Greg Weiss, Vice President of Social Media at MasterCard, gained a lot of attention yesterday when he said a brand that replies to his tweets makes more of an impact on him than years of advertising ever could. Coming from someone in Weiss’s position, the declaration immediately generated a ton of conversation online about the value of online engagement and its true impact on consumers and brands alike. 

So what exactly is the ROI of social media and consumer engagement? As Gary Vaynerchuck has famously said, “What’s the ROI of your mother?” You can’t quantify it, but you know its influence is there.

Engagement may be helpful to your brand (even necessary) but what matters is the motive behind it. Anyone can talk. More important is what you say, and why, and that’s true both online and off.

There certainly exists no shortage of brands continually shooting themselves in the foot by saying dumb things on social media in the name of engagement. Within the past 72 hours alone, we’ve witnessed Pat Sajack deny the reality of global warming and the Hooters franchise “joking” about rape. Both now find themselves in need of serious damage control.

In my own experience, I can think of two brands whose approach to online engagement differs so dramatically, their motives so starkly contrasted, that while one of them I applaud, the other is quickly climbing the ranks and on its way to becoming one I can only talk about with frustration and anger.

The Good: OtterBox 

As the tagline denotes, “We’ve got technology covered.” They certainly do. Every iPhone I’ve ever had is instantly outfitted with an OtterBox case. I believe, and have had such positive experiences with them and their product, that it’s not uncommon for me to hold off a device upgrade until they’ve developed the protection for it. Often this might mean waiting a month or two depending on the case, but it’s worth it.

How did I become such a loyalist? Simple. OtterBox time and time again stands by their product.

For the first few years, I went with the ruggedly stylish Defender series never experiencing any issues. With the introduction of their most recent line of waterproof cases for the iPhone 5S, I took the plunge and opted for their Preserver series. 

Though the case renders the iPhone virtually indestructible, and offers functionality exceeding that of its competition by far, the case is so precisely designed that the slightest bump can seemingly knock something out of alignment and soon having a conversation with clear audio becomes near impossible. I reached out to OtterBox on Twitter, and each time they were quick to respond. Beyond the standard, “Were sorry to hear that,” they wanted to get to the bottom of the problem and help solve it. Within a few minutes I received a call from their customer service department to help remedy the issue, and just as quickly, a replacement case shipped out, no questions asked. The issue repeated itself with the second case too, (so clearly there’s a design flaw) but the team at OtterBox remained truly focused on customer service, using social media as a true form of online engagement.

The Bad: Uber. 

To say Uber has given me a headache would be the world’s biggest understatement. After over a year of using Uber, my relationship with them is beginning to mirror that of one with a dysfunctional ex. If I can borrow a description from comedian Aaron Karo, the first six months were bliss, the next three were a little rocky, and the last three have been spent trying not to punch them in the face. Despite leading the evolution in how the world moves, and making cities more accessible, if you’ve got a disability, that’s of little comfort.

How did it get this bad?

Earlier this year, I was partnered with my first service dog, an awesome two-year-old Labrador Retriever. Since then, my experience with Uber has become so increasingly frustrating I wonder if my continued relationship with them is some form of Stockholm Syndrome. 

Not only has it become increasingly common for drivers to adamantly insist they “can’t” accept me as a client due to my service dog, many drivers, as misinformed as they are, claim they are under no obligation to abide by federal law because they use their own vehicles. Nearly 25% of my requested rides have been cancelled by the driver upon arrival simply because they do not want to obey or acknowledge the existence of the ADA. One driver even went as far as to say he would not allow me in his vehicle unless my dog were caged. More and more I am forced to make multiple requests through the Uber app before I am able to complete a trip without incident.

And what, you may be asking is Uber’s response to all this? “This isn’t right and we’re working with our partners to make it better.”

From a social media perspective, Uber, and in particular the DC office, is extremely responsive and engaging on Twitter. With each incident brought to their attention, they promise swift action and follow up, yet, little ever changes. To the Twitterverse it’s outstanding service with a smile, and it registers as good PR. The reality is, time and time again I am left with nothing more than empty promises to do better from a company whose accountability is so lacking they only communicate through social media, e-mail and their respective iPhone and Android apps. All my repeated requests to meet with them in person, or talk in depth with someone with the hope of starting a much needed dialogue on these issues go unheeded, as did my letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. All of this “engagement” amounts to nothing without the action to support it.

So while the debate over the value of social media engagement rages on, this much remains abundantly clear: talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words, and engagement is only as valuable as the motive behind it.