Why User Engagement Isn’t Always A Good Thing On Social Media

Melisa Assunta
4 min readOct 29, 2019


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For many people the very idea of social media is to engage with others, to have meaningful discussions and to quite literally be “social.” However, for a small business or anyone who utilizes Facebook and other social media as a marketing tool can find that engagement is good — until it isn’t.

When you’re marketing a brand, a product or a business you want to engage with the audience, but too much engagement can be a time suck with little to no return on your investment of effort.

An example might be a small independent book store. To gain likes and followers the shop could post book reviews, share articles and other content that would appeal to those followers and even encourage a dialog. Possibly even encourage a purchase.

As I previously noted, one downside of this strategy is that likes don’t equate to sales. Likes don’t even equate to engagement. However, another downside is that even engagement can be a problem if it isn’t “meaningful engagement.”

In other words, it is all too easy to get followers who like to respond to the posts from a business, but yet will never become a customer. That hypothetical book shop can thus post reviews, interviews with authors and other content but if that drives engagement without actual sales that won’t help the shop stay in business. Even worse, in many cases those who engage the most may be the very individuals least likely to become customers.

“Slacktivism is the problem of seeing something on Facebook and other social media and liking it or commenting on it as a way of showing support,” explained Lawrence Parnell, associate professor and director of the Strategic Public Relations program at The Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University.

“This is a problem that a lot of people in the non-profit community have to deal with,” Parnell added. “The issue here is that likes and comments are not dollars or donations. They do not help the cause and it is a non-committal way of showing support. This can also be seen in the political realm or the business world. What we want is real engagement, not passive engagement!”

Negative Commentary

Simply having to manage comments from those who respond to posts can be time consuming enough, but then there is the issue that some individuals feel the need to vet. An example could be an antique shop that shared a story about new laws on the banning of ivory. That could result in hostile comments from followers — and while not directed at the shop could be negative enough to upset other followers, including actual customers! In many cases too many people would comment on social media in a way they never would in person.

The best course of action to avoid such confrontations in the first place may be to keep a neutral tone when posting.

“As the individual that is working that social media account, you already know that you do not have a personal opinion so everything you say as a response on behalf of the brand is that brand’s opinion,” said Dr. Dustin York, director of Undergraduate and Graduate Communication at Maryville University. “There really isn’t any opportunity to put that social media practitioner’s opinion into any of those posts.”

The question then becomes what to do when your followers do leave negative comments? In many cases the answer may be to ignore them.

“There is not much to do about such people — think of them as people shouting in a public square, since that is what Facebook and Twitter have become,” suggested Parnell.

“Most people don’t pay attention or follow their comments closely, so most of the time you can ignore them as well. The exceptions are if they are an ‘influencer’ and have a large following or seem to represent a business competitor or political opponent. Doing some in-line research will yield insights and then you can respond as needed.”

One mistake for a small business or brand is to delete the negative comments, especially if that individual does have a large following.

“It’s not appropriate nowadays in social media to delete any posts unless those posts from users are racist, sexist, completely off-base that has nothing to do with the specific organization,” added York.

“If someone is unhappy with a product or service then don’t delete it,” York explained. “A go-to is to say publicly on that post that, ‘We hear your concerns and we’re DMing (Direct Messaging) you right now to follow up.’”

York advised to keep the message short and sweet.

“But seen publicly, other users will see that you are continuing that conversation with that person,” he noted. “More than likely, most people will see that as someone trolling, especially if they’re getting aggravated publicly. If they have a legitimate concern then people will tend to automatically be on the side of that person with the concern. If they’re aggravated and going crazy on there, they’ll automatically go to the side of the organization. If they are collected and they share concerns about the organization, the best thing you can do publicly is say ‘We hear your concerns. We’ve just DMed you to continue the conversation.’”

Such a strategy is one that can be used to support customers and clients and keep everyone happy, including those who tend to leave the negative comments.

“If that person writes back, don’t continue the conversation,” said York. “You’ve heard them, and you’ve given them a response. But they do feel like that conversation has been had and people publicly, who are customers, see publicly that that conversation was had on DMs.”

Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.



Melisa Assunta

I'm a dedicated writer sharing my thoughts, stories, and insights on various topics. Join me on this literary journey as we explore the beauty of expression