Connections, Impressions and Engagement

by Sharlyn Lauby on September 8, 2011

One of my takeaways from this year’s Mashable Connect was the comment, “Connections are the new impressions.”  I was reminded of the comment again in Arianna Huffington’s letter to the Class of 2011.  She points out that our latest grads are “the most connected and the most engaged.”

It started me thinking – what is the relationship between connections, impressions and engagement?  By definition:

Connections are relationships or associations with someone or something.

Impressions are the effects produced from contact.

Engagement refers to involvement or commitment.

So I’m thinking the process goes something like this…I “connect” with people and organizations.  Those connections, if nurtured and managed well, turn into positive “impressions”.  And if I continue to get warm fuzzy impressions, solid “engagement” forms because I enjoy the connection.  Maybe it’s a circular model like this:

connections, engagement, impressions, social media, network

Where this gets tricky is trying to scale the model.  For example, I might have 10 connections that I reap a tremendous amount of engagement from.  If I try to do the same thing with 100 connections, will I still be successful? If the answer is yes, then building a large quantity of connections becomes important.

On the other hand, what happens if the answer is no?  We can’t possibly connect and subsequently engage with large numbers of people.  I’m asking because it only seems logical that we then must limit connections as a means to success.  But if we limit our connections, then don’t we run the risk of turning away people who want to be engaged with us.

I’ve seen both situations.  People who connect with large numbers but never engage.  And people who keep their connections small and are missing out on opportunities.

Maybe there’s even a third option.  It’s okay to have a large number of connections because all we’re looking for are impressions.  Not real engagement.  But then isn’t engagement where the real benefits of connecting start to occur?

Let me know your thoughts.  How do you decide who to connect with?  And what are you looking for – impressions or engagement?

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John Sumser September 8, 2011 at 10:40 am

This is a great question. Thanks for articulating it so thoughtfully.

I think that it’s possible that the Mashable folks were referring to ‘page impressions’ as in “how many page impressions did your website get” Impressions is an old model based on attempts to measure the number of readers of print publications.

It might be interesting to think of this as a scale (relationship quality or intimacy) that runs from impressions to engagement.

The other really interesting point that you are making is that online relationships with your connections are built incrementally through the delivery of insight, quality content and freshness.

My guess is that there isn’t a one size fits all formula. Some really important information needs to be delivered in a crisp, professional and disconnected fashion. Other information is delivered more effectively in a communication rooted in trust and reciprocal interest.

Each person and/or organization brings different needs and objectives to the mix.
John Sumser recently posted..Your Friends Are Not A Network 2

Sharlyn Lauby September 8, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Hi John. Thanks for the comment. Just for the record, it wasn’t anyone from Mashable using the term impressions. It was several of the presenters at the Mashable Connect event.

I totally agree every person and organization brings something different to the mix. What I find fascinating is trying to figure out how people are defining their goals. Because there are definitely different goals, especially when you talk about social media.

I like your point about some information needing to be delivered in a disconnected fashion. I wonder if the ability to deliver good information in a disconnected way can lead to engagement. Hmmm…I see more pondering in my future.

Mary Ellen Powell September 9, 2011 at 2:50 pm

This is a great post. I personally try and CONNECT with everyone I meet, I try to leave a good IMPRESSION, and then depending on the connection I determine my own engagement and pay great attention to the other’s engagement.

In terms of business, professionally I think all are important – if you are a manager or lead a team (and even if you don’t)you want to connect, leave an impression or influence, and lastly you must engage in order to get things accomplished or work with others.

Sharlyn Lauby September 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Very well said Mary Ellen. Thanks for commenting!

Eric Payne September 9, 2011 at 11:04 pm

A similar trigraph that helps me understand my connections:
1- Will this help ACHIEVE something
2-Do I want to INFLUENCE behavior
3-Am I looking to build a RELATIONSHIP.

Sharlyn Lauby September 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Eric, I like the questions. Thanks for sharing!

Denise September 12, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for a great article! I personally see this as an upside down spiral (wish I could draw you a great graphic!). So the bottom of the spiral is wide and includes all your connections and as it spirals up you see it get smaller and that is where your impressions play a role and as you reach the top and are even smaller, that is when you achieve engagement. There are lots of people out there who are on a mass hunt for connections so it is impossible to engage everyone – but there are some who are willing to spend a bit more time to form an impression and then a select few who are wanting to actually engage.

Thanks for the food for thought on this!

Sharlyn Lauby September 13, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Thanks for the comment Denise! I really like how everyone is describing their own graphic for how the relationship works. Definitely giving me something to noodle…

Jane Clements April 24, 2012 at 1:53 am

Engagement is highly important for business now. But I think it pretty much follows Impressions and initial contact, so one without the other can’t happen.


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