This article was first published on the Internet Evolution Blog.. 

We hear a lot about engagement on social media, but there are steps and stages that should come first -- and later -- and one of the most important pre-engagement stages is entanglement.

"Likes" and follows give marketing and brand-management professionals immediate insight, but there's more to engagement than a blue thumbs up on your company's Facebook page.

Like engagement, there are many ways to measure entanglement. Entanglement is at times the missing link between content and engagement, and is similar to -- but not the same as -- awareness. In fact, awareness, content reception, entanglement, and engagement are some of the steps and mileposts on the journey to consumer influence and outreach.

In traditional marketing, brands worked hard to control their own message; social media has now transferred much of that power to the consumer. In many cases, consumers choose to be entangled with a brand and later choose to actively engage with the brand. While its value is often debated, a consumer who Likes a brand's Facebook page is one perfect measure of entanglement. Fan page Likes effectively link consumers with brands -- they are mutually entangled, and as a result of that entanglement comes a modicum of permissions and benefits for the brands and consumers.

I coined the term "entanglement" in the "For Immediate Release" (FIR) podcast episode 597 (at about 7 minutes, 50 seconds). Mea culpa; for brevity, in FIR 597 I conflated psychographic attractors and entanglement as psychographic entanglement. Content can lead to entanglement but it is not the only way.

Physicists speak of quantum entanglement: Two particles once entangled are linked and they share a mutuality, wherein changes to one can affect the other. Entanglement can survive over time and distance. Imagine the perfect online cocktail party, featuring you and hundreds of guests. The engagement model of social media entails you actively interacting with everyone at that party, all at the same time. That's easy enough to do in the online world. This view, however, doesn't reflect the reality that consumers (in this case, the party guests) are gatekeepers of their own interactions and that you are not the only guest at the party. You might get entangled at this party but not reach engagement until some future party in the days or months ahead. Once you do engage, you remain entangled over time (and distance) until the next conversation, which may never come.

The Ties That Bind
Quantum Entanglement

(Source: Sparky434, Deviant Art)

Hyper lifestyle brands like Justin Bieber or any brand living out its perfect 15 minutes at the heart of the zeitgeist are the exceptions to that rule in that fans wait at the virtual trough for a bombardment of engagement. For every other brand, however, engagement is that rare blue moon occurrence, often fleeting, rarely repeated, and why we brand managers, marketing execs, and social media mavens must always be listening.

More than one particle or person can be entangled. Take Bieber: His brand can entangle large cohorts, what I call a digital mass market. Even power brands like Bieber have far more fans entangled than engaged as shown when you examine the large number of fans who Like or follow the pop star, but never post or re-tweet his messages.

Returning to our virtual cocktail party, entanglement is that glance, nod, quick smile, or shift in body language that signifies, "Let's talk later..." or that implies mutual acknowledgement. For brands, entanglement is a page Like on Facebook or a follow on Twitter. Each social network has its own forms of entanglement, but we have to see the moment of entanglement for what it is. At our cocktail party it's solely the potential for further interaction, not the promise of it. The welcoming of entanglement can be withdrawn just as quickly as it's given; at the party, your warming smile might be negated by bad breath, bad manners, or the impression that you're too flirtatious.

No matter whether you're branding a pop star, a retail chain, or an insurance company, entanglement is one of the first building blocks you must master. Your message may be different but the goal is the same: opening the door to a long-term relationship with customers, whoever they are.

[This article was originally published on the Internet Evolution blog and was edited by Alison Diana]