Why Our Definition of Social Media Engagement and Interaction is Wrong

by Marcus Sheridan



This past week, as I often do while traveling, I was listening to Mitch Joel’s great podcast and his recent episode with Bob Hoffman of the Ad Contrarian. Always one to masterfully combine pessimism and years of rich experience when discussing marketing, Hoffman’s pessimistic outlook on such phrases as social media “engagement” and “interaction” not only gave me a good snicker, but also prompted this post.

Apparently, we like the word “Engagement”

If you look across the web and social media marketing realm, how often do you see the words “engagement” and “interaction” being thrown around? Frankly, the two have been so used and abused that I don’t know if anyone really “gets” their relevance any longer.

That being said,  let me ask you an important question , and please give it a second of thought before you simply read on:

How do you define “engagement” and “interaction” within your company’s marketing campaign?

Is it based on comments to your content?

Social media shares?

Someone calling your store or office?

Making a purchase?

These examples and more could fit your company’s definition of engagement I’m sure, but I’d submit another point.

Reading Is Interacting

Often times when I speak at conferences I’ll show audience members the incredible number of pages single individuals will read on my swimming pool website when in the process of researching a pool. Believe it or not, many of the customers that buy a swimming pool read at least 100 pages of the website before we ever even have the first sales appointment. (Note** I know this because I use HubSpot)

Some have even read over 500 pages.

Think about that for a second… 500 pages??!! Can you imagine reading 500 pages of any website???

Believe it or not, it’s becoming more and more common with our swimming pool customers. But not only that, it’s quite common with my marketing clients as well.

For example, most companies and brands that contact The Sales Lion for help have read my eBook before we even have our first conversation—which means they’ve already read over 250 pages of my content.

And would you say these folks are “engaged?” Would you submit they are ” interacting”, even though it’s not necessarily a “true conversation” such as are found within a Facebook page, tweet, or blog comment?.

Content Interaction vs. Social Interaction

I don’t know about you, but I choose “content interaction” over “social interaction” any day of the week. This may sound sacrilegious to some in this industry, but because great content (when read and absorbed) is literally the best sales tool in the world, why would anyone see it any other way?

Furthermore, how come so many, like the Ad Contrarian, do not see great web content in this same light? Why aren’t page views considered to be a social media interaction? And why aren’t companies targeting pages views (content marketing) as more important than total likes, friends, followers, shares, pins, or whatever else you can add to the list??

The Education Economy

To me, this entire conversation goes back to what I consider the “education economy.” In this day and age of information-driven consumers—brands, if they want to be great, must be master listeners, teachers, and content creators, which therefore leads to consumer engagement, interaction, and true advancement. Yes, this “engagement” may not be the kind that shows up in an Edgerank or Klout  Score, but is sure as heck leads to trust, branding, and sales.

And when all is said and done, do the rest of the metrics really matter?

Your Turn

I’ve got a few debatable questions to ask you my friends, and I’d love to here your answers: Where do you rank “content read” in your social media and marketing priorities? Do you consider it an “interaction” and as an “engagement?” Do you see it as more or less important than tweets, like, shares, etc? Why?


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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Barry Deutsch October 21, 2012 at 2:39 pm


I concur with your assessment of the “engagement” and “interaction” debate. Most people will not write comments and “physically” engage. There are always a few (like me for instance – that when I see an article that cuts to the core of key issues I’m focusing on – I’ll respond).

However, my experience is that although it’s a transparent economy where the information for buyers is transparent – they are mostly passive (searching, reading, self-educating themselves, looking for social proof, and absorbing information).

It’s very hard to “engage” physically thousands of connections, followers, friends, and subscribers. I agree with you that you don’t have to in order to be successful.

My experience is that if you put the information out there that is outstanding content – people will find you, use your information to benchmark other data they get, save your articles, share your articles, and validate your expertise as a trusted source based on social proof.

