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What does it mean to ‘engage’ people on social media?

It’s a phrase that’s used a lot: ‘Don’t just talk AT people on social media, try and engage them…’—but what does this actually mean?

Diane Hall


Cutout of a social media screen

Engagement can mean different things, so it’s no wonder that some people may be confused. Essentially, it means gauging the reactions of people reading your content; however, there’s a clear difference between someone simply liking your posts compared to someone who takes the time to add their thoughts and comments underneath it. The first reaction can be done aimlessly, whereas the second reaction needs someone to stop what they’re doing and actually think about what you’ve written and what they want to add in response. In terms of engagement, wouldn’t these two examples be poles apart?

Thumbs up?

In one sense they are very different, but that’s not to say post likes/thumbs up are irrelevant or something to ignore. If you post content regularly and one post has triple the amount of likes than any other you’ve written, that’s a sign that the topic you’ve mentioned resonates, interests or moves those who like your page.

Two-way street

Most people on social media don’t create profiles to just watch their feed scroll by. They want to talk to their friends, seek information, offer their opinion and enjoy some escapism. No brand should aim to simply talk at the people who like their page—their focus should be on getting their followers to respond in as many ways as possible.

This could be a direct message for more details, a comment on a post that offers the individual’s opinion/thoughts, or them sharing your post with their own network/friends. They may save your post, tag a friend to bring your content to their attention, or quote you in their own post. They may even coin a hashtag based on your content that builds momentum over time.

It’s obvious that the more you encourage people to respond and engage with your images and content, the more likely their affection for your brand strengthens. It will also help your reach on the platform in question, too…algorithms love posts with a lot of engagement and boost them even further, which is how certain posts go viral.

White alarm clock on blue background.

White alarm clock on blue background.

Give it time

As with anything, it takes time to build engagement. Analytics are helpful in this regard; they allow you to see which of your posts have hit the spot with your audience and which didn’t spark any interest. You can then tailor further content so that they cover topics that appear to encourage your followers to interact.

You need to be reactive and to give followers your attention when they respond…if someone adds a comment about what you’ve posted, for example, don’t leave it a few days before replying—that’s not how a conversation works. This doesn’t mean that you need to consistently cruise through your social media feeds every minute of every day (how would you get any work done?!); most social media platforms notify you when there has been some engagement/activity on your posts. People like to feel heard and acknowledged, and a simple reply or quick ‘thank you’ will strengthen the relationship you have with them.

The antisocial method

There are some social media profiles that seem to do all they can to repel followers. Though they may swear, insult and antagonise people, they seem to find their tribe. Admittedly, this tactic is not for everyone (I personally love this approach)—you’ve got to know your audience.

One business I’m yearning to visit (though it’s not really in my vicinity) does two fantastic things: they make humungous slabs of chocolate cakes, and they’re very sweary on Facebook; if they didn’t do either of these things, I wouldn’t have noticed them at all. So, for Get Baked, this approach has worked, as it’s resulted in me mentioning them in this post (i.e. engagement).

Engagement means different things to different people—a thumbs up to one may be as gushing as they come, whilst others may happily chat away to you, day in, day out. The correlation between people’s reactions and whether they go on to buy from you is a little sketchy and difficult to measure, but as I’ve demonstrated above, I will find an opportunity to visit Get Baked and buy a slice of their ‘Bruce’—because of their Facebook content. The science of engagement clearly works.

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