Key theme for today: good engagement is about having a high quality, highly relevant conversation with your audience.And good conversations enable more valuable business outcomes, whatever that may be for your businessAnd we’ll take a look at how many leading companies are using engagement technologies to have meaningful, high quality conversations with their audience – conversations about content, products, services and more.
I’m going to cover five key tools of engagement, none of which are really new - particularly in the online entertainment industry – but when combined they can power really compelling user experiences that drive engagement and help you have quality online conversations with your audience.The tools I’m going to cover are:SearchContent & product recommendationsPersonalisationSocial recommendation tools (or using the power of people)And outbound engagement tools to help take your engagement beyond your borders to where your audience spend their timeWe’ll take a look at how leading companies use these tools and see what’s behind them.
First a little about me…7 years at Australian personalisation technology company AgentArts. Helping media and entertainment companies help their customers find and explore valuable contentAcquired by enterprise search company FAST Search. Helped promote search, recommendations and personalisation solutions to global companies to both engage and monetize their audience. FAST was acquired by MSFT in 2008.And recently, founded CloudSuper to help Australian super funds improve what has traditionally been extremely low online member engagement.
Which is something of a challenge given that super - for most people - is unspeakably boring, despite it’s importance in peoples financial lives.
But let’s quickly explore what we mean by engagement. Engagement is generally about trying to assess the degree and quality of interactions between you and your audienceLots of usefulways to measure these types of site interactions, but theseoften fail to get to the heart of successful engagement.They fail to capture what actually makes for a successful engagement experience. For example, lot’s of page views don’t always mean happy users if those users didn’t actually get what they were expecting from your site. In other words – lots of activity but they hate you and may not come back (or may until they find something that meets their needs better).So engagement is about measuring sentiment or heart, not just statistics or head, which is why it can be difficult to measure. But I’ll leave the analytics to others and focus on what I think makes for a successful engagement: a quality two way exchange.Your visitor wants something from you. You may have something useful to offer.So satisfying this need implies a two way exchange – in other words, a conversation.
And like any good conversation,It’s about listening and understanding what your visitor is interested inProviding a relevant response that’s useful So good engagement, like a good conversation, is an exchange of value.
This is very different to traditional marketing which is about telling, not listening.It’s about telling all your customers what you want them to know.But everything we want to tell them isn’t mostly what they want to knowAnd the more we try to tell them about everything, the less useful we’ll be…Particularly if…
… we have lots of stuff.
Consider your typical old world portal.Here’s BigPond – a frenzied mix of content, services, products, ads, promotions, links, categories and company propaganda.It’s everything they might want you to know on one page.It goes on…
… and on…
… and on. This site is not trying to have a conversation with me.
It’s shouting at me.It offers everything and nothing.And for years this is what most search based portals looked like too.
Until Google came along.This site wants to have a conversation with me.It’s saying – “how can I help you?” as the start of a conversation. It’s listening and focused on what I want.
But it’s not just portals.Here’s BankWest’s new home page. I like it a lot.Of course, this presumes the site can continue this conversation effectively and give me what I’m after.
So why does engagement matter?Better engagement means a better chance of a achieving a valuable business outcome, whatever that may be: Helping visitor make a purchase decision Making a sale Keeping your attention (advertising, chance to promote products & services) Better service delivery (support, information) And so on
But engaging your audience is getting harder.Online attention spans are short and getting shorter. Consumer expectations are rising and consumers are less impatient with bad online experiences.And your audience is daily using high quality engagement services like Amazon.com and Facebook every day.So you’re site or service’s usability will be judged not against your competition…
Facebook is the king of engagement. 250m users are on it everyday.And Facebook’s genius is connecting us to the most relevant bits of their 30 billion pieces of content in lots of satisfying ways.Facebook is like a never ending conversation about things that are relevant to us and our friends.
And Amazon – with hundreds of millions of products - offers scores of compelling ways to converse with me about things that I might know about and things that I don’t but might value.--------And these successful engagement kings treat any engagement enhancement seriously – every feature is A/B tested rigorously to determine their impact on business outcomes and user satisfaction. They do it because it works.And we can learn a lot from these kinds of companies.
