I’ve been thinking of how to measure engagement in the digital space for a while now, so I wanted to aggregate my thoughts and put them in one place. This post is intended to be provocative and get people thinking about how the current thinking of measurement of social media should change. It isn’t meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution – more an articulation of things that people should consider more and more when they embark on work in the online social space.
Some brands do not need to engage with their customers online, period. Products like bread or socks, for example, are not the kind of things that people want to have a social relationship with anywhere, forget online. It just makes them look silly.
Defining what engagement means to you as a brand at the outset is important. Is it having a certain number of comments? Getting people to contribute ideas to a wiki? Making sure they spend x amount of time on a site? It is only later that the ‘how’ of engagement should come into play. The answer to ‘how can we measure the impact of our website/community’ can only be given when you answer ‘what exactly am I looking for’ first.
Areas of engagement
If brands do engage online, where they engage is more important than how many places they are active online. I’d rather pick my battles (Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, for example) and fight them well rather than have my social finger in too many pies (all the above plus MySpace, Bebo, YouTube, LinkedIn, Hi5, Friendster, Orkut etc.) and not be able to have meaningful conversations with anyone. Of course this depends on where your audience is. They could well be in Second Life and Vimeo, and if they are, then that’s where you should be – not Facebook. (more after the break)
If brands do engage with customers online, the relationship with their consumers cannot be selfish: yes, they are investing money in creating a service, but they should think of it more as an investment than a cost. If their users/customers didn’t exist, they wouldn’t exist either. Therefore as much as they’d like to know what their ROI is (ultimately increased sales), they should consider what their audience’s ROI is going to be as well. Whether it is freebies, cash or a cut of the profits, or something that helps them validate their relationship with the brand: a widget, a button etc. Thinking of a value exchange right from the beginning is essential. Rick Liebling has done a bit of thinking on this, and if you’re not familiar with consumer ROI as a concept, it may be useful to read his posts on the topic.
Recognising that everything is not digital and not quantifiable
Not all interactions are quantifiable. For every #bosewatcher there may be completely satisfied Bose customers who chat about their experiences in real life instead of online. Technology helps us become more efficient – more brands are on Twitter now because it helps them speak to customers who are on Twitter. It doesn’t mean ALL their customers on Twitter. But if they weren’t on Twitter, then they wouldn’t be able to control the damage that unhappy customers can wreak on the brand, or talk to people who are curious about the brand.
We aren’t built of technology. It is merely a means to an end.
Means vs. end
It is important to distinguish the means from the end. Metrotwin is a service that helps people find the best of London and New York and Metrotwin Mumbai is a blog that captures the best of Mumbai and London. They are the means to an end: which is to get more people travelling between New York and London, and Mumbai and London – more satisfied people. That is down to the flight experience, and that is a function of the brand itself. It is very easy to confuse the two, as Dan O’Connor postulates here.
Methods of engagement
There are different ways to engage online, the most popular being
- co-creation: Lego Factory, and open APIs are examples. Note that this differs from crowdsourcing in the sense that in crowdsourcing you get people to contribute their ideas with possibly no reward in return, and no guarantee of the contributor’s ideas being used (MyStarbucksIdea or Crowdspring are examples of this), whereas when you co-create you actively solicit the user’s contribution in a product.
Agile services that are open to engagement
The best services to foster engagement are agile ones that are constantly open to feedback and change. This requires a willingness to include users in the process of improving the service (and ultimately the business). The methods of engagement outlined above are examples of ways in which this can be done.
Building a core user base
The best way to ensure a minimum level of take-up of a service is by building a core user base before launch. Burberry did this by creating Art of the Trench to tap into their core base of 700,000+ Facebook fans and giving them a way to engage with the brand in a better manner. Brands who do not have that critical mass need to define what the critical mass is for them, and be assured that the mass will engage with the brand via the service when it is ready. Burberry didn’t need to email each one of their 700,000+ members (they had enough pre-release coverage in online and offline publications), but smaller brands may need to. The ideas of propagation and engagement need to be built into a service from the beginning.
Speak to the people who are open to being spoken to, or those that want to be spoken to. This is where digital markedly differs from traditional mass advertising. The latter simply aims at as many people as they can reach (though we are all aware that media buying is a whole industry of its own, and a vast one at that), and is not overly concerned with engagement, because there is no conversation mechanism – that’s why traditional advertising is typically called ‘one-way’.
That has changed with digital, which needs to target a much more carefully defined audience and needs to ensure some level of engagement (i.e, it has to be ‘two-way’) – because it is much easier to measure (i.e elements like pageviews, visitors, number of comments etc., via simple tools like Google Analytics or more detailed paid services such as those provided by companies like Comscore or Radian6).
The impact of influencers
It is impossible to ignore the impact of key influencers – and their sphere of influence can span both digital and offline. This is the simple reason for the increase in the number of social media agencies whose business it now is to reach out to these influencers.
Brand engagement vs. consumer engagement
Measuring the level of engagement a brand has with their audience (as, for example the Altimeter Group’s EngagementDB report does), is different from measuring the levels of engagement a consumer has with a brand. Two measures of consumer engagement immediately come to mind: commenting, and time spent on a site. As opposed to, for example, pageviews or uniques, because people could click on your site and close it the very next second and that would be quantified – but that’s hardly engaging is it?
Quantity vs. quality
So, ultimately, which is more important – quantity or quality? There has been a marked shift of late in the discussion of the measurement of social media to the discussion of engagement. The fact that digital interactions are important has been proved enough for me to accept the logic – via research like Millward Brown’s BrandZ report which says that ‘digital consumers have a 15% stronger relationship with a typical brand’, or the Razorfish FEED report, which found that ‘64% of consumers report making a first purchase because of a digital experience’.
Which leads to the shift in focus from mere measurement to engagement. Measuring conversations online can be done, and I don’t think the basic metrics (pageviews, uniques, number of members/fans) needs to be vastly improved upon. It’s engagement – and sentiment – that we need to crack. Engaged users are more valuable than mere numbers, because you cannot guarantee that those people will always return if they are not engaged. And without engaged users, no platform will be sustainable.
Agreed, it is difficult to, for example, measure the value of conversations at a party, but you can figure out who you enjoy talking to more. You’ll see people hovering around them. They are the influencers. Similarly, in a community, engaged users will contribute more. Those are the people to focus on – the influencers, and the engaged. You have the beginnings of a solid community right there – and then it will grow.
I’d like to acknowledge the following people for their own posts, comments on my earlier posts or their feedback, which have helped me pull this together: Jared Gruner, Patricia McDonald, Dan O’Connor, Mike Arauz, Rick Liebling. From Made by Many, William Owen, Justin McMurray, Mike Laurie and Tim Malbon.