As with all new industries, social media has developed its own unique jargon that can sound like a foreign language to ‘outsiders’.

We frequently use words like ‘reach’ and ‘influence’ with the assumption that we all understand them to mean the same thing, when in fact if you ask ten social media gurus or ninjas what they mean by ‘engagement’ you’ll likely get several different definitions.

This became apparent at a recent roundtable hosted by Yomego which aimed to begin the process of creating a common language and standards around measuring social marketing.

Each of the attendees could recount tales of misunderstandings with clients and colleagues caused by varying definitions of the same social buzzwords.

Facebook defines engagement as: “the number of unique people who have clicked on your posts. This number encompasses only the first 28 days after a post’s publication.”

But what if I click on a link because it promises me money off, realise it’s not what I thought it was and exit after a couple of seconds. Does that mean I’m engaged with your brand?

Yomego MD Steve Richards said that while it is important to try and find standardised definitions of these meanings “the fact is that each campaign and each client will have different needs”.

You can agree on a common meaning for engagement, but still need a bespoke definition of what engagement or influence means in the context of your brand.

Once you have that, brands and their agencies can consider what actions they expect these to result in and the impact they should have.

But the problem of finding the common ground in the first place still exists.

The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) has come up with a glossary with the stated aim of aiding efficient communication by finding standard definitions that can be used consistently between different disciplines.

It uses the dictionary definition of engagement: “to occupy or attract someone’s interest or attention; involve someone in a conversation or discussion”.

Meanwhile co-founder and partner Philip Sheldrake, who co-authored the glossary, said that while a Facebook ‘like’ is a form of engagement, there is uncertainty over how this engagement should be defined.

Does the person like/love the brand? Does the person just want the discount coupon you’re offering? Is the person just interested in what you’re up to this week, or in general? Is it a passing fancy or of life-long heartfelt significance? You tell me!

He said that it is possible to achieve a common language in social just as as “we’ve reached linguistic consistency on the core aspects of on-site web analytics, for example.”

But the language will also continue to morph and evolve over time. Similarly, people will continue to use words like ‘influence’ to suit their own ends, e.g. Klout.

None measure influence as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary but rather the propensity for one’s social media contributions to be shared, for whatever reason that might be. We’ve just begun to reclaim the word from Klout et al, replacing it with something like ‘social capital’.

He said this is important because the word ‘influence’ conveys meaning to those who aren’t specifically experts in this domain that it should not, cannot, and therefore muddies rather than clarifies the situation. 

And the muddier things are, the muddier the planning and decision making.

Richards also highlighted the issues caused by Klout’s use of the word ‘influence’ as a specific user’s influence on social media is vastly different from how a brand wants to ‘influence’ a customer or fan. 

As ever, the issue is one of communication from the earliest stages – but it’s not always perfect.

Creating a clearer understanding of social jargon and metrics is top of Richards’s agenda and he believes that the versatility of language can actually be a benefit as long as agencies agree the definitions upfront.

We need to be able to talk about the different types of social influence, of social engagement. Consumers can engage with each other and they can engage with a brand.”

He said that engagement still means the same thing but the word is versatile, so we can only fix a term so far. In the end Richards suggests that it’s measurement that counts, which was one of the other aims of the roundtable.

Yomego is working with a number of brands to come up with a way of understanding how consumers engage with companies in social media and how this can be quantified. 

But in every case, and for every term, these meanings, if they are to be applied as metrics, need to be discussed and agreed with each client at the start.