A large chunk of any online marketer's time is spent on engagement. Engaging bloggers and sites to chat about your content, to check out your products and if you prove valuable enough, sign up for a glittering platinum subscription.
If we receive a conversion, we can be pretty sure that our new member is actively engaged with the site right? You want to engage visitors, have them convert, or at least stick around on a semi-regular basis. It’s all about traffic numbers.
One of the largest problems online however, is that we still don’t have a cut and dried method for measuring engagement.
Let’s examine the phrase ‘online engagement’ for a moment and I’ll show you what I mean.
Plenty of reports show increasing engagement across multiple channels. Picking one at random, we know that the number of users browsing from mobile devices has greatly increased in the last two years. A number of factors have enabled this:
Smarter, faster phones, cheaper data packages, more brands offering mobile browser-friendly sites, and general convenience.
Here’s the thing though. Those extra visitors are users.
Use is different from engagement
Extra visits are great, but a lot of the time these would-be customers are using their browsers to... well... browse.
They’re the online equivalent of the people creasing the magazines in the newsagent while they wait for a train. There’s no real attribution of mental resources to their actions. They aren’t really interested in your CTAs, they’re just flicking through and then they’re gone.
This group represents a huge proportion of web traffic.
Have a look at some high ranking entertainment sites – something like humour site Cracked.com for example (may be NSFW). Here’s a site running articles on Zombie outbreak management, girls in bikinis and annoying movie trends. Some of them are very funny, and Cracked boasts traffic to match its content.
How much of that traffic can be described as ‘actively engaged’?
I’m betting it’s a fairly low figure. If you are checking out Zombie outbreaks, the chances are you really aren’t that interested in the onsite ads. Even if you are, how interested exactly?
There are different levels of engagement, and there’s no clear method for identifying it.
Certainly we can track how many people are on the site, where they came from, how long they stayed and where they exited. All these are useful metrics. If a lot of people are arriving through a specific doorway, then it makes sense to concentrate on that area.
But do these numbers really show how engaged a customer is with your brand?
Who is more engaged?
Imagine you have two visitors to your site: one stays for three minutes, one stays for 20. Which is more engaged?
Unless you are actively mapping the IP addresses of all new visitors and non-subscribers, it’s impossible to tell.
Customer A might know exactly what they’re looking for, may have previously done all their price comparison research, and is ready to pop in, purchase their item and leave.
Customer B is just wandering around. Maybe they’re doing some research, maybe they’re a competitor checking your site out, or maybe they’re just bored and filling time (assuming you don’t sell specific engineering components).
Customer A is technically more valuable in this instance, but can either of these two really be counted as ‘engaged’? Is either of them likely to return regularly? Customer A is a conversion, so it’s slightly more probable they’ll be receptive to future campaigns, but there’s no guarantee.
If someone comments on a blog are they regular readers who are genuinely involved in the site community, or did you just appear in search with an article that got their blood up?
Just because they’re on your site, and even if they fleetingly participate, it’s hard to say they are actively engaged, or that they represent a more valuable interaction than someone who regularly reads the comments but doesn’t join in.
Rather than being a measurable, predictable metric, engagement is more often a method.
It’s about individuals
Social media isn’t about groups of people, or market segments, or demographics, it’s about taking the time to really get to know your customers, about taking time to review individual cases and respond accordingly.
You can measure a thousand different metrics and still fail at social media, because you’re ignoring the hundreds of different methods involved. If you want to create true engagement, then you’ll need to drop any preconceptions you might have about market behaviour and take time to speak personally to each customer.
Sounds like a lot of work right?
But if I buy a product and get a ‘thank you’ tweet then I’m highly likely to remember you. If I have a problem and you solve it for me directly, I probably won’t mind that the problem existed in the first place.
Rather than monitoring how many customers you have, watch what they are saying, don't measure sentiment as a broad metric. Instead, get your social media team drilling down into that information and picking up on individual conversations.
Monitor mentions by all means, but make sure you don’t forget to act on them. Quick, useful responses represent methods rather than pure numbers, but are far more likely to engender repeat business than simply increasing your visibility.
Don't pigeonhole your customers
Take the time to allow customers to engage on their own terms.
Almost everyone will have their own take on how and why they’re using a site, and this could change every time they visit; the important thing is that they know you’re there when they need you to be. Don’t force feed them content or you’ll be construed as a spammer.
In the multichannel era we’re constantly concerned with avoiding funnels, make sure your customers don’t go into one either.