So let’s take a close look at how these leading companies use what I call the tools of engagement to have high quality conversations with their audience to get better business outcomes.
Search is often the start of a conversation with our audience. For those services that have only a small amount of content or products, basic search is often fine. But if you have more than a few hundred items basic search results can provide frustrating.
But good use of search and content or product meta-data can continue the conversation to improve relevance and refine the results around the users specific needs and interests.Best Buy is a great exponent of this. Their site has over 69,000 mentions of the word ‘iphone’, so they use multi-dimensional content attributes and quality site indexing to present filters or navigators to help the user refine what they’re looking for without having to wade through page after page of search results.
Corbis uses search as a way to help users find really specific stock photos – and it’s their ability to have really enjoyable search driven conversations that helps them differentiate their paid images from the billions of freebie images already on the Web.
A search on smiling people generates a result set, but also enables some related search terms that help me refine my results further by starting from a result I liked.
So I can find a rich variety of highly relevant images easily and enjoyably.
And search can even power entire portal like experiences.TheNYTimes uses search to power their topics pages. Here’s a search on crazy US republican Michele Bachman.
Topics pages are basically a series of search results presented as search term - content, links, multimedia, images, news, third party content etc.
Great search is a mixture of a great user experience and relevance. It presumes your content is categorised and indexed (and indexable), and that the results can be displayed in a meaningful way to support a conversation with your audience.
But search isn’t the only way to help your audience find relevant, valuable content. Recommendations can be used to help connect visitors with other relevant, valuable content or products based on what they’re currently already looking at. Recommendations continue the conversation with your audience based on the fact that you’re already telling them you are interested in something…
Amazon is the most obvious exponent of this, and with hundreds of millions of items it’s crucial to their business.Amazon makes 20-30% of its sales from recommendation features.And only 16% of people go to Amazon with explicit intent to buy something (according to Andreas Weigend, former chief scientist at Amazon.com).
Recommendations are a really great way to help people find something valuable that they might not know about or be specificallylooking for. Recommendationsare really crucial for those online services with lots of things that could potentially satisfy a visitor. These types of businesses are often described as a ‘Long Tail’ businesess– small numbers of high selling items “the Hits’, and millions of items that are valuable to some, but not everyone.Recommendations can take the conversation in new directions.
Recommendations can be based on simple keywords, topics, genres or categories content tags… like this BBC news page. These are really search like queries based on various content attributes.
But if we have enough traffic over time, we can use this aggregated site activity to help the next group of visitors explore those things that previous visitors have viewed, valued, purchased and so on.Online shoe retailerZappos use SAAS recommendation service provider Aggregate Knowledge to present related product recommendations, and this is a pretty standard feature for most online retailers. But it’s conspiculousTo do this you need to track and analyze your audience’s interactions with given items of content, keywords, products, topics etc. There are lots of products that do this, and increasingly lots of good SAAS vendors who you can outsource this capability to.
Personalisation infers some pre-existing knowledge of your audience: What they like Where they are What topics they’re interested inPersonalisation is great for allowing you to have a valuable, relevant conversation with a visitor without them doing anything more than show up.
Personalisation is basically recommendations on steroids – you use a combination of insight about your visitorproducts bought, viewed, rated etc or content categories, keywords for content viewedAnd throw this at a search service or recommendation engine. As per search, the results can then be presented in nice, eye catching and highly relevant ways.
Amazon do this really well with their personalised landing pages – showing me some high quality content choices across various categories (new items, books and music) as soon as I hit their landing page.Personalisation can be counter productive if overused: if you’re user knows what they want, having Black Books Manny continually follow you about and foist personaliised recommendations on you can be annoying and distracting. Best place is landing, category and other non product/content pages.
Social recommendations are about enabling your customers to have conversations with each other about your products, services and content.
Social recommendations features enable your audience to share their knowledge, passion and content discoveries with each other.It’s about enabling a conversationthat happens without you. Successful retailers like Amazon allow users to rate & review content, create lists and even rate each others reviews and lists.
Best Buy’s support forum is a great way to quickly get help from other customers with similar problems. Their forum received over 2.5m visitors in 2009, viewing over 80m posts and posting 80,000 times.Best Buy’s forum for members to have engaging conversations with each other are estimated to have reduced direct complaints by 20%, or $5m.
