You're Connected, But Are You Engaging?

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If someone is following you, does that mean that they are engaged in who you are and what you’re about?

If you take a look in places like your Twitter feed or your newsfeed in Facebook, it becomes abundantly clear that many people feel that they have a right to shill, promote, and push their wares just because they are "connected" to you. Being connected has become a commodity. It’s cheap. It’s easy, and it’s loosing much of it’s power and intention. In a day and age where following, friending, or subscribing to anyone about anything is nothing more than a simple click away, there needs to be some time, effort, and thought put against the idea that being connected is basic and primal. It’s the next part that is increasingly difficult to attain: a level of engagement with an audience, community, or whatever you want to call whomever has agreed to follow or friend you. That is a whole other ballgame.

Clicks are cheap… and so is friending and following somebody.

People make the assumption that just because they’re following you, they’re engaged with you, what you’re about and what you would like them to do (for you)…and that’s a misnomer. Think about Twitter: you may have 12,000 followers but if you’re posting and the majority of your followers happen to not be connected on Twitter at that specific moment in time, your real engagement level with that community is probably only a very small percentage of the actual whole number of your followers. People like to say they have X amount of friends and X amount of followers in their bio or in public, but how many of those friends and followers are really engaged? How many of them are you really "connected" to and able to not only maintain a healthy relationship with, but actually consider them a worthy community member? (it would be interesting to see how many people using Twitter even know all of the people who they are following, and how deep that knowledge level flows?).

Being connected and being engaged are two totally different worlds.

When people talk about Social Media ROI or business objectives, they mostly seem tied to very traditional mass media measurement models. They’re not ever really looking to see how deep the rabbit hole actually goes. Who cares how many people you are connected to? The real measurement is: how engaged in your content and context is your living community? Sure, you can see this as another twist on the "quality vs. quantity" conversation, but it’s not so elementary. What we’re really looking for is a new paradigm that completely removes the raw numbers and instead focuses on a true level of engagement.

Because with engagement comes loyalty and action, and there’s nothing more important than that to Marketers in 2010.

The above Blog post is an extension to one of the questions Stewart Quealy from ClickZ asked me in the recently published article/interview, Mitch Joel on Human Interconnectedness (March 29th, 2010).


  1. As point of total irony; I came here from reading CC Chapman’s rant about the 5000-connection limit on Facebook. (It’s – – there)
    So much thrashing comes with looking at engagement. How do we measure it? How to we report it? When is a low-value Facebook placeholder page worth considering a real tributary into the river of PR?
    I’d love to say that the doing needs to be part of the measurement. If you have someone set up a Facebook page, and eight hours later they’re still tweaking – that’s a wasted work day. But if the work expands to fill all time available, whether it’s through tracking, response, research, you name it… It’s a lot harder to measure all of that, but does the lack of measurement mean the work is worth less?
    Quality, quantity – that’s maleable. But if someone’s doing something, and cataloging thoroughly, analysis can be done later.
    Or am I off the mark?

  2. It’s an interesting topic no doubt. I think that the thing the bothers me is that humans are finite beings. , in the Tipping Point Malcome Gladwell articulated the 150 rule, where typically humans can only relate to meaningfully with about 150 people at a time. I tend to agree with the concept. Not because I think people can’t have more than 150 meaningful relationships, but I think that we all have a finite number of real meaningful or engaged relationships at any given time.
    As you mention becoming connected is now a commodity. The challenge is once your connected how do you show that value or quality? I think that it’s difficult to scale that out to a lot of people. What it means to me is that some people who start out on services like twitter to try to be more personable just end up becoming broadcasters in the twitter medium.
    As an example I met a well-known actor because they decided to have a tweetup. While you might say that’s engaging, even when I met him, we were able to only say hello and shake hands. In the past to get the same opportunity I may have to go to a convention or some sort of media event, but really the end result was the same. I wasn’t able to actually create a meaningful engaging relationship. It would be no more appropriate to pitch my zany idea for a script at that event than it would in any other unsolicited context.
    That being said I greatly respect the particular actor, and I usually take some value from what he has to say, but I don’t feel like I’m engaged with the individual or that it is a meaningful exchange at a personal level. He just has a more personalized broadcasting channel that allows him to talk directly to people who are interested in what he has to say.
    I experience the same challenge with Face Book, LinkedIn and other social tools. While I have 300+ contacts or friends, I can only devote effort to engage to a select number of individuals. The rest will sometimes come up with an interesting request or comment, but for the most part it’s just noise that I tend to ignore.