At some point along the spectrum of reading your material, when they are ready to make a purchase decision, you’ll be at the very top of their short list. This is a proven, efficient, effective, low time investment strategy for moving people into the top of your sales funnel. The Internet, Social Media, and Blogging have not replaced traditional techniques of reaching your target audience – even if they’ve been renamed to something else. For example, 20 years ago what we now call content marketing used to be called drip nurturing. What all these wonderful new tools/sites gives is the chance to amplify our message and spread it with a tremendous degree of leverage.

Thanks for putting some clarity around this silly argument of having to physically engage and interact.

Barry Deutsch
IMPACT Hiring Solutions


Jeremy Abel October 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Hi Marcus,

Great topic, and an awesome follow-up to some of the points from the Six Pixels podcast!

I passionately believe it is more important to emphasize ‘content read’ over ‘content shared’. If your goal is to increase content read, then that strategy (and mind-set) tends to be reflected in the quality of the article. I’m not suggesting great content doesn’t get shared- it most certainly does. But ‘sharing’ is still a marketing behavior, suggesting the visitor read the article, shared, and left the site. A one-and-done deal.

Measuring how well content resonates is a different story, geared towards creating a relationship with visitors. That is, creating content for the ‘content read’ metric is powered by a desire to connect with your visitors- accomplished by generating content that (1) Answers a question, (2) Encourages additional education (via strategic interlinking between articles), and (3) Rewards their inquisitiveness (for example, offering a free eBook). And let’s face it- if your website is the digital face of your business, where would you want potential customers spending their time?

In the end, content is either read or spread. Keep changing lives- and marketing- my friend.



Marcus Sheridan October 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I don’t know how you always seem to say amazing stuff Jeremy,but thank you brother, seriously, your comments rock.

And yes, you’re numbered breakdown there really laid it out nicely—answer, teach,teach more.

Rock on buddy :-)



Zeek Coleman October 22, 2012 at 9:28 am

I just think this is a great article and I’m finding them irresistible to read! Intend on reading a small portion of the e-blast and I get sucked in…Great content man!


Marcus Sheridan October 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Glad you like it Zeek :)


Lisa Fast October 22, 2012 at 9:57 am

Hi Marcus,

Your message, as usual, cuts right to the heart of the Marketing world’s close-held ideas. The readers of content marketing are indeed engaging – they are actively seeking answers to their questions. If they find them on your Education-oriented site, you as the educator, are more likely to get the sale.

Careful though – time and page views can also indicate confusion! If a site is hard to navigate, one answer doesn’t easily lead to the next, and pages lead to linkless dead-ends, people may indeed spend time and see many pages, but they will leave in frustration and not return. Our usability research has repeatedly shown that business owners view their time as money – if you waste it, you’ll pay the price. So sometimes metrics can be misleading.

Finally, cognitive psychology can help marketers understand these issues. The theory of Diffusion of Responsibility suggest that the majority of people won’t expend the effort of commenting, sharing, liking or even voting – if they see that someone has already done so.

Thanks so much for your insights,
Lisa, frequent reader and very infrequent commenter!


Marcus Sheridan October 22, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Hi Lisa, what a great comment!!

Regarding confusion and navigation, yes, that’s critical. But I also think that because it’s hard to sometime distinguish those that were “happily engaged” vs “confused” and if we look at average time on site and page views, we’ll get a very good feel for things.

And you know, I’ve never discussed the theory of Diffusion of Responsibility on TSL before but you’ve nudged me to discuss it in a post, as you’ve made a GREAT point :-)

Thanks again,



Jason Hull October 22, 2012 at 10:53 am

Derek Halpern had a similar point (albeit very differently delivered) last week: http://socialtriggers.com/more-traffic-stop/

Everyone thinks that the highest point of ROI is at the purchase point of the sales funnel, but it’s actually at awareness (see Jansen’s research from Penn State: http://faculty.ist.psu.edu/jjansen/academic/jansen_buying_funnel_jecr.pdf).

To me, the reasoning behind the results of Jansen’s research (and the validation of your position) is that people become psychologically anchored to a resource, which becomes their go-to for the entire funnel process. It’s easier to go with what you know than try to find other sources – recency bias at work. Therefore, with content, if you capture them at the beginning, they become hooked, and if they do move on through the funnel to the sale, you’re first in mind.


