Engagement That Isn’t Engagement

As many of you know, I find the study of social media a fascinating hobby. It’s not my full time job, and I’m not out here trying to sell anything or make money, but I find the idea of using social media and the challenge of getting the attention of social media users fairly interesting.

I’m also interested in how people act, and interact with each other, on social media. Since I have a number of small sites, as opposed to a huge site, I can actually isolate behavior on individual Twitter and Facebook posts, including what kind of traffic to the blog any post might drive.

It’s in that vein that I’ve noticed something interesting. People sharing, or retweeting, a link, without ever clicking the link and reading it.


I’ve seen this play out in two ways.


1. Links to my own content, that get retweeted, without a corresponding hit on the post, so I have to assume the person retweeting didn’t actually read it.

2. Links to other articles, where the article is fairly lengthy, a meaty take on a subject, where people are retweeting it a mere seconds after I tweet it. Again, I assume they couldn’t have read it.

On the one hand, it’s cool that they want to share things I post and trust me. On the other, there’s something about this idea that bothers me. Why would you share something with your own followers that you haven’t even read? I fear that our attention spans on social have reached a level where all we do is look at a headline, and if we agree with the headline, we’ll share it. That’s not a good thing.

Unfortunately, the lesson for people trying to market their content is that to get engagement, all you really need is a catchy headline. Few people will read the content before it starts getting spread around, so that isn’t too important. That also means that any one could write a catchy headline with a link that leads anywhere, and unwitting social media users will end up sharing that link with their followers. If the link is actually a malware loader, a NSFW website, full of complete lies, or anything else, they’d be unleashing some fairly awful things on the people who trusted them enough to follow them. (This is why, for example, despite the daily messages I get about child abuse survivors addressed to those social media accounts, asking me to help raise money for individuals, I don’t share them. I have no way to verify any of the claims, and do not want to be irresponsible.)

Beyond that obvious danger, I also have a philosophical problem with this. Have we really reached a point where our beliefs are so ingrained that all we need is a bumper sticker, or a headline, as a stand in for a well-considered idea? Are we so shallow that we don’t even read an article before deciding whether we agree and want to share the idea? Just the headline will do? That’s a sad statement on social media users, especially considering how many of us seem to believe that we are the “more educated” group.

For content marketers, the lesson here is that headlines really, really, do matter in terms of getting measurable engagement. But, measurable engagement might not be showing you what you think it is. Shares, likes and retweets might not be from people who actually went to your site, read your content and found it worth sharing. They might be from shallow social media users who never went past the headline. Look past the engagement numbers, and consider who is reading the content if you want a true measure of how your content is effectively reaching it’s audience.


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