Thursday, November 20, 2008

Measuring Engagement

This could be a really short post. There is no commonly-accepted measure of engagement—bye, see you tomorrow!

Clearly that’s not very useful, so I’ll present some perspectives and approaches. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit in part 2 of their Beyond Loyalty report,

Some executives have decided that precise measurements may not be possible, and are trying to satisfy themselves with more general measures. “Quite often, the customer is satisfied, and if the customer satisfaction index goes up, that’s good enough,” says Mr Jennings of Reuters.

Interestingly enough, they point up the fallacy of the “we can’t measure it” approach in the paragraph immediately before:

Nearly half of our survey respondents say that the difficulty of measuring engagement is perhaps the biggest barrier to achieving greater levels of customer engagement. (both quotes page 9)

And I am often reminded of the quality management truism, “What gets measured, gets managed.” So ok, metrics are important, and some commercial measures are available. A search of comScore press releases turned up 45 releases on engagement and revealed metrics such as “visits” and “duration.” These are important site statistics, but are they a complete measure of engagement? Not as we’ve defined it.

About a year ago Jerimiah Owyang summarized a number of approaches to the engagement metric in an excellent blog post. It has lots of links and many interesting comments and it’s useful background leading up to a report released by Eric T. Peterson and others on September 7 of this year. This 54-page report is called “Measuring the Immeasurable: Visitor Engagement.”
Peterson and his colleagues go into great detail on the measurement issues and if you’re a metrics wonk—or if measuring engagement is mission critical to you—then you should read it all. I’ll summarize in lay terms, starting with Peterson’s conceptual definition:

Visitor Engagement is an estimate of the depth of visitor interaction against a clearly defined set of goals.

That’s a statement that incorporates behavior both on and off the website, and that’s important. As stated, though, it’s not measurable. Their computational definition is:

“Visitor Engagement is a function of the number of clicks (Ci), the visit duration (Di), the rate at which the visitor returns to the site over time (Ri), their overall loyalty to the site (Li), their measured awareness of the brand (Bi), their willingness to directly contribute feedback (Fi) and the likelihood that they will engage in specific activities on the site designed to increase awareness and create a lasting impression (Ii).

Here is how they define the variables:
Click Depth Index: Captures the contribution of page and event views
Duration Index: Captures the contribution of time spent on site
Recency Index: Captures the visitor’s “visit velocity”—the rate at which visitors return to the web site over time
Brand Index: Captures the apparent awareness of the visitor of the brand, site, or product(s)
Feedback Index: Captures qualitative information including propensity to solicit additional information or supply
direct feedback
Interaction Index: Captures visitor interaction with content or functionality designed to increase level of Attention
the visitor is paying to the brand, site, or product(s)
Loyalty Index: Captures the level of long-term interaction the visitor has with the brand, site, or product(s)

The good news is that these all appear to be metrics that can be derived from or added to existing metrics programs. That’s also essential, because a good metric for engagement must be part of a comprehensive metrics effort.

My guess is that this metric or one like it will soon be available from metrics firms, although I can’t find any evidence of it yet.

Marketers need to decide whether engagement is an important part of their ongoing strategy. The first post in this series suggests that it should be. Engagement is part of all the models of new media strategy, including mine.

The major point of this series of three posts is that engagement is more than choosing “engaging media.” It represents the outcome of ongoing dialog with customers and the larger community around a brand. Making that work requires both commitment and a rational strategy. Are you working on it?

Part 1 here
Part 2 here

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