The human behind the device: achieving and measuring true engagement

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by Sean Hutchinson

Because content engagement is difficult to measure with concrete accuracy, brands must initiate and moderate genuine conversations to validate contact with individual consumers.

For websites and social media, most marketers measure engagement in terms of clicks, traffic, time spent on a site, and bounce rates as well as likes, shares, and re-tweets. However, these measurements are only indicators. While it is important to have them as a gauge or for benchmarking purposes, they are not always a true reflection of an audience’s engagement with content.

Brand strategy helps to define what constitutes successful engagement. The problem brands have is knowing how to communicate their brand message in a way that is guaranteed to reach audiences and encourages them to engage online, then measuring the quality of their engagement as accurately as possible.

Engagement is a human activity

People invest time with content, so it’s only natural that they want to contribute and be associated with that content. They ask and answer questions, as well as give considered opinions.

Now brands and SEOs have begun to track and measure not just the number of people who read their content, but the number of people who finish reading the content and other events that can be tagged and tracked such as returning visits, comments, likes, and shares.

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These qualitative aspects of engagement are best determined via these questions:

  • Does the comment provide real value? Is it a thoughtful, considered contribution someone wants to be associated with, or is it just gibberish trolling or even spam?
  • Who is the person commenting? Is the contributor an influencer or a specialist in the field who is compelled to comment on this content?

Though they are good indicators and important to track, true engagement goes beyond the buzzwords of likes, shares, and re-tweets. Because it is difficult to accurately measure genuine engagement, it is critical that brands and SEOs think of the human behind the device.

People have the same anxieties online as they do in the real world. For example, if someone attempts to contribute to a conversation but is ignored, it is likely they will want to stop participating and eventually leave. Likewise, people who share their opinions online do so because they want to be heard.

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They crave fluid communication, so will listen to experts or other peers that share interesting insights and even respond if they feel so inclined. While the type of engagement will vary for different brands, it is more important that they to consider the level of conversation, as opposed to only placing a heavy emphasis on the number of people walking through the door.

Brand engagement is defined by:

  • The inquiries that reflect a genuine interest in product descriptions.
  • The percentage of people who read an article to the finish.
  • Comments that indicate users have read and digested the content, and the content’s composition has compelled them to share their thoughts.

Therefore, brands should select appropriate and relevant discussion topics based on things that are important to the audience. This may even require brands to engage and participate in the conversation themselves.

The Economist‘s 2008 presidential election coverage

During the 2008 United States presidential election, The Economist initiated and hosted a discussion online with readers by posing the question, “What if the world could vote?”

The host:

Like any good host at an event The Economist facilitated the discussion, however they did not give an opinion. If someone left a comment, it was acknowledged. When a question was asked, The Economist would not automatically answer, but might steer the conversation towards someone who could.

The approach:

It was a simple idea that included a comments section and an online poll that illustrated the results of who people would vote for from around the world. The only rule was that all comments had to be answered.

The results:

  • 52,092 votes globally (over 8 percent of total visitors)
  • 1878 comments
  • Fantastic user generated content (UGC) overall.

It is worth noting that comments went beyond just expressing personal political party preferences – they consisted of in-depth replies from the public, experts, and both social and political influencers.

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Challenges:

While analytics tools are making great strides and it is now possible to monitor positive and negative sentiments, it is still hard to measure the quality of the comments and the expertise of the contributors.

Why it worked:

Users had to login and register, which prompted them to closely consider the quality of their answers. The fact that identities were not anonymous ensured that comments illustrated a genuine depiction of each user’s personal values and opinions.

Anyone who left a comment received a response, and others were afforded the opportunity to answer questions. In short, users were made to feel valued and given the chance to provide value themselves.

The global voting platform was such a success that The Economist has revisited this engagement model numerous times over the years on many topics under the banner of What the World Thinks.

Conclusion

Quantitative metrics are extremely important for brands, especially for specific campaigns, lead generation, and so on, but they are not necessarily the be-all, end-all. Though the qualitative metrics are significant, placing too much emphasis on this is can be risky, as their role as indicators make them inherently vague measurements.

Brand engagement goes well beyond commercial statistics, and is truly characterized by what you do and why you do it. Achieving engagement with branded content and obtaining accurate qualitative metrics requires taking the end goal into account, which is anchored within the thoughts, opinions, wants, and needs of the individuals that make up the consumer audience.