Phil Friedman in Communications and journalism, beBee in English, Social Media Writer/Editor - Marketer - Ghost Writer - Marine Industry Consultant • Port Royal Group Oct 7, 2016 · 5 min read · 3.2K

Building Engagement on Social Media

Building Engagement 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!

Building Engagement on Social Media

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.

Building Engagement on Social Media

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.

Building Engagement on Social Media  

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:

"Affinity Networking Is On the Line"

"Arrogant Control Is Not Leadership on Social Media... Or Anywhere Else"

"Take Your Algorithm and Shove It!"

"View Count on Pulse Posts Headed to Oblivion"

"Publishing in the Shadow of the LinkedIn Oracle"

"Lessons Learned from Publishing in the Shadow of the LinkedIn Oracle"

As well, feel free to "like" and "share" this post and my other articles — whether on beBee, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, provided only that you credit me properly as the author, and include a live link to my original post.

About me, Phil FriedmanWith 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.

Building Engagement on Social Media

To schedule an appointment for a free 1/2-hour consult email: I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Building Engagement on Social Media

Building Engagement on Social Media

Phil Friedman Oct 9, 2016 · #56

#52 correction: Unremitting adherence to an ethos of shallow sweetness and coupled with aggression toward anyone who dares to step off the well trodden path of Social Media Muzak. Cont... Pt II

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Phil Friedman Oct 9, 2016 · #55

#52 Pt II --- Michele, Thank you, Michele, for your insight and kind words. Perhaps, if enough of us who understand the elements of authentic intellectual exchange can find each other, we can build a refuge within the increasingly stultifying wave of honey sweetness for those who actually give a damn.

See @Jim Murray, @Don Kerr, and @Kevin Pashuk, my fellow BeeZers, I've gone and done it again. Poked the honey bear in the eye. Ah, well...Cheers!

Phil Friedman Oct 9, 2016 · #54

#52 To quote you, Michele, "I found out early on that the toughest comments came from those who cared most." BINGO! and not just because it is something I've repeatedly said myself. Rather, because it is true.

My good friend, Prof. @Milos Djukic, speaks of "success at social media", that concept is both a snare and a delusion. For the predominating concept of "success" in the Land of Digital Exchange is popularity... And that goal will always drive Insipidipity.

We may not always be able to discern "authentically" meaningful interchange, but we can damn well recognize pro forma when we see it: Comments made on articles without reading them. Generic positive stroking that could apply in any situation to anybody and anything that might be said. Constant unreflective exchanges of mutual admiration among small cliques. Unremitting adherence to an ethos of shallow sweetnessithunt aggre@Don Kerrwho dares to step off the well trodden path of Social Media Muzak. Cont... Pt II

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Michele Williams Oct 9, 2016 · #53

#43 @Milos Djukic, beBee is full of surprises. I never expected to see Dr. Robert Cialdini referenced in a comment. I teach negotiation so use his work in my class. Cheers.

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Michele Williams Oct 9, 2016 · #52

@Phil Friedman, @Milos Djukic at the risk of making a pro forma positive comment, I have enjoyed your thoughtful and respectful exchange in comments 41-50. In academia, no scholarship is perfect. I found out early on that the toughest comments came from those who cared most. While there should always be room for growth in understanding through debate and disagreement on beBee, we should not lose the expressions of joy that beBee elicits as people read, watch and listen to wonderfully diverse posts. I am not sure that we will ever be able to disentangle joyful responses to new topics and ideas from subtle asks for reciprocity.

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Milos Djukic Oct 9, 2016 · #51

#50 @Phil Friedman, The fear of failure and irrelevance is a very common and widespread phenomenon in social networks. You never know whether a positive comment is made only pro forma or not. A targeted interaction is a crucial one and also a willingness to understand that we are different. Only then we can help and improve each other. I will repeat again something that I wrote a long time ago:

"I'm an imperfect person with a bunch of weaknesses. What makes us unique is not our professional successes, social media itself or other trivia. Professional success in social media is a result of our humanity and willingness to recognize what is important and that's nobility. Not only humanity and nobility directed towards our family, but also towards others: "little"- great people on social media, with all its weaknesses. With such a person, a real professional, every aspect of professional or non- professional cooperation is always possible and fruitful. The basic characteristics of such a person are: 1. Clear personal attitudes, 2. Skillfulness, 3. Knowledge and imagination , 4. Desire to learn and improve, 5. Personal integrity, but ALSO 6. Gentleness, 7. Unpretentiousness, 8. Unobtrusiveness, 9. Willingness to help, 10. Willingness to say sorry and 11. Willingness to answer boldly and to be corrected" - from "What Makes Us Unique on Social Media", LI long-form post, published on December 28, 2014 (

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Phil Friedman Oct 9, 2016 · #50

#48 The only thing in this case to fear, Milos, is fear itself. There is an important point, however, that I would like to emphasize. It was highlighted by remarks made by Nathan Lowell. True engagement is not achieved by likes and comments that pass back and forth in the night like trains on separate tracks. True --- or I suppose we might say authentic --- engagement happens only through interchange, that is, discussion and mutual reflection either as a result of disagreement or an intuition that some idea or opinion is worth examining and expanding and growing.

I rarely give advice about publishing on social media, but here is something for (pardon the expression) "NewBees": To build engagement, you must not only answer your reader comments, but you must do so by actually reading those comments and answering with a reply that is commensurate with, and speaks to the point or points the reader is making. A reply which also demonstrates clearly that you have read their comment and value it. cont... Pt II

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Phil Friedman Oct 9, 2016 · #49

#48 - Part II - @Milos Djukic

I try always to do that, although I have to admit that my manner is sometimes misunderstood. Here is the thing. I am serious when I say that I would rather receive a critical comment that shows someone has actually read and is responding to what I have written, than a positive comment that is made only pro forma. So even if I am arguing with someone, it should not be inferred that I do so because I do not value their input. Indeed, I am personally less likely to argue with someone whom I don't respect (which is why I have taken to ignoring certain trolls who follow me around), than I am with someone whose ideas and opinions I do respect.

That is why I will go 'round and 'round with you, and @Gerald Hecht, and the BeeZers, and John White, MBA and David Grinberg, and so many others whose opinions I find challenging and stimulating --- even if I ultimately do not agree with them. And why I am at such pains to point out ad nauseum the importance of allowing for, and defending dissent and disagreement on social media. Cheers!

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