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“Increase engagement” is the cry! But we can’t always say higher engagement is a good thing — and that goes for any social platform or blog.

Top engaging posts are generally the ones you want to replicate and optimize. But – and yes, there is a but — when that engagement is actually negative, then you have an issue. Sure, this is an opportunity to provide service to these people, but you need to also focus on the issues causing this behavior. And more likely than not, this is a business issue, not one that started online on social. If every time you post about a product and people use it as a forum to post negative commentary about that product, then perhaps you should look at the product one more time. Or if you post a promotion and people use that as an opportunity to comment about your privacy policy, then it’s time to revisit your policies.

Marketers are under a lot of pressure to boost engagement metrics. As social platforms increase the number of native ads, impressions become the currency. As a marketer, your mission will be to get the farthest reach possible on your content. Increased engagement is one way to game the system (without paying) because the algorithms often favor content that is getting engagement. But if the content is only working because the audience has something negative to say, it’s time to slow down.

At the recent Engage 2013 conference, Sam Wilson from Woolworths shared a story about a social media post that created so much uproar, the company needed to shut its Facebook page down for a week. The company took a step back, reset its community, and told its audience where it stood. The audience was allowed to blow off steam about the issue (which, by the way, was a political issue), before being reengaged.

Without qualifying the engagement, that post – with the hundreds of comments that it had – might have been considered a success. But just looking at the numbers doesn’t tell you the whole story.

You need to know what your audience is thinking and feeling. You need to know if your fans or followers are your customers. You need to know if the people liking your content are your employees or your customers. Qualifying the actions that occur with your content will tell you if your content is really working. It will also tell you if have a wrench in the system somewhere else. Actually listening to your audience gives you insight on whether your business is doing well and if your brand is healthy.

The numbers alone might be telling you the wrong story. If you understand the people in your audience, you can make better content decisions. Take a moment and qualify your data. Ensure that the content you’re working so hard to create is actually working for your intended target.

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