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Engagement ain’t nothing but a number – why 1% isn’t good enough

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’alsim, 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
– Satisfaction
– Acquisition
– Referrals
– Conversion
– Leads
– Brand integrity/Reputation

Thinking through experiences, journeys, outcomes, and sentiment will at the very least improve the number of customer interactions and overall allegiance. It is in the relentless delivery of value that extends moments beyond merely competing for attention. Engagement is about cultivating community behavior against a defined vision, mission and most importantly, purpose. Step back to gain perspective and to see new possibilities that your competitors are missing. You are an architect of experiences and as such, you must begin with the end in mind. Then, reverse engineer the outcomes and experiences your community will value and in turn, your management will value as well.

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62 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Engagement ain’t nothing but a number – why 1% isn’t good enough”

  1. Thanks Brian – the engagement model is certainly  on a deeper level than the top line stats derived from many Social Analysis programs provide – its a tough task to define the real ROI ….nice article – I have put this on our FB page http://www.facebook.com/socmediastream?ref=tn_tnmn , thanks

  2. Crisp says:

    Hi Brian,

    I think this is a very interesting piece, but.. You try to define engagement as something more than a social action, which I wholeheartedly agree in, yet you don’t provide a metric able of capturing this essence. If social media is to be taken seriously, we need to start thinking in the type of data that either provides actionable business insight, ROI, ROMI or some other value recognized by organisations. This could be in the form of actually defining what an community is or what amount and sort of engagement is needed to call something an ecosystem. Point is, first step is defining the metric as more than an abstract term, and providing the data that signifies that term.

    We do this for some global brands, and I think we are seeing a paradigm shift towards deep consumer insights and engagement analytics, that transcends social media, and instead is used for TV, sponsorships and strategic brand management.

    Best regards
    Benjamin Borch Hansen
    Managing Director
    Crisp Social

  3. Todd B says:

    The comment “you must begin with the end in mind” is a Steven Covey quote.  I think it’s unfortunate that you did not give the author credit.

    • briansolis says:

      Well Todd, I’m not a reader of Covey’s work, and though I’m sure he made it popular, he is not the first to say it. Many who use this expression or something close to it, like me, will say that they were inspired by Euripides, “A bad ending follows a bad beginning.”

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  5. leonardwaks says:

    Brian, you risk confusing engagement with marriage. There are many brief engagements. My point is this: you expect the definition of a word to carry too much weight. To engage is just . . . to engage. In this context, it is not much more than to gain attention. What you do once you have it is something different. Now you might ant so respond that HOW you gain attention in the first place will affect what you CAN do with it afterwards. Right, so now we are talking about something that is not merely semantics – i.e. how to get attention in a way that furthers your goals.

    There is a further problem with your analysis. The world is complex. Some events are dependent upon many factors – some of which may be unpredictable. The attempt to “work backwards from the end” may fail because of this – there literally may be no such “backward path.” As a result, sometimes it is exactly the sort of engagement you disparage that is really important – laying in a background of attention, so that that PLUS some more focused drivers + some lucky chance events may affect the final results. I think that this is what Geico is trying to do, or Aflac. Their ads don’t get anyone to do anything, but their ads + other messages + chance events probably do.

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