Building Engagement on Social Media
HOW WRITERS AND BLOGGERS CONNECT WITH READERS ON SOCIAL MEDIA...
I've been researching and writing an article for Samantha Bailey's LinkedIn group for Group Owners, Managers, and Moderators on the relationship between engagement and initial exposure (reach) on various social media publishing platforms, including LinkedIn, Medium, and beBee.
The piece is turning out to be rather detailed and long, even for me. And it will likely be a week or two before I publish it.
However, along the way, something has come up that I believe worthy of its own discussion, in the interim.
Several times now, I've run into the claim that engagement on social media publishing platforms derives from building a "following"...
For quite a while, this claim absolutely baffled me. I literally could just not understand its meaning.
Assuming that your posts get distributed to at least some platform users who are not among your followers — something that has to be the case, at least when you are first starting out on the platform in question — it seems self-evident that your post might be liked, commented upon, and possibly even shared by some readers other than those who follow you.
Which would seem to indicate that you can engage with readers other than those included in your group of followers.
As well, consider that, when the "views" of some of my posts on LinkedIn reached up into the 10, 000 range, those posts garnered hundreds of likes and comments from people definitely not counted among my "followers".
So what, I kept asking myself, are these people telling me, when they say engagement derives from your following, and by implication, that as your followers grow so will the levels of engagement on your publishing.
Over and over again. Day after day. For a long time. I asked myself, "What does it mean to say engagement comes from followers?"
Then suddenly, it struck me... like a lightning bolt!
Those who believe engagement derives from one's followers consider all likes, comments, and shares to be of essentially equal value.
Such people are natives of social media. To them, it doesn't matter how these tokens are accumulated; it is the accumulation of these tokens that is the accomplishment. Accumulating the trappings of engagement is an end in itself, not a means to achieve something higher or further.
It would seem that such people have very much the same attitudes as those who appeal for likes on Facebook, maybe even offer to trade likes, on the rationale that accumulating likes requires being willing to like someone else's page or post. And that the content of posts means little or nothing.
This became even clearer to me when I recently read a comment about building traction and engagement on Medium. The author of the comment pointed out that Medium, is "social media like all social media", and that the way to generate engagement is to follow a whole bunch of people, who will follow you in return, and who, in the hope that you will like and comment on their posts, will like and comment on yours.
In other words, according to this particular author, engagement on social media is composed of social strokes, and has nothing to do with intellectual exchange...
Not once did this commenter consider that a reader, unconstrained by some ulterior "social" motive, might like or comment upon or share a post because he or she actually read and liked or agreed or disagreed with the post.
Consequently, I now realize that my failure to understand that engagement derives from building a following grows from my own general obtuseness when it comes to matters social media. For it never, ever occurred to me, since the day I first joined LinkedIn, that it made sense to follow someone and like, comment on, and share their posts simply to get them to do the same for you.
The number of people I follow on LinkedIn, Twitter, and beBee is generally much fewer than the number who follow me.
I say that not to brag in any way, but to illustrate that it has never occurred to me to buy "engagement" or that it could be bought by means of reciprocal following.
Perhaps most of all, it never occurred to me that "engagement" purchased by means of knee-jerk reciprocity is worth anything...
I don't know about you, but I like to think that people elect to follow me — actually, my writing — because they find what I publish of some value, however minor. Some might say that is a vanity, but I would reply that a greater vanity is to seek likes, comments, and shares on the basis of buying them through implicitly agreed upon reciprocity.
Admittedly, I have both engaged in, and encouraged mutual liking and sharing on LinkedIn as a means for circumventing LI's policy of arbitrarily choking down the distribution (reach) accorded to independent writers (non-Influencers) on the platform. I was even involved in founding and running a couple of groups, both on and off LinkedIn, for that specific purpose. However, that is not the same thing as using reciprocity to buy "engagement".
I submit that generating true engagement, of necessity, precedes the building of a following, not the other way around...
You may think it stupid or naive of me, but I would rather have a critical comment from someone who actually read my post, than a positive comment from someone who didn't. And I would rather have a reader elect to follow me or my blogs because he or she found some value in the content I produce, than follow me because it is social media etiquette to do so when I follow them.
Moreover, I suggest this has to do with much more than engagement alone. It has to do with respect for quality content.
If you are willing to settle for meaningless token engagement, in preference to authentic engagement, then you are likely willing to settle for shallow and insipid content, as well.
In which case, everything on social media — LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, beBee, whatever — becomes an utterly meaningless charade.
I am writing this because it seems to me that beBee is at a crossroads. It can move toward fulfilling what appears to be its enormous potential to build a great organic social media platform through encouraging quality content publishing, authentic engagement and Affinity Networking, or...
It can turn inward, circle the wagons against criticism, and start putting out bull chips about engagement deriving from building following. — Phil Friedman
Afterword: This piece grows out of a discussion thread on a post by John Vaughan on the meaning of stats on beBee versus Linkedin and related issues. One of the questions that arose in the course of that discussion was what constituted a "view" respectively on beBee and LinkedIn. There was also some discussion of the relative levels of engagement on the two platforms. John's pieces on these and related issues were met with no small measure of hostility. Somewhat related to that hostile response was Kevin Pashuk's powerful post "I Don't Get No Respect".
Reading these posts and the comments threads, I have to wonder whether, in our enthusiasm for the growth and success of beBee, where many of us look forward to making a social media home, some of us tend to become overly sensitive about dissenting opinion. Which would be a shame, since an open expression of ideas and opinion is what will ultimately drive stable, organic growth for the platform, worldwide.
Author's Notes: If you found this interesting and worthwhile, and would like to receive notifications of my writings on a regular basis, click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee profile. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.
If you're curious about some of my previous postings about the publishing platforms on both LinkedIn and beBee, you can take a look at some of the following:
About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation.
In a previous life, I was formally trained as an academic philosopher and taught logic and philosophy at university.
The (optional-to-read) pitch: As a professional writer, editor, university educator, and speaker, with more than 1,000 print and digital publications, I've recently launched an online program for enhancing your expository writing: learn2engage — With Confidence. My mission is to help writers and would-be writers improve their thought and writing, master the logic of discussion, and strengthen their ability to deal with disagreement.
To schedule an appointment for a free 1/2-hour consult email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to speaking with you soon.
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