engageA 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. 

Matt Owen

Published 26 August, 2010 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen is a marketing consultant based in London. He was previously Head of Social at Econsultancy and currently runs Atomise Marketing. Opinions expressed are author's own.

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Comments (12)

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Mike McGrail, Digital Marketing Consultant at Standard Life

Great quote Matt - 'it's about taking the time to really get to know your customers, about taking time to review individual cases and respond accordingly' Really enjoyed reading this, makes perfect sense, it is something I try to tell people but unless I can hand over a report with a stack of numbers, they don't want to know!

almost 8 years ago


Tom McCallum

Love this blog.

Last year I met with a prominent Scottish tourism business and pretty forcefully advised them to ban the use of the term "social media" in their organisation, instead using "online engagement" to more accurately reflect how they should think of interacting with current and potential customers online. Very glad, therefore, to see you use this term and in the way you have expressed it.

Also, agree strongly that measurement is far less relevant that many social media gurus (doncha love that phrase!) say it is, and that it is all about the individual.

Those of us who've been in marketing since before the days when the web steamrolled in remember the Wanamaker adage "half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half".

Marketing and advertising have always been at least as much art (and gut feel!) as science, so my advice is to find marketers who combine their inner stats geek (for social media and other metrics) but also have the real world experience and ability to go with their gut on what works for the customer and what doesn't.

On the Wanamaker theme, my blog on this from October 2009 still rings true : http://mccallumsolutions.com/what-would-wanamaker-say/

almost 8 years ago


Daniel Stoica


I got schooled!

Engagement / Relationship building at the individual level as opposed to market segments ...  Love it!

Thank You for an awesome post!

almost 8 years ago


John Ginsberg

Great article, but I'm afraid I couldn't disagree more. Of course you can measure and predict engagement based on a user's action. As a regular reader and subscriber to eConsultancy, would you not consider my frequent visits, subscription to the email newsletter and subsequent purchase as a sign of engagement? Engagement is measured as an iterative process. The more a user interacts, the more engaged they are, and the more likely they are to move through the conversion funnel. It's not a perfect science but it's fairly close. On your point about social media and responding to conversations, am I the only one who finds it a little creepy? The last thing I want after purchasing from a company, is to have a Thank You message sent via Twitter or Facebook. Give me email anytime, as many of my transactions are personal. Further on social media, if engagement only considers monitoring conversations about a brand, are you not ignoring the 90% of customers who don't talk about their bad experiences (or good experiences)? Why are we turning social media into a glorified complaints desk? We should be encouraging customers who have problems to deal with them privately first. If we teach customers that problems are best resolved publicly, that's exactly what they'll continue to do. 

almost 8 years ago


Mabel Diaz-Joslyn

Matt, thanks for this insightful and intuitive article.  However, the difficulty is in helping folks understand the 'method' vs. 'metric' approach to engagement when marketing program budget dollars are involved.  Again, your points are great, but many companies don't have a social media team to drill down on information and need to rely on directional evidence, such as user action, to predict engagement. 

almost 8 years ago



Looks like 2 different topics here. One for keeping in touch with customers, and another for finding a way to get targeted traffic to your site. Like most of the comments above, I agree it would come down to resources a company has to execute any analysis, monitoring and responding. It does take effort, and a company should take the time to see if the effort will be worth it.

almost 8 years ago



@matt Great article although the most of it is not new to me. However to read and understand (again) on who is more engaged is a good one. Thanks.

@John Social media shouldn't be the only channel you would communicate on (unless you're an all online company perhaps) and therefore it is not the holy grail It is, however, something to consider very seriously and a good (and cheap) chance to be in direct contact with your (potential) customers. Also, your comment finding it creepy to receive a Twitter Thank You Message (TTYM? ;-)) is a little old fashioned. Probably you gave your Twitter ID to the company and what does it matter? Before it was email now it's Twitter. Not to mention that this is a good and free commercial for the selling company! 

almost 8 years ago


Amber Naslund

Hi Matt - 

Nice discussion. What's important to emphasize is one of your subheads:

One of the chief missteps I continue to see in social media adoption is equating engagement with action, most often a single one, like downloading a piece of content or clicking a link.

Engagement is very much in the eye of the beholder, too. As brands and companies seeking to "engage" our customers, we have to find out what value is to THEM, not what we want it to be. It's not enough to say that we "engaged" our customers by getting them to Like our page on Facebook. If that activity didn't hold any value to them, I think it's shortsighted to call them "engaged".

You're absolutely right, though, that quantifying engagement is really tricky. Partly, that's because engagement definitions are unique to the organization as well as their specific community or audience. The other bit is that those measurements are often about subjective and qualitative things - brand perception, emotion, affinity, trust, and behaviors that we can't always see or observe online.

It's definitely at the core of much of the social media discussion, but we have to keep thinking about how to define engagement beyond just what benefits our company or our marketing reports.

Cheers and thanks for the dialogue,

Amber Naslund, Radian6

almost 8 years ago


John Ford Parker

In B2C (consumers) you can have social media marketing and online engagement. All feasible.

In B2B very few people will actually engage online ver websites - at best they will communicate over email with you. In order to start an email conversation with your business visitors you can send them an email after they have visited your website.  (of course we provide such a service)

almost 8 years ago


Steven Mazur

Engagement for marketing is about consistently providing people in the social space with brand supporting content they will find not only interesting, useful and/or entertaining, but also that which networks are willing to comment about, act-on and/or most importantly share. This takes a professionalized and planned effort to gain traction and deliver ROI.

almost 8 years ago


Neal Amsden

Hi Matt - I agree with the need for better measurement and better engagement overall. I take a slightly different tack on the solution though. Speaking 'personally to every customer' is ideal, but setting aside the (very big) issues of scale, you still have a gap in coverage. What % of your site visitors post active mentions on your site or in social forums? 1%? 2%? If you’re lucky. What about engaging that other 98-99%? I've cited and discussed your post and this question: http://blog.baynote.com/blog/baynote/ -- or just click my name. thanks for sparking some thoughts, Neal Amsden, Baynote

almost 8 years ago


Jonathan Lear

It is true I have had to learn this the hard way.  Thanks for opening my eyes once again. 

almost 8 years ago

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