The Ultimate Answer to Value vs. Engagement (and it’s going to surprise you)

Are you a social media marketer? Great. Let’s ask what is more important for your audience: Value or Engagement?

I know what you are thinking. The answer is of course… engagement. Obvious, right?

Wrong! Total horse dung. But nevertheless, I hear this answer over and over again. From social media marketers all over the world.

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Let’s try to define engagement and value

What is engagement – and what is value?

I’m sure you already know what it is, but let’s come up with clear definitions anyway. Never hurts to get on the same level, right?

Engagement

Engagement as a metric is the amount and intensity of (visible) social media reactions you get on a post or one of your social media presences (or even all of them). Comments, likes and shares are all activities by your audience that show their engagement.

Tools like Buzzsumo can help you measure engagement - or compare yourself to others

Tools like Buzzsumo can help you measure engagement – or compare yourself to others

But you should go further. You can divide these activities into different levels of engagement. Let’s examine this using Facebook as an example:Are you a social media marketer? Great. Let’s ask what is more important for your audience: Value or Engagement?

A like is pretty low-level engagement: It is a quick action on Facebook, can be done with a press of a button and has almost no effect whatsoever. Many people just click like on a share post on Facebook without reading more than the headline. Most of the time the interaction between you and the… less than slightly engaged consumer of your post ends with that. It doesn’t go further, at least this time.

A share is a step higher on the engagement ladder. A share indicates that someone wants to share this post with his network. It requires a deeper level of trust to do this – either trust in the content, or trust in you. Depending on who shares your post, it can result in more interactions with your post from the network of the consumer.

When I want to find out whether a blog has an engaged audience - I look at the comments, not the social shares!

When I want to find out whether a blog has an engaged audience – I look at the comments, not the social shares!

A comment is about as high on the engagement ladder as you can get. It is (or should be) a conversation starter. There are many social media marketers who will tell you that you should answer every comment you get. Because even a pretty dumb comment like “How sweet.” (when you just share a picture of your cat…) or a negative one “This post is bad.” (Facebook doesn’t have a dislike button after all) shows more engagement than any other type of interaction. Comments build your community – and they work downwards as well: They will make others engage with your activity as well. Grow your comments and the likes and shares will come as well.

You can do this with any network and any online presence – and I simply can’t do this for you here for everything. Examine your social media presences and decide which types of engagement are on which level. It helps tremendously to identify how engaged your audience is.

Value

Value is a little harder to grasp as a concept. Value is what your target audience, or a single member of your target audience/community will get out of your posts, channels, presences or streams. Value can be entertainment. Value can also be information. If you are a news site, your value is in providing just that: News (which is a subset of information, but a special one, as news stop to be informative after a limited time).

But how do you measure “Value”?

I will answer this later in this post. Because this is where things get… strange.

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Why everybody seems to think that engagement is more important than anything else in social media

Until now I did nothing to surprise you with this post, right?

You know what engagement and value are and – even if it helped a little to define them, that didn’t change at all in the last few minutes.

Engagement stays the most important, right?

In the definition part of this article, I said that the concept of value is harder to grasp than the concept of engagement. That is because it’s not something you can simply look at and measure. There is no clear indicator that says: “Your Facebook page gets xxx per post, so it provides yyy value on each post per average.”

With engagement, you can do this: “I get X shares, Y Likes, and Z comments per post.”

The reason we like to regard Engagement as the most important metric for social media marketing is that it is just that: A metric. We can (and should) measure it.

If engagement is a metric, what is value?

Here we are getting to a very important part of this article.

A lot of social media advice that is given even by high-level consultants can be summarized to the following 3 step process:

  1. Provide Value
  2. Get Engagement, Grow Engagement
  3. Grow Your Audience and Increase ROI

If you try to follow this, you are going to fall flat on your face. You are going to be one of those who will realize that “social media is just hype” and will never provide ROI for you.

That is because this process shows a complete misunderstanding of the concept of “value” or “providing value”.

You don’t get to decide what value is. Your audience determines what value is. Because this is about the value that you provide to your audience. You cannot simply start providing a lot of value. Even if you write blog posts that are about the right topic – you can never tell exactly how much value they will provide.

