Is Cereal Soup?
For YouTube, “engagement” need not mean much, which leads to content of the “Is Cereal Soup?” variety. We community hosts are better off focusing on cultivating the trust required for collaboration. That means starting small and building from the inside out.
Author and YouTuber John Green recently shared his thoughtful observations regarding engagement:
We often create dichotomies that place us into one of two opposing camps…a hot dog is or is not a sandwich or cereal is or is not soup. One might call these questions instantly debatable…The only real way I’ve found to get a lot of [simple] engagement around an issue…is to present it as instantly debatable…The way to get simple engagement—likes, views, comments—is not necessarily the way to get actual engagement—the kind of [sustained effort] that helps bring about real change.
Spectrum of Engagement
Members of an audience, network, or community aren’t simply engaged or disengaged—they move along a spectrum of engagement over time.
- Views or podcast downloads represent attention, the simplest and least demanding form of engagement.
- Likes, subscribes, shares, and perfunctory comments represent acknowledgment.
- More thoughtful and substantive comments represent contributions.
- A high degree of engagement involving sustained effort toward achieving individual goals together is indicative of collaboration.
Because collaboration requires relatively high degrees of effort and trust, it necessarily will represent a smaller pool of participants than those who pay attention—often an order of magnitude or two smaller:
Are You Selling Advertising?
As community hosts, it’s easy to get drawn into the metrics of attention and acknowledgment. After all, the language of likes, subscribes, views, and search engine optimization (SEO) is pervasive. Furthermore, people must be aware of your community before they can become members, much less collaborators. However, even though attention and acknowledgment are necessary, they aren’t sufficient for purposeful communities that seek effective and meaningful change.
That’s not the case for the owners of social media platforms. They are selling advertising reach to their customers. Views, likes, and subscribes are relevant to YouTube. It’s not that advertising platforms aren’t interested in highly engaged audience members, it’s just that those groups aren’t very big. For YouTube, “engagement” need not mean much, which leads to content of the “Is Cereal Soup?” variety.
We community hosts are better off focusing on cultivating the trust required for collaboration. That means starting small and building from the inside out as advocated by the likes of Fabian Pfortmüller and Richard Bartlett.