Engagement is the holy grail of content marketing. But it may not always be what we think.
I remember hearing an influencer say that her “metric” when writing posts was that she wanted someone to comment and say:
If she got a comment like that (or more than one) she knew she’d done her job.
She measured her success by engagement — but not just any old engagement, not just views or likes, but an expression from someone that she had touched them, that she’d touched a nerve, that she’d touched something true and profound for them. Deep engagement, not surface engagement.
But that’s hard to do.
So people look for any shortcut to boost engagement. They check the easier stats like views and likes to convince themselves that they’re getting engagement. Or they try to hack the system to get more engagement.
I saw this just this morning on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn has started recommending that you “try mentioning someone in a comment” to get more views on your posts.
And, inevitably, this morning I got a notification that I had been mentioned in a post — from someone I don’t know and have never had a conversation with. Turned out he had tagged dozens of people in the post, vaguely asking “what do you think of this?” to try to legitimize it.
Best case scenario, some of those people tagged will be flattered to be asked for their views on his post; most (like me) will probably see through it as a cheap trick to boost “engagement” on his post.
But this isn’t engagement. This is algorithm hacking.
He got my “view” because I clicked through to see why I was tagged, but now I feel kinda used. It certainly doesn’t endear me to him or his brand.
(My prediction is that these “suggestions” from LinkedIn will disappear as more people start trying to take advantage of this and tag a bajillion people in every post.)
But even when we create content that legitimately gets a lot of engagement, we have to ask ourselves: is it the right kind of engagement?
Engagement alone may be the wrong metric
A year or two ago, I saw an article that discussed how Facebook had prioritized “engagement” in its algorithm. The posts that got the most likes, the most comments, the most shares would be shown organically to more people. The idea was that these metrics indicated that this was the “best” content and most likely to engage more people (thereby keeping them on Facebook — which is Facebook’s biggest and only concern).
The actual result, however, was that the posts that got the most engagement — and then were promoted by the algorithm to show more people — were the most divisive, the most inflammatory, the most angry posts on the platform. They were conspiracy theories and truly made up fake news stories.
I hardly think Facebook intended to amplify the most divisive and explosive content on their platform, but by prioritizing “engagement” that’s exactly what they were doing.
And, while it may not be as dramatic, if you prioritize “engagement” without qualifying what that means, you may find you get similar results…
Why we shouldn’t prioritize “engagement” over all else
I have a post on LinkedIn right now that has gone “micro” viral (aka: viral for me).
Nearly 600 views and two dozen comments this morning, it’s by far my best performing post on LinkedIn. But it’s just a silly meme:
It’s driving a lot of engagement, but is it actually going to drive my business forward?
At least this one is about content marketing. Many of my best performing posts aren’t:
See that post that has MASSIVE engagement compared to the others? It’s a funny meme about Coronavirus. It has nothing to do with my business.
My most engaging post of all time? Was a meme about cheese that went viral and reached 80,000+ people.
Here’s the thing: If I were only focused on “engagement” by the numbers, these would be the types of posts I want to share all the time, right? Just find and share those funny memes and watch my engagement soar!
But it’s hard to say if that’s actually supporting my business.
Is someone who follows me for funny memes my ideal customer? Are they likely to move from laughing at my posts to paying me money? Feels unlikely to me…
There is some value in these kinds of posts, which is why I continue to share them. They build my brand, give it personality (and maybe prime the algorithm to show the rest of my content more frequently…). But they aren’t my money makers.
I follow someone who teaches people how to make content that will go viral. It’s a legitimate skill that I admire and want to learn more about — but I find myself often questioning how it supports the average business. I can see niches where it makes sense: you sell physical products, or maybe you’re a yoga teacher, or even a coach of some kind? Going viral in your niche could be hugely beneficial.
But for my niche and many others, it seems harder to connect the dots from A to Z.
True engagement is harder to see
To be clear, there’s nothing WRONG with likes and comments — and there’s nothing wrong with wanting more of them. I am delighted when something I post gets a lot of likes, shares and comments.
(I am, naturally, more delighted when it’s something I wrote rather than a meme I’ve shared, but I get pleasure from both!)
But I try to spend more of my energy figuring out how to create content that will get people to say the proverbial “👆THIS! 👆” rather than just clicking the like button.
And what’s amazing — and becoming more and more apparent to me — is that engagement may be invisible.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve had example after example of people who engaged with my content, and it moved them deeply, but they never liked, shared, or commented.
I’ve had someone say he read my book — and waited THREE YEARS until he was ready to work with me. Now he’s a client.
I had someone tell me that after seeing how I helped one of her coaching clients launch, she swore she would never launch without me again. But she only told me that after becoming a client.
I made a sort of “woe is me” post in my group about getting “crickets” on most of my Content Consistency Challenge posts — and three people commented to tell me how much they were getting out of it (but they hadn’t “engaged” with any of the previous 17 or 18 posts!).
So while engagement is a great metric to prioritize when it comes to content, it isn’t always as easy as how many likes, comments or shares you get.
Sometimes engagement is happening where you can’t even see it.
Sometimes you won’t know that you wrote something engaging until months or years later.
Sometimes you may never know.
But what you will know, what you will be able to tell, is that when your content is useful, emotional, powerful, moving, thought provoking you will get the kind of engagement that may not go viral, but moves mountains for people nonetheless.
Prioritize that kind of engagement, and you can’t lose.