  3. I read what you wrote and I have a “hanging” sensation. What is it that you are getting at? I understand completely that connected is different than engaged…and most companies are moving towards “outcome” measurements rather than simple “output” measurements to prove their worth and understand their business better.
    In the case of your post above, I would say the real measurement is: What are the indicators that those connected to you are also engaged in your content and context. The two mentioned are loyalty and action. Would the response level to your blogs indicate engagement? Once again though, this would involved numbers…measurement. Albeit, numbers that are more meaningful than those indicating simply the number of followers or the number of friends….your connections.
    What would the paradigm that completely removes the raw numbers and focuses on a true level of engagement look like? I would need some of the vagueness removed from the phrase “true level of engagement” so that I could see a benchmark for that “level”. Digging deeper into what you are hoping to achieve may give the answer to the process/analysis required.

  4. There are people on Twitter who call themselves all kinds fancy names, and who promise to show the world how to engage. A shockingly high percentage of them never respond, either to an @ reply or to a DM. There are some other folks, with tens of thousands of followers who not only respond when contacted, but also sometimes reach out to others unsolicited.
    Either way is fine for me really, I have fairly low expectations for the rate of return on my investment of time. But somehow, I think that the former example of a Twitter user wouldn’t be someone who was all that approachable in real life while the latter would be. People are people after all.
    There’s nothing all that magical about the media per se. Making friends takes time, it takes commitment and in many cases, relationships that start out as superficial with infrequent contact develop eventually into the most meaningful and long-lasting ones.
    In any case, it sure beats playing Free Cell all day long.

  5. Hello Mitch. I totally agree: a mere connection (following, befriending) doesn’t at all mean engagement, but yes, it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be misused. Engagement takes lots of effort in terms of one-one interaction, and it is often not possible if you are being followed by thousands of people. You can use your connections to create an identity though, without spamming people’s timelines. You don’t always have to respond to individual postings, but you should whenever you can.
    Whereas you can have thousands of followers and fans and friends in very little time, engagement takes its own time, but that’s the real matter of social media, the crux/

  6. Having a large number of friends and followers who aren’t interested in your message is no proper metric of feedback or measure of success. The people that matter are the ones who are engaging. The people who carry the torch or spark the conversation themselves. And sometimes I believe having too large an audience discourages those types of people from contributing.
    As Clive Thompson stated best in a recent Wired article: “Maybe we should be designing tools that reward obscurity — that encourage us to remain in the shadows. Or what if they warned us when our social circles became unsustainably large? Sure, we’d be connected with fewer people, but we’d be communicating with them, and not just talking at them.”
    Great supplementary read for this conversation:

  7. The traditional sales funnel is a numbers game, and that is the angle at which most business-minded people come at social media. They see having more connections as the top end of their funnel. And, they hope they convert some percentage of the people into business.
    Of course, the flipping-the-funnel approach is the exact opposite. That approach is about engaging your existing customers and that you will grow out your business that way.
    And like most things in life, the answer is probably somewhere in between. Somewhere inbetween the traditional approach of making lots of connections with people we don’t know AND engaging your existing customers in meaningful dialogue.
    What is the right balance between the two approaches? It probably varies for every person and every organization.
    No answers in this comment … still tyring to understand the balance myself.

  8. I am so pleased when I find someone of likemindedness… I know, a bad made-up word but that’s what came out. I love what you say in your book (6 Pixels) so I’m not surprised to end up reading your blog posts with interest – this one though – takes the biscuit.
    Mitch – you’ve nailed it. Absolutely nailed it my friend. I often rant now and then about the whole ‘numbers’ game and often say (mostly about Twitter), that I don’t “Get It” when people ‘Follow’ 10s or 100s of thousands of people – how the heck can anyone maintain that number of relationships, connections and conversations – the simple answer is that they can’t.
    You manage to add flair and writing ability that totally eludes me – I’m no wordsmith and certainly not the most eloquent talker – I just say it like I see it. So – without further ado I just want to thank you for being real and for not being just another superstar-blogger!
    You connect. And I, and I’m sure many others, appreciate that!
    Oh yes – let me leave you with a blatant self-plug, I wrote a litte dig at Twitter on my blog which can be found at
    You might enjoy it. You might not. All the best.

  9. I greatly respect whatever Malcolm says. However, I think that in the social world engagement is not always about one to one. It can be group to group or it can be through a trickle around effect. The best example for me is a large group that I am involved with in person has about 400 people. Of course, I don’t know everyone personally but of the maybe 100 people that I regularly talk to I find out enough about the other 300 people that I can really hold a conversation with them if I should bump into them somewhere. That happens because we are all sharing the same information pool. so I may not hear from someone personally telling me what they are about or doing at any given moment but I usually do still get information about them. In other words, let’s say I’m good friends with Tammy. We talk all the time and we do things together. I listen to Tammy tell me about what she is doing with Gwen, her good friend. I tell Tammy about Linda and so on it goes. Now all of us know each other to some degree because we belong to the same very engaged group. So when Tammy tells me about Gwen it’s not just noise. It seems to work that way online in my groups as well. I’m talking to enough people to have a good idea of what is going on with others who I don’t even get to talk to as often.
    Does that make sense to you?

