How To

Systems of engagement: New vocabulary

Share this post:

What it means

A system of engagement is designed to motivate people to take action, get information and share feedback (directly or as evidenced by their online behavior). Often parts of the system are designed by answering basic questions:

  • What makes someone buy from an online retailer or spend more time on its site—is it the suggestions he or she gets for similar products that might be of interest?
  • Are people more likely to visit a site based on a recommendation from a tweet than a banner ad?
  • How do people evaluate whether to trust an Internet offer that looks too good to be true?

Other examples of components of a system of engagement include customer loyalty programs, interactive games, health and fitness programs, online education, employee engagement programs, and social and political activist platforms. To create these programs, organizations try to develop experiences that meet or exceed people’s expectations, providing the right information— information a user truly values—in the right way at the right time. Most successful systems of engagement are defined broadly—they include products, but also expertise, new peers, connections and advice.

Systems of engagement not only automate, deliver and guide marketing actions, but they also accurately measure their results—across channels, geographies and social boundaries. Systems that are individualized and inspiring enough will make people look forward to a company’s future products or services, thereby offering a competitive advantage. By communicating with customers in a personalized way, a well-designed system of engagement enables marketers to make more informed investments that create greater value for clients and greater return on investment for themselves.

Why it’s important

People increasingly have more choice in almost all aspects of their lives, so competition for their attention and engagement is fierce. Successful marketers rely on systems of engagement to better understand clients and effectively deploy resources to serve them. But perhaps they are most important because, when done right, they make every interaction valuable to both the customer and to the company. A well-designed system of engagement makes marketing such a natural experience that consumers view it as a service. These systems fundamentally differ from old customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and similar systems of record: they are focused on individual client expectations—to listen, then serve rather than tell, then sell.

By uncovering insights into individual and small group behavior, organizations of all sorts, from retailers to governments, can more effectively support their customers and citizens. And not only do these insights offer an understanding of current behaviors, they can also serve as a roadmap to future product or service requirements.

What will change

Some leading companies are moving from systems of record to systems of engagement.5

Systems of record Systems of engagement
Transactional systems Personalized systems
Designed for record tracking: facts, dates Designed for sense and response
Push one-way communication Foster two-way conversation
Machine-based interfaces Multimedia, social user experience
Just-in-time communication delivery Real-time alerts and notifications
Focus on department-level or corporate networks Multi-channel work/personal networks
Focus on highly structured data/records Embrace loosely structured knowledge


Systems of engagement can break down the boundaries between consumers and enterprises, between employees and clients, between a company marketing a product and a person sharing a wonderful new thing she found with her friends and family. By fostering dialogue and mastering the tools to mine unstructured conversations for key insights, organizations can build meaningful, long-term relationships that deliver immediate value and uncover future opportunity for all.

Key questions to ask

  1. How are we truly listening to and promoting two-way conversations?
  2. How are we using social media to extend and improve client/citizen/customer service?
  3. Can we use better social media engagement to improve brand relationships and client/consumer/citizen insights?
  4. Do we have a way to integrate social media with our existing systems of record?

Related Reading

1. AIIM: Systems of Engagement and The Future of Enterprise IT: A Sea Change in Enterprise IT

2. CIO: How CIOs Can Help Facilitate Systems of Engagement

3. Dachis Group: Moving Beyond Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement by Dion Hinchcliffe

4. Forbes: The Move from Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement

5. Harvard Business Review: Moving from Transaction to Engagement

6. IBM: From social media to Social CRM

More stories

Agile in Action: Creating a Marketing Transformation

As organizations shift their marketing mix towards digital, they face pressures to be faster, more accountable and collaborative with the lines of business they support. While adjusting to the new environment, marketing leaders are discovering a wealth of best practices from “agile.” But what does agile in the Marketing context really mean? We have heard agile used […]

Continue reading

Keep Your Brand Relevant in a Voice-First World

With recent advances in AI, including natural language processing (NLP), voice will be the next big paradigm in how we interact with digital devices. With the big tech companies racing to establish dominance of their respective voice platform, it’s only a matter of time until spoken dialogue will become the standard for digital interfaces. Whether […]

Continue reading

Should brands on Twitter talk like teenagers?

On May 28, a rogue account masquerading as the official Twitter presence of RC Cola (@OfficialRCCola) was suspended. The account joined Twitter in April of 2017, and had developed a following that surpassed the official RC Cola account. Recently, the account fooled its followers into believing that it was taking potshots at the Trump administration, […]

Continue reading