; OR you got a response asking why you are wasting taxpayer money on this instead of protecting the New Zealand Kakapo from going extinct!.

Bad engagement can hurt your brand, can hurt your credibility online, and can in some cases destroy years of hard work building up your presence on social media.

In The Myth of Social Media Engagement in the Public Service, I professed that if good cholesterol is the result of healthy eating habits, then good engagement was the result of good social media habits. I also railed against attempts at manufactured engagement which is sadly the way that more and more brands seem to be taking, often with disastrous results.

Point in case the NYPD’s recent Twitter campaign fiasco. In April of this year, the NYPD’s Twitter account, @NYPDNews, asked New Yorkers to “tag themselves” in photos with New York Police officers using the hashtag #myNYPD. Before midnight, more than 70,000 tweets containing photos or stories of police brutality flooded the Twittersphere. (You would think they would have learned from McDonalds #McDStories disaster of 2012!)

So why was it such a #fail? 3 reasons:

  • It was an obvious PR campaign attempting to paint the NYPD in a better light.

  • It was contrived and self serving.

  • It added no value to the public.

So forget trying to manufacture content with vapid questions that will serve no purpose other than making you look good. Only ask questions of your followers if you are genuinely looking for constructive (note i didn’t say positive) feedback from your them.

One last thing, consider the following: According to a recent study conducted by Forrester Research, the vast majority of people (about 70%) act more like spectators on social sites, preferring to simply consume information posted by others rather than actually join in the conversation. (It used to be more around 90% so we are making progress).

Many factors contribute to whether or not your audience will engage with you: age, ethnicity, nationality, occupation, and many more. You need to really know your target audience’s social media habits and their needs before you even consider putting down engagement as a key metric.

For me it boils down to this: If you only consider engagement as a measure of success, you are in effect saying that 70% of your followers hold no value for you!

So, for the record, my point is this: There is still value in reaching your audience with a message even if they choose not to engage with you!

Alain Lemay is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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