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 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. 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 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 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.


Rochambeau and Internet News

23 06 2008

For the past few weeks I have been doing some in-depth research on technology and journalism, and one thing I have concluded is that online technology is requires a new approach to journalism–one that gets the audience involved. It’s a reader-experienced based model–no more of the age-old rhetoric: “Just the facts mam.”

Now, news is emotional. News is personal. News is a story in the dramatic sense….in other words, it’s nothing like the AP report I found online today on the Rock Paper Scissors championship in Las Vegas.

After watching this clip, I thought: That’s it? What about the experience? What happens there? So many questions of curiosity. And then I was struck by just how badly journalists blow it by sticking to the traditional model. And intuition tells me, a good majority of journalists are still blowing it.

Instant Academic

31 05 2008

You may or may not know, but I’m launching into my Summer of Horror…in September, I’ll be taking my comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. program in Communication/PR. So, that means I’ll be reading like a mad man all Summer long, taking notes, burying myself in my office, growing a beard…ok, maybe not that last one.

In commemoration of this “joyous” time, I’ll be posting regularly…Yeah I know, shocking. But hear me out…

I’ll making regular weekly posts on the subjects that I’m studying, particularly: Public Relations, Marketing, Branding, Qualitative Research, Global Public Relations, and New Media. In the Academic world, we live and die by endless “literature reviews” that comprise far too many pages, and are usually quite boring to read…I’ll be posting these mini-lit reviews on this blog…

Rest assured, they’ll be “Cliff’s Notes” of my Ph.D. program…read it, enjoy it, and have fun studying for my comps with me!

(de)Humanizing an Organization

27 02 2008

I’ve been intrigued by the recent crisis facing American Airlines. By now, this is probably old news, but, in a flight this past week from Port-au-Prince to JFK Int’l, Carine Desir died, because, according to family members, flight attendants would not provide necessary medical attention, including providing her air when she said she could not breathe. American Airlines denies the family’s account, but beyond what may or may not have happened, I find it intriguing how AA is handling this.

Frankly, I wonder how, from a PR perspective, the organization’s response could possibly fair well in the end. Sure, the organization claims that it is not at fault and that all procedures were maintained in their strictest standards, but what the organization is not saying is what could doom this whole situation.

Let’s say that after an investigation, it is discovered that organization took all the necessary precautions, and something still went wrong, but was no fault of the organization. Who will the public blame? The organization. At the very least, you’d think that the public relations arm of the organization would encourage spokespeople to buy the company a little time before coming out and absolving all fault in this. Knee-jerk reactions never fair well in the end, even if you aren’t at fault.

Furthermore, there’s one other thing that the airline isn’t saying: I’m Sorry. Maybe I’ve missed it, but AA has decided to ignore offering any type of condolences to the family. This is a traumatic time for the family, and you’d think the least AA would do is try to act…I don’t know…maybe a little…HUMAN.

This is the way it usually goes:

Big Organiztaion = Insensitive/Uncaring Entity

And AA is only reinforcing that image. I offered this up to my undergraduate classes in Public Relations I teach, asking them what they would do. After 5 minutes of discussions, here’s what they came up with: Say I’m sorry and assure the public that, though it is not at fault, it would be conducting extensive research into what exactly went wrong.

It seems to me, if 18-20 year old college students can figure this out, why can’t AA?

Communication: The Link to Progress

15 01 2008

Yes, it has been a while since I’ve posted. You’ll forgive me, but I’m an academic, so I completely check out from Christmas until midway through January. Our travels this past vacation season took us to Orlando, and the land of Disney! Having grown up in California, I’ve had my fair share of Disneyland trips, as have the kids, but we’ve never seen Disney World.

While there, I my wife pointed out a bit of inspiration. At Epcot, the ride inside the huge golf ball is called Spaceship Earth, and it’s a trip through time to see the sparks of innovation that have driven progress, invention, and technology.  Tracing history back to the pre-historical days, the narrator on this Disney ride proclaims that language and communication have driven progress (Below, I’ve posted a pic of one of the animatronic scenes featuring Socrates).


At the end of the ride, my wife pointed out how interesting it is that everything comes down to communication, and what that means for the future of the communication industry (public relations, communication scholarship, etc.). It got me thinking that in after growing up with things like The Jetsons’ and looking to a future with flying cars and living in Space, that it’s easy to miss the mark. The future of society is based on communication. The ability to connect with more and diverse people, and the growing technology to do so on a large scale and in real-time will dictate the future of our society…

Just food for thought I guess.

Communication Aesthetic

11 09 2007

A day of remembrance: 6 years ago today saw the most violent foreign attacks on the US since Pearl Harbor. Having been born on the anniversary of the other major foreign attack on the US, and recognizing its importance, I have often felt that while the 9/11 attacks, like Pearl Harbor, changed the course of our nation. I have to admit, I have never been a 9/11 activist per se, though, at the time of the attacks, I did have the opportunity to put together a special report for political strategy and market research firm, Wirthlin Worldwide, thus doing my own part in rallying around the flag. 

Since then, I have felt that humble, quiet observance of 9/11 is the best way to hold in memory those who unnecessarily died. I cringe at the media that try to capitalize on the events (i.e. Oprah and other shows dedicating their shows to another special human interest story). I think they mock the somberness that should accompany today.

But I can’t help but recognize what I came across today on a local university campus. Standing prominently on campus was a small, humble display consisting of a set of 3 pictures of 9/11, two US flags, and two US Marines standing completely still, heads tilted down. It was touching. It was moving. And yet it was simple. The two US Marines stood their, completely still, their hands on their sides. There were no loud videos or music playing. No shouting, protesting, or rallies. Just a simple artistic reverence.

And it got me thinking about the power of aesthetics. Scholars recognize it as a non-verbal communication cue. Combined with my love for the arts and humanities, I saw this scene as a powerful remembrance–an artistic display equal in power to the Vietnam wall. Nothing was said. No bright colors were displayed. And yet, its meaning was powerful.

Often in communication, we forget that it isn’t he who yells loudest that gets the most attention. With so many messages coming from every direction, it’s often the simple and resolute communication that makes the most meaning on people.