Marcus Sheridan October 22, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Jason, wow, some great links here bud. Halpern is a friend of mine and he and I have had many discussion along the lines of what numbers matter and which ones are fruitless.

And btw, I love that phrase you used here–”Psychologically anchored”—that’s absolutely perfect my friend.




Saundra LaLone October 22, 2012 at 10:58 am

Hi Marcus,

So appreciate your passion and thought provoking approach. After reading your post, I find myself agreeing that if people are reading your content, it is a definite interaction. Hopefully it is indicative that consumers are finding your content engaging and therefore it’s adding credibility to you being a valuable, trusted resource for information. Because they are consistantly finding valuable info, this in turn has them coming to you for the services/products they need because you are in essence a trusted adviser, so to speak. So to answer your question, how do you rank “content read” in social media and marketing priorities, it definitely ranks high on the priority list because creating engaging content is a huge benefit to the consumer and creates quality conversions.

Thanks again for your passion and great content : )
Saundra (a new reader and first time commenter)


Marcus Sheridan October 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Well hello Saundra and welcome to TSL! :-) So glad you’ve added your thoughts and that you got a little something from this post.

And yes, the premise behind all of this is great content, when read, leads to trust. If marketers use that as a guiding light, it’s amazing the difference it makes.

Hope to see you again sometime Saundra,



Ruth Zive October 22, 2012 at 11:09 am

It’s really a debate about semantics, isn’t it Marcus?

I’ve always understood engagement to equal investment (of time, emotion, money). At Marketingwise, we tell our clients that bounce rates and page views are much more telling likes or shares. People blindly retweet all the time (I’m guilty), so it is hardly a measure of investment. That said, even a blind RT can serve to drive traffic to your website, and if the person landing there finds meaningful and ENGAGING content – a true investment might ensue.

The words engagement might be overused and watered down, but I still think that it accurately represents the goal of content marketing. You want to share content that the reader will find meaningful and engaging – to the extent that they feel inclined to invest in your brand/products/services (with their time, feelings or pocket book).


Marcus Sheridan October 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm

“Time, feelings, or pocket book”…. I like how you put that Ruth. Well said.

But tell me, how many companies, especially those that you’ve worked with, even consider things like bounce rates or page views within this discussion of engagement? I think for some they’ve become a lost metric.



Ruth Zive October 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm

To be perfectly honest, most of my clients aren’t thinking much about likes, shares, comments or tweets either. It’s really amazing to me, but overwhelmingly, B2B companies recognize that content marketing (and social media by extension) should be on their radar, but they are absolutely clueless. So when I pitch them (and more importantly define the ROI that they can anticipate), I focus much more so on bounce rates and page views. More and more, however, I’m being pressed by clients to focus on a much more tangible ROI, and so I’m trying to pitch the notion of ‘cost per lead’. Have you focused on that at all Marcus? Thoughts?


Marcus Sheridan October 26, 2012 at 9:18 am

Ruth, I mean this w all sincerely — your clients are lucky to have you. You really *get* it.

Keep rockin,



Susan Tatum October 22, 2012 at 11:43 am


Thanks for the major “holy crap” moment. As a content provider to software and technology companies I’m embarrassed to admit I never thought to compare pages read to Likes and shares.

Well done!



Marcus Sheridan October 22, 2012 at 1:40 pm

“Holy Crap” moments are free around these parts Susan, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty more of it lying around in the future if you keep reading ;-)

Have a wonderful day!



Tom Treanor October 22, 2012 at 11:56 am


I totally agree with you. Only measuring social media “engagement” by how many people like and comment on Facebook posts is missing quite a bit. I love that you include reading blog content as “interaction” because it’s so true. You put the content out there, structure how they can interact with it, and they interact. Great way of thinking about it…

Thanks for the fresh perspective!


Marcus Sheridan October 22, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Tom, great seeing you my man and appreciate your words. Frankly, I do very much hope that the definition of “interaction”is great expanded so folks can see the “true” form of it.

