Engagement Ain't Nothing But A Number
The headline calls attention to everything that's wrong with how businesses measure engagement in social media today. Businesses that invest any level of marketing resources in networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and the like (get it?) are being groomed to focus on soft metrics instead of the relevant activity that signals the strength and worth of a community.
By weighing conversations, interactions, and views, businesses are fed raw numbers that demonstrate KPIs but they do not offer the insights necessary to glean ROI or deep understanding of what people do and do not want, need, or value. And that's part of the problem as marketers and developers are focusing on stimulating movement, which by default becomes a game of competing for attention, moment by moment.
A recent study published by Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, an Australia-based research group found that less than 1-percent of Facebook "Fans" actually engage with brands. Researchers looked at the top 200 brands using Facebook's "People Talking About This" metric as a proportion of overall fan growth over a six-week period in October 2011. As a result, the team discovered that the percentage of People Talking About This compared to overall fans was only 1.3%.
While this metric and approach is only one way to measure supposed engagement, the truth is that even by Facebook's own standards of measurement, marketers are already boxed into a reporting process where each report serves as a benchmark for future activity. That's the problem though. Engagement is confused with incidents and not outcomes or influence, the ability to cause desired effect or change behavior.
Businesses Take a Medium'alistic Approach
Brands and their marketers suffer from what I refer to as medium'alism, a condition where inordinate value and weight is placed on the technology of any medium rather than amplifying platform strengths and ideas to deliver desired and beneficial experiences and outcomes.
Said another way, businesses are developing for the sake of development and establishing supporting presences without regard for how someone feels, thinks, or acts as a result. In doing so, "engagement" programs are calculated, brought to life in the form of an editorial calendar that, by its very nature, isn't not designed to really engage people at all.
See, engagement is not defined through likes, comments, shares, RTs or impressions. This activity is simply a result of engagement. Focusing on soft metrics is at the detriment of the customer experience and is potentially a distraction away from developing more meaningful connections and relationships. Engagement is by design. And, this is why businesses that are attempting to drive engagement numbers are benchmarking against lower standards. Instead of benchmarking against themselves, marketers and developers should consider benchmarking against the opportunity. Doing so is far more ambitious and as such, aspirational in the development of future strategies.
For example, I ran a quick experiment with a global beer brand to prove a point. We looked at the 1-percent engagement rate and decided to run a non-scientific experiment to not only debunk the value of the engagement number as defined, but also demonstrate the need to think through desired actions and outcomes.
In the middle of a business day, I posted a picture of a frosty mug filled with said beer with an ocean view in the distance. I added one word to the post, "cheers." Within minutes that 1-percent engagement rate was eclipsed with people uploading pictures of their favorite moments while enjoying their favorite beer. Along with comments, Likes, Shares, etc., the marketing and digital teams were temporarily elated but quickly realized that the engagement they witnessed was only fleeting. While a simple example, the lesson is that engagement must mean something more to groom the community toward desired sentiment, outcomes, or to simply serve the needs of the community based on stated expectations or desires.
Redefining Engagement to be More Engaging
It starts with redefining engagement as we know it today to ultimately improve experiences tomorrow. I spent some time exploring existing definitions and I was surprised to find a lack clarity around such an important word. Since we spent so much time talking about what engagement is not, I invested time in researching the best practices of brands that were clearly driving communities in a particular direction through digital, social, and mobile channels. Those companies include Virgin America, Dell, TOMS, Whole Foods, Giant Nerd, among others. As a result, a working definition for engagement came into view...
Engagement is defined by how a brand and consumer connect and interact within their networks of relevance.Simple. But, it's also incomplete. It's not just about the moment or competing for attention, it's about the aftereffect.
Engagement is measured by takeaway value, sentiment or feelings, and resulting actions following the exchange.If we look at the nature of the community in which brands are investing today, editorial programming, contests, gimmicks, campaigns, etc. lend to only one of the multifaceted sides to customer engagement. Community is much more than belonging to something, it's about doing something together that makes belonging matter. This is why businesses must think about investing engagement by defining experiences, journeys, feelings and outcomes. Without doing so, they by default introduce experience divides that disrupt flow, hinder sentiment, and obstruct clicks to action.
Redefined engagement opens the door to new strategies and resulting metrics that lend to meaningful experiences and results. By designing more meaningful initiatives, businesses can now focus on causing effect, changing behavior, or reinforcing value where previous engagement metrics can now document the progress of progress. The ultimate measure however is now something more substantial, such as...
- Shift in sentiment
- Brand integrity/Reputation