holdhandshadowThink of someone you know with an “engaging” personality. It’s probably a person who has interesting, positive things to say, which is not to say they agree or necessarily support you. It’s probably someone who gets you thinking outside your box. He inspires you, challenges you, energizes you, and maybe leaves you a little breathless when he departs.

Through online and social media we seek to connect, to engage in a way that gets our current and potential clients interested in hearing (and doing, and buying) more. Businesses want to build buzz, gain followers, promote, succeed; to influence positively, and leave their customers and potential clients a little breathless. However, in the online numbers game, talk is cheap, and so are “Likes.” “Following” doesn’t equate “engaging” any more than holding hands equates with eloping; numbers don’t mean much without passion.

Engagement is a necessary element of a successful social media strategy, but clearly there is more to captivating an audience than putting on a virtual happy face and bombarding them with links to coupons and videos while building followers. Your engaging friend may know a lot about current events or music or wine varietals, but if she consistently just talked AT you, you would probably start dodging her phone calls pretty quickly.

Chances are she’s a really good listener, too, and it’s the banter and balance you value as much as her entertaining stories. She probably doesn’t care so much about the sheer volume of friends she has as she does the quality of her interactions and the positive energy she derives from them. Chances are, when she’s engaging you, she reacts to your reaction thoughtfully, knowledgeably, empathetically. Maybe she agrees with what you’re saying. Or maybe she doesn’t — standing her ground, challenging you with facts, photos, insights. She doesn’t necessarily prove you wrong; but she cares what you have to say, respects your opinion even if she helps you consider other possibilities.

If you’ve ever been part of a relationship (friend, partner, coworker) who adored your praise but in effect “deleted” your constructive feelings and responses, you began to lose the trust that what you said mattered to them. Online engagement demonstrates commitment; and transparent, productive, meaningful engagement demonstrates trust.

The “questioning” — the authentic interest in what, why, and how your “Likers” like — and understanding what they don’t — is critical, but the “answering” is where the success stories are made.

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