Stay well brother,



Rob Skidmore October 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Well shoot. Look’s like I need to start listening to Mitch’s podcast. Both you and Craig McBreen have mentioned it. Not sure how I missed it after his awesome keynote at CMWorld.

Anyway, I think you are absolutely right. Page views and content read is much more valuable then tweets, likes, etc. It takes me less then a second to like a page and I don’t learn anything in the interaction. Reading content is much different. In every article a little piece of the writer is deposited and I can come to know that person just by reading it.

I have read many of your posts Marcus and I feel like I know you; that we have some kind of a relationship even though I have never met you in person and we have not interacted beyond a few email exchanges and these comments.

That relationship is much more valuable to both of us then a few likes and retweets.

The great thing about content is that it is a kind of passive engagement since it is not a conversation in real time. This means that you do the work once and you can have an infinite number of conversations. Every time I read Kafka or Calvino I am speaking with them even though they have long since died. I feel much closer to these dead people then I do to 90% of the people I follow on twitter and most of the pages/brands I have liked on facebook.

We need to remember that social media is just a means to an end not an end itself. The end goal is the relationship and the best way to build that is by writing great content.

Man, I feel like so many of my best thoughts are sparked in the comments section of your blog. Maybe I should buy some jackets and start up the Sales Lion Institute for Marketers with a Brain and we can start a blog were all the content is inspired by your posts.


Marcus Sheridan October 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Hahaha, that last paragraph gave me a good laugh Rob :-)

I’m really glad you brought up the point about dead authors. That was so in-line with what I attempted to express in this post and considering my love of the classics and founders, I know exactly where you’re coming from. And yes, the principle is the exact same.

Always appreciate your thoughts and words Rob,



Davina K. Brewer October 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm

It’s part semantics (h/t Ruth) and part defining the goals, or goals defining the issue – is the tail wagging the dog? H/T to Rob on the passive relationship, about how engagement develops and is more meaningful than a RT or Like.

What so often happens is the need for quick and dirty scoring – easy ways to count and measure. Whether it’s bounces and clicks or RTs and comments, those quantitative measures that can be robo-counted, that’s where we get into the pickle – if we stop there. Not all page views are created equal; there’s a difference in content (robo-clicked, accident, etc.) interacted upon, content shared (blind RT, feeds, bots), vs. content engaged – content that’s been read by an actual person; bigger difference when it’s a key target; and FTW when you get message and content, time and opportunity all hitting the right person at the right moment. FWIW.


Wade October 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I think that “engaging” people on social media is writing content that prompts them to take action.

I guess different people find different meaning to this word, but when you can engage someone, I think it means the purpose of two people interacting together.

You provide the great content, and the reader “interacts” on your content.

All in all, it all boils down to the content.


Marcus Sheridan October 26, 2012 at 9:11 am

Well said brother…Action IS interaction.

Thanks for stopping by my man.



Yvonne October 25, 2012 at 1:43 am

They provide access to current customers and offer the potential for new clientele. Despite the ease of using social media outlets for business marketing, approaching it the wrong way can be detrimental instead of beneficial.


Mitch Mitchell November 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Wow, I’m finally commenting on a post that doesn’t already have 100 comments ahead of me! lol

First, I see engagement as any interaction between two parties. In essence, in this regard I’m a bit like you. I have more than 3,000 articles online and hope that people are reading a lot of it in multiple places, then trying to seek me out. Though I like talking to people, which I reflect by responding to everyone that comments on my blogs, talks to me on social media sites, or sends me an email, if they’re reading my stuff on a consistent basis yet not talking to me I think that’s a type of engagement in and of itself. Kind of the “fan” thing and the information thing going at the same time.

Second, as much as I want people reading, I want them to talk to me even more. Whether it’s email, phone, blog comments or something I’ve yet to think of, if I can talk to them I have a better opportunity to make true impact, whether it’s a sale or a reinforcement of something. Now, you can call that engagement or interaction but to me, in this instance, they’re synonymous.


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