A few months ago, one of my co-workers suggested that a term much in vogue among social media marketing types — the word engage — be included in one of those lists of banned or banished words, like the one produced by Lake Superior State University. (Two cousins of engage — “engagement” and “engaging users” — have been on a UK list since 2007.)
At first, I wasn’t so sure I agreed with my colleague. The term “engage” seems to have a nice, um, ring to it. And it’s been useful to describe one aspect of social media marketing — the act of making connections with customers, audiences, those people we want to enga– er, interact with. Brian Solis added an exclamation point to the word and turned it into the title of a book, which I understand has done quite well. Then there’s Chris Syme‘s new ebook about crisis communication. Syme’s book includes the word in its title, and the placement there seems appropriate.
But I must admit that, since my colleague brought the overuse of engage to my attention, I’ve noticed the word being misused and abused widely and repeatedly. Here are a few of the many, many examples I could cite — these from a Twitter search:
- “3 takeaways 1 identify + engage your customers 2 take advantage of your biz data 3 look at crowdsourcing models”
- “Join us tomorrow with [redacted] for a Twitter chat on how to engage distributors and retailers to stock you product.”
- “Lots of companies are using video to spread the word on their products and engage their customers”
- “5 Killer Strategies for Brands to Engage on Pinterest and LinkedIn”
- “Content is the new way of old marketing. Engage an audience and have them become social w/interesting content. “
- “How to spot your best customers online and engage“
Do we really need all this marketing mumbo-jumbo?
It turns out that my colleague and I are not the only ones to diss engage. It tops one list of 5 most overused social media jargons and another list of 150 overused social media buzzwords. It “has now been officially over-used on Google Plus” and is the subject of a brilliant work of art by Hugh Macleod/Gapingvoid.
Is there anything we can do to rescue engage from its descent into meaninglessness? Perhaps so, if we start thinking about the meaning behind our words. When we talk about “engage” or “engaging” or “engagement,” what do we really mean to say? Are we talking about holding a conversation? Are we talking about getting someone interested in what we’re trying to promote or sell? Are we talking about getting people to interact with our advertising? Fill out a form? What is it, exactly, that we’re trying to communicate?
I hope you’ll think a bit more critically about the use of this word — and any other overworked, misused buzzterms listed in the links above — and if you feel so inclined, to share your thoughts about it in the comments box below.
I’m not sure I’m ready to completely disengage my use of this term. But I will try to think a little bit more about whether it’s the right word for the situation.