I feel I need to clear things up a little: Here is an example. Let’s say you have an online shop selling diapers. You want to provide value with your blog and social media channels. What do you write about? Let me give you a few options:

  • A: Tutorials on how to best use your products, etc.
  • B: Toys and other things that keep babys happy.
  • C: Handling a busy work life while having a small kid.
  • D: All of the above and more.

So, what’s the right option? I cannot answer this. You will have to try it out (although sometimes initial data can help). Maybe your audience is only a niche market. If 90% of your audience did just have their 4th baby and were working on the 5th – they don’t need the tutorials.

Value is not a metric. Value is a goal. Providing a lot of value to your audience is a goal.

Your audience decides what makes a post valuable to them. You can only measure… but what can you measure exactly?

What you can measure to find out whether you are providing value (or how value and engagement are related)

Here comes the real problem of social media marketing. It is pretty obvious that value is more important than anything else, but how do you know that you are providing value?

The answer is that you cannot find an absolute indicator. But there are indicators – and one of the most important indicators (if not the most important) is… drumroll… engagement.

Yep, that is the relationship between the two. Engagement is an indicator of value. Nothing less… nothing more. Regarding engagement as more than that, is dangerous, though, because there are other indicators that can be even more important depending on your situation.

Our Twitter channels might not be the most engaging ones in the world - but they sure as hell drive traffic. This is Twitter referrals in the last 30 days - straight from analytics.

Our Twitter channels might not be the most engaging ones in the world – but they sure as hell drive traffic. This is Twitter referrals in the last 30 days – straight from analytics.

Example: You have a Youtube channel that generates almost no comments but a hell of a lot of views and revenue – your channel is clearly providing value to someone. It’s just that this someone probably isn’t a youtube member. It could be that you are providing value to corporate accounts that are not allowed to comment on Youtube.

So, here is a probably incomplete list of indicators that show you are providing value:

  • Engagement
  • Traffic – No engagement but you are getting a hell of a lot of traffic from your social media channel? Great – happens more often than you think. For instance on Slideshare
  • Sales – your content leads people to buying from you? You are doing something right…

Building the wrong audience for you – when looking only at engagement will completely … you up

Sometimes engagement get’s even more dangerous. And it already happened to a lot of people – so don’t make the following mistake:

When you are building a social media channel and only look at engagement, you can sometimes end up building an audience that you will never be able to use for your purposes. A few years back, when cat pictures were the new black on Facebook, this happened to a lot of accounts. I have literally seen business accounts posting these multiple times per day.

They may have gotten short increases in engagement, but the audiences they built hurt them more in the long run than they ever imagined. They provided value to an audience that would never be interested in what they really wanted to do with their social media accounts.

They messed it up completely by looking at an important but not overly important metric: Engagement.

Final Words…

Engagement doesn’t always come first. It’s a metric – and with all metrics, it is important to see them within context.

Without context, engagement is worthless. And depending on what you want to do and achieve – it may even be worthless in context.

The value on the other hand (the type you provide to your audience) never is.

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This article was proofread and edited by myself with the help of Grammarly. If you are blogging in English and cannot afford a professional editor, Try Grammarly Now! It rocks.

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  • Struan

    Awesome post. I found myself guilty of focusing too much on engagement and building my followers than value. I wouldn’t say I neglect value totally, but definitely something I should focus more on.

    • TheSocialMarketers

      Hi Struan, welcome on The Social Ms. Thank you for your comment – glad to know you found value in this post 😉

  • Fabien White

    Great post – i’m new to your community but you certainly practice what you preach judging by this ! Fabien

    • TheSocialMarketers

      Hey Fabien,

      Welcome to the community then … and we certainly try! 😉

      Jonathan

  • http://twitter.com/proexpoexhibits Pro Expo Exhibits

    Good article, it definitely clarifies the relationship. As a new brand to social this past summer, it became clear that the audience’s response is the ultimate ‘quality control’ check to your content.

  • http://www.callbox.com.sg/ Dara Lin

    What a mind-blowing post! Like Struan, I also felt guilty because I always focus on engagement. I thought engaging with people is the best strategy but now it’s not. Maybe I saw the value but not the value as a whole. Thank you for enlightening my mind.

  • http://www.heavypen.com/ Ray Wyman Jr

    Fabulous post. You’re definitely on the right track. Content might be king, but Engagement is the kingdom.