  10. I get what you’re saying but I think that the mechanism you’re describing is a bit different than what I was getting at in my response.
    A group by definition is a collection of people with a common interest or goal. So it’s natural for you to be able to have a sense of connection with the people in the group since you have aligning interests, have attended the same events, and most likely have people in common within the group.
    If we break it down further using the same ideas Mitch articulates in his post, the group as an organization is the commoditization of connecting, and the engaging between members of the group still remains an individual effort.
    I would hypothesize that in your group of 400 there are many who don’t engage nearly as much as you or the people in the group you know best. While I don’t doubt that it’s possible to learn a lot about the other people in the group I see it as being very difficult to engage and be invested in all 400 people.
    As a member of a global group of about 4000 people I can have very interesting conversations, and an almost innate sense that I “know” them, but really all I really know is that we share the same passion for a particular technology, and that we can have an actionable conversation based on that technology. In the end I know very little about that person in a meaningful way, and I doubt very much that beyond disseminating some very specific information that they won’t really be all the interested in my current employment status, or other issues in my life. I feel that to be truly engaged with someone we need to willing to invest ourselves in their accomplishments their failures and their life in general.
    I guess my issue is that I just don’t buy into the idea that you can scale out engagement in a truly meaningful way. Certainly it’s possible to distil the essence of a personal engagement, package it, and then use that to create the illusion of meaningful connection. Even the most personal people I have met are just very good at making you feel like you have connected personally, which works great the first time you meet them, but really changes your perception the second time you meet them and realize it’s a well-executed script. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, some people are in just too much demand to be able to devote resources to truly engaging with everybody)

  11. The difference between community and engagement is vast. Twitter is the perfect example. I have a friend on Twitter who has over a million followers and she’s convinced the majority are bots or those Twitter-newbies who get on and then leave. Her level of engagement with her “community” is about the same as mine – and I have 23,000 followers. And my level of engagement with these people is about the same as I had before I was put on a Twitter Suggested User List (at which time I had about 10,000 followers). Yes, I have engaged and met with some people since I was added to the list, but for the most part, my level of engagement with this community (and vice versa) has remained relatively the same. it could be said that I don’t care to engage with any more people – I have enough (and, interestingly, I really only engage with people on two or three lists I have and not with the community at large). Engagement is the big thing, not community, but marketers and PR types still want to see the “big numbers” because that’s what their bosses understand. We’re still hearing about ROI and not about ROE. I fear that ROC will be just another impossible to measure metric that executives will ignore while being pitched something they don’t quite get.

  12. Mitch,
    I absolutely agree with you. All too often I hear from people, “I have so many friends/followers/connections in my network”. It’s as if that gives them bragging rights based on sheer numbers. They miss the whole point that it’s what’s going on with those numbers (connections) that make the difference.
    Similarly some some of our clients looked at their site traffic in a similar way – “I get X amount of clicks per day” or worse yet, “I rank #1 for xyz keyword”. Like you’d probably say – so what?! And that’s what we tell them (in a more polite way of course). Traffic or connections mean nothing if your bounce rate is high or if no one is paying attention to you.
    I think that part of the problem is that initially people are generally impressed by numbers but don’t stop to consider what the numbers really mean. Both a large audience in social media and a large volume of traffic on a site present huge opportunities, but focusing exclusively on volume is simply a wasted opportunity.
    I guess it’s also easier to measure quantity than it is to measure quality which may help explain the nearsightedness you describe. That said it’s easy to know if you’re getting quality if you’re paying attention to the real results. Which means someone has to be on top of this – it’s not enough to acquire followers and call it a success.
    I’m curious to know what you think of tools like to help measure and improve engagement?

  13. Mitch-haven’t you said many times in the past that you don’t respond to comments on your blog? Are you then missing out on an engagement opportunity and, also, losing out on possible loyalty from your readers?

  14. Yes, I get what you’re saying. It is impossible to scale out engagement and to personally and meaningfully engage with thousands of people. So it is about being fully involved with the people who pop up as the ones you really need or just want to know better.
    With 4,000 contacts it would be impossible for you to be “engaged” with all of them but what about just being fully engaged with the 150 that Malcolm says is the breaking point? Do you think that number is too small to make the effort viable for your business?
    The thing that Mitch seems to be saying is that numbers are not the holy grail and that when we focus on them more than anything we miss the opportunity of being social in a way that can lead to deeper relationships.
    I do think that businesses should put the measuring of sentiment, connection, quality of conversations, outcomes born out of conversations, and the like at the top of the scale because we can only change what we can see. So if we are putting a more heavy emphasis on these soft areas then we have more of a chance of deepening the relatiohships and connections and thus the loyalty and satisfaction of our clients. We can only change what we can see.
    On another note, Daniel, thanks for your insight surrounding this subject. I really enjoy analyzing this topic and I rely upon people who will share with me to help me see it clearly.

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