What’s engagement anyway?

“Online Engagement”  has certainly been a hot phrase for the past few years.  I’m as guilty as anyone of (over) using it.  But what does it really mean?   Only a decade or so ago, pretty much the only time you heard the term “engagement” was in description of two people who had pledged themselves to marry each other.  Now it’s frequently used to describe how organizations connect with and potentially interact with their stakeholders.  Companies engage their customers, politicians engage their constituents, non-profits engage their donors.   In each case it means something a bit different, but in many cases, I think people are missing the point.

For example, I often hear non-profits use “engage” as a replacement for “contact”.  I hear them say that mailings are a way to engage.  Really?  My opening up a mail piece is engaging?  Not to me it isn’t!    If I want to engage someone in conversation, for example, that means really getting into the discussion.   To me it means having a meaningful conversation, not the lightweight type that you might have over a drink at a party.  Engagement means something more than just getting someone to do something trivial.   It means caring about what they have to offer, and really listening to what they have to say.    I won’t quote the defintions of the word engage, you can check it out yourself, but if you read all of the many definitions (and there are a lot), you’ll see that they all have a connotation of a relationship that goes way beyond opening a letter.

I’ll be writing another post in the very near future about how organizations are trying to “engage” their stakeholders, but the point of this post is to get you thinking about how you use the word engage, and whether your organization is really engaging the people they want.  Or are you really just contacting people?  You may be calling it engagement, but the people you are trying to engage may see it differently.

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