By Claire Gibson

It’s official. “Consumer Engagement” is the biggest catchphrase in modern marketing. Register for a conference. Do a little Google. You’ll find it everywhere. Brands and business leaders alike are obsessed with figuring out how to get consumers to “engage” with the content they’re creating. But there’s a problem. Most business leaders and brand managers are viewing engagement all wrong. They’ve forgotten what the word actually means.

As it stands, businesses are grappling with a landscape that’s changing faster than ever, and consumers who are more distracted than ever. Marketers love to throw around a random (yet shocking) fact to support that claim: the average person’s attention span is now officially shorter than that of a goldfish. That’s right. In the year 2000, the average consumer attention span was 12 seconds. In 2013, our attention span had dwindled to 8 seconds — 1 second less than goldfish.

Of course, we haven’t confirmed how scientists test goldfish attentiveness, but that’s beside the point. The point is—we, The Internet, are sluts. We jump from one place to the next, from one social media channel to another, reading, skimming, scanning—not totally paying attention until WHAM! we see something we like and stick around for a few extra seconds. This isn’t groundbreaking. This is how all of us use the Internet. It’s commonplace.

What boggles our mind, is that from that point of casual interaction—brands are demanding “engagement.” Engagement? Really? When was the last time you heard the word “engagement” in real life? And what was the context? We’d put money on the fact that someone was getting on one knee.

True engagement indicates deep lasting commitment. If you were set up on a blind date, and a few seconds into the date, that person asked you to get “engaged,” — it would be entirely reasonable for you to walk out the door and never look back. Before “engagement” — real or brand-driven — there needs to be hundreds of smaller, less significant interactions. Glances. Moments. Time together in the same room. Time together in general.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting engagement. There’s nothing wrong with brand leaders working toward it — as long as we stop believing that it’s going to happen magically or quickly. And as long we use the word “engagement” with the reverence it deserves.