Time to diss engage?

How engaged is this user?

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.

Flickr photo by Matty Turner (www.flickr.com/photos/mattyturner/312572345/) Feature image from a blog post on social media engagement by Greta Poskute.

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

13 thoughts on “Time to diss engage?”

  1. I’m not a fan of buzzwords but where I work, our social media efforts are a one-way street – we are pumping out news. We do not interact with our audience, we sometimes will retweet something they’ve said about us, but that’s about it. It’s not ‘social.’ So I find myself using ‘engage’ a lot when talking to people about what we *should* be doing within our digital communities we haven’t really established yet. I overuse it, just like I used to overuse ‘impact’ [shudders]. Would love insight on how else to communicate what we’re trying to do!

    1. MSB – I think sometimes the use of “engage” is appropriate. But your words “interact with our audience” may be even better. Just a thought. Thanks for the ocmment!

  2. Good topic, Andrew. I’m surprised “curate” isn’t on one of those lists. I think too often marketing folks, and those who pay them, want a shortcut to success (e.g. engagement). Engagement, like branding, is far more about what an organization does than what it says – but talking is a lot easier than doing. I explored this topic on my blog a few months back. You might enjoy it: http://bit.ly/qr8Muv

    1. Dan – Thanks for sharing your blog post. You make several good points. I especially like this statement: “Live up to your promise – engagement doesn’t happen in 140 characters.”

  3. Since you asked–we discussed this at length this week at the CoSIDA convention in St. Louis. Most of us agreed that the word is “thrown around too much” by people who really don’t understand what it means. To some people, engagement is increasing your number of Facebook friends. It’s tough to find another word for what it really means–to have a value-added relationship where each side increases the other. I’ve started using the phrase “loyalty strategies” in place of engagement strategies because people seem to have a clearer understanding of what that means. Ultimately, the best social media strategies–the kind that enhance reputation and build community (there’s another iffy word), involve creating loyalty. Well, there’s my take. And by the way, your guys from S&T were very engaged at CoSIDA. (sorry)

  4. I think you get a lot of “buzzwords” around social media since people are still struggling to define how they are using it and what it means for them. I would expect those terms to fall away as society grows in its sophistication when talking about social media. But until then I see no problem using any of these words with one caveat — as long as the audience understands the message the author’s intent when using them. Big caveat, right?

  5. I don’t particularly care what terminology we use internally when talking about social media strategy, as long as we all understand what we’re talking about. It’s when we start using those partially nonsensical buzzwords externally, i.e. “Join the conversation!” where I start to get a soul-ache.

  6. I refuse to let bad marketers and bad marketing tactics own a word that my colleagues and I in the nonprofit world have used for decades. I do hate that it is everywhere, but what it really means cannot be taken for granted. Its unfortunate that snake charmers misuse this word because it is the essence of good marketing – to engage users in a larger community dialog that better serves all involved. Bad marketers dont ‘engage’. They push. They force. They are also the same people who think getting ‘x amount of followers’ or likes or RT’s and Klout scores actually mean something in terms of reaching and communicating two ways with an audience.

  7. Try talking to someone in the healthcare industry. We’re all sick of the word engage too. For us it means getting people involved/excited/on-board with change

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