What do we mean by engagement?

Engagement is one of those nebulous buzzwords that often get thrown into business or strategy conversations because it sounds like something that should be sought after.  To be encouraged, measured and reported on. Yet it needs to be defined before any of these can occur. And few of the many articles on engagement actually do so.

When Anne Mollen spoke at the MRG Conference last month, she outlined three schools of thought on engagement:

  • The behaviourist school that views “Engagement” as the outcome of a complex algorithm of behavioural footprints
  • The experiential school that views engagement as something that happens in the mind of the consumer
  • The hybrid pragmatist school that asserts that consumer engagement is a psychological state, consistent with certain behaviours, and dependent on environmental context.

Most mentions of engagement I have seen tend to be in relation to behaviour, principally because this is the easiest to measure. Whether the model posited by Forrester, Eric Peterson or one of the myriad social media engagement models, these tend to involve metrics such as frequency (e.g. visits per day), depth (e.g. time spent or number of pages) and actions (e.g. clicks).

The Advertising Research Foundation belongs to the experiential school. They define as engagement as  “turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context”, which is fairly meaningless. The AOP’s engagement study also falls into this camp, using surveys to understand the key emotions underpinning their perception of engagement.

Given that we are now in abundance thinking rather than scarcity thinking, an era of greater customer choice and with greater prominence to word of mouth, the idea of creating “engaged” customers/users as brand advocates is  more widespread.

But before a programme of engagement can be integrated within a company, several big questions need to be answered:

  • Why is engagement important? How does it link to the overall business objectives?
  • What should engagement seek to achieve?
  • What do we mean by engagement (actions? Emotions?)? What don’t we mean by engagement (Satisfaction? Advocacy?)?
  • Are we thinking about tactical engagement (engagement per interaction) or strategic engagement (overall engagement)?
  • Are we more interesting in engagement with content, channels, platforms, individual brands or the overall masterbrand?
  • How can engagement be measured and reported upon? Is our conception of engagement resulting from what is possible to be measured, or is it based on what is most important to us?
If these questions can be answered, then the organisation in question is already pretty advanced. However, there are many more questions than then need to be considered, such as:
  • Does engagement have degrees, or is it binary engaged/not engaged?
  • Can engagement be negative as well as positive?
  • Is engagement averaged, or is the audience segmented?
  • Is our definition of engagement unique to our organisation, or can it be benchmarked against competitors?
  • Is engagement a single metric or a collection? If a collection, are they combined and weighted into a single score?
  • Does engagement mean the same thing across different screens, platforms, audiences, products?
  • How does engagement vary by need state (e.g. browsing vs habit)
  • Should different types of customer/user be conceived differently
  • Can the engagement metrics be gamed? How can this be avoided?

These 15 or so questions only reference part of the challenge of measuring engagement, and don’t even touch upon how it can be built into strategies. It is a very complex area, and as yet I’m not aware of anyone that has a definitive answer.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thecaucas/2232897539/

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Simon,

    Interesting thoughts.

    You might be interested in this post which looks at engagement from a different angle:
    http://mweigel.typepad.com/canalside-view/2011/09/fashionable-yet-bankrupt.html

    Cheers
    Pete

  2. Thanks Pete, I’d forgotten about that post. While Martin doesn’t think engagement can/should be measured, our thinking on some of the underlying issues appears to be in rough alignment (though his post is far more detailed, provocative and indeed interesting!).

  3. Here is a piece I wrote nearly 3 years ago. Looking back on it there is not much I would change. It argues that we constantly confuse different types of engagement. You cannot talk about brand engagement as if it were the same thing as communications engagement. Engagement is not one thing. What is important is to define it within a context and define it in way that has some meaning form the consequent success of the brand or campaign.

    http://www.millwardbrown.com/Libraries/MB_POV_Downloads/MillwardBrown_POV_RulesOfEngagement.sflb.ashx

  4. Nice post and particularly agree that it is a highly complex area.

    As Gordon says, “engagement is not one thing”. I think it is ephemeral and depends heavily on the brief / project. Horses for courses and all that.

    The need for engagement is heavily driven by ‘success’ and
    effectiveness, ROI of course. I do like the idea that ‘measuring’ can be fairly flexible, but as Pete excellently writes it can also be quite vacuous and is nothing new. I mean, in day to day work, seeking ‘engagement’ feels a bit like chasing your own shadow.

    I suppose, just like creativity, engagement is a guiding principle more than anything else.

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