Re-Engaging Engagement, or How Many Different Ways Can We Use the Word Engagement?

29 07 2011

Have you heard? We’re in the Age of Engage. Like the 95% of us who can’t help but stare at an accident on a freeway, pull out the smart phone and snap a picture, I think we’re all wide-eyed, deer in the headlights for “engagement”.  The problem is, I’m not sure we really know what we’re looking at. While Marketers have their eyes glued to the list of “friends” and “followers” their campaign has earned and public relations practitioners are starry-eyed at comments and forwards, I think we’re all missing the mark because we’re only looking at the results.

Don’t get me wrong, results are quintessential. It’s not the focus on results that’s the problem, it’s the singular focus on results that’s the problem…it’s spawning tunnel vision. Looking solely at the results leads to blind validation of the composite of what we’re doing, lumping what might not be working with what is. In the end, what we’re left with is the Dilbert-esque proclamation: “We must have done something right, so whatever we’re doing, keep doing it” when we have no idea what it is we’re even doing.

The point of engagement (and its value) is in the process. Let me illustrate with, what I consider, is a particularly “engaging” campaign.

Late last year, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) relaunched Mormon.org as a social media site, and has moved its online efforts from a “request more information” model to a “get to know us and join us” model. Mormon.org used to be a site for answering questions about the Church’s beliefs, and while it still serves that purpose, it is now a site to connect. Call it a religious facebook. Now it’s a place where hundreds of Church Members create a profile and provide their unique viewpoint on the purpose of life and their beliefs in the Church, echoing the late Church Leader, Gordon B. Hinckley, who once told Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes that, and I paraphrase here, the Church wanted to people to bring their beliefs with them and see how the LDS viewpoint added to what they already believed.

The Marketing Director of the Church told me that the site was to facilitate the connection between the Church and potential members by giving the mic, so to speak, to the members, with whom it would be easier to relate and more effective to create and build a relationship. To that end, the Church has highlighted dozens of member profiles with videos that accompany the member profile to paint a broad picture of the diversity within the Church. Here’s an example:

And the Church hasn’t stopped there, tapping the talents of the increasingly common digital acumen among online users to build even more “engagement”. For years, the Church has been known, at least inside its chapel doors, for feel-good stories put to video, with the occasional tear-jerker and the famous 8-cow wife. Today, they’ve moved passed that and have launched create.lds.org to tap the digital acumen of its own members and engage them to make their own stories. This subsection of the Church’s main site is dedicated to assisting members to create their own videos, including providing images and b-roll for video production, and of course, the occasional contest and call for videos to light the proverbial fire.

In short, the brilliance of the Mormon.org campaign is in the focus on the process of engagement–they’re eliciting involvement and therein lies the digital magic of the buzzword we have come to love and overuse.

So, I return to the beginning. We’re all talking about engagement without being clear on all that it stands for. Yes, it’s results. Yes it’s “followers” “frienders” “sharing” “tweeting” etc…but that’s the fruit. Engagement is actually in the process. It’s a concept of participation and involvement that yields the results that marketing and communication management has set its sights on. If engagement is participation, even partnership, then yes, engagement is also risky, because it means yielding part of your communication control over to people who may have little to no interest in representing it well. But then again, that’s happening whether you intend it to be or not.

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