Another social engagement tool is connecting like users – I’m not interested in what everyone else is doing or interested in. But I am VERY interested in what people like me are doing.Fund manager Covestor allows investors to publish their portfolio activities so other investors can discover different investor models and pair with another investor.
And LAST FM allows me to browse the listening habits of people who like the same music as me. It’s a great way to discover new music.
And finally - how can you take the conversation beyond your borders?
An obvious way is via traditional 1:1 communication channels like email. Amazon shoots me weekly updates as well as specific news based on my profile and previous buying or browsing activity. I don’t mind these providing it’s meaningful to me.
LinkedIn is really good at this too. Everything I see is specifically relevant to me and the people I’m connected to. It’s continuing a relevant, useful conversation without me having to come to you.
Facebook Connect is becoming the defacto standard for allowing your audience to continue the conversation where they’re spending most of their time. Being able to share information, topics and so onHuffPost have taken this to a whole new level, using Facebook Connect and their own user authentication to allow their audience to share content with comments to Facebook, but also track what you’re friends are sharing or following, and more recently, taking share comments from Facebook back into HuffPost.And a token Facebook like (my pet hate) doesn’t count – your visitors don’t ‘like’ you. They like the value you can or have provided, which might be relevant of valuable to their friends.
So that’s it. Hopefully you’re inspired to go start some quality converstaions with your audience.Let’s recap – good engagement is about having a quality conversation with your audience.There are lots of ways to do this, and the technology that underpins these features is available from multiple vendors, software providers, SAAS service providers and even open source if you’re feeling brave.And combining these tools will absolutely increase your chance of achieving a positive business outcome.
Engaging your audience
Engaging Your Customers With New (?) Online Technologies<br />Start a conversation!<br />
Today<br />Engagement as a quality conversation with your audience<br />Successful conversations enable more valuable business outcomes<br />We’ll explore how leading companies have conversations to engage their audiences<br />
Search<br />Recommendations<br />Personalisation<br />Power of people<br />TOOLS<br />Beyond your borders<br />
A Bit About Me<br />7 years AgentArts (personalisation technology company) – Telstra, eMusic, Verizon, TV Guide<br />Acquired by Fast Search – then 2 years engagement & monetisation specialist (mostly media & entertainment)<br />CloudSuper – helping super funds improve member engagement via the web, mobile<br />
So What Is Engagement, Anyway?<br />Level/degree/frequency of interactions between online service and it’s visitors<br />Implies they want something, and you may be able to provide it<br />So engagement is very much a two way exchange<br />
A Good Conversation<br />And like a good conversation, good engagement is about:<br />Listening <br />Relevance<br />An exchange of value<br />
Old Marketing ≠ Conversation<br />Traditional marketing is about what we want to tell our audience/customers<br />But everything we want to tell them isn’t mostly what they want to know<br />And the more we try to tell the less useful & engaging it the experience will be<br />
PARTICULARLY IF WE HAVE LOTS AND LOTS OF STUFF<br />
Why Engagement Matters<br />Better engagement means better chance of a valued business outcome<br />Helping visitor make a purchase decision<br />Making the actual sale<br />More attention (advertising, chance to promote products & services etc)<br />Better service delivery (support, information)<br />
Why Engagement Is Getting Harder<br />Average online attention span is seconds if you’re rubbish & undifferentiated<br />Consumer online experience expectations more sophisticated<br />Your site is competing for attention with well designed, ubiquitous consumer services…<br />
500m users<br />50% active every day<br />700 billion minutes per month<br />30 billion pieces of content<br />
Hundreds of millions of products<br />Scores of ways to discover relevant content & products<br />
Search<br />Recommendations<br />Personalisation<br />Power of people<br />TOOLS<br />Beyond your borders<br />
Search<br />Recommendations<br />Personalisation<br />Tools<br />Power of people<br />Outbound!<br />
Recommendations Take<br />A Conversation In New Directions<br />20-30% of all Amazon sales come from recommendations<br />Only 16% of people go to Amazon with explicit intent to buy something<br />Andreas Weigend, former chief scientist at Amazon.com<br />
And Recommendations Are Crucial For ‘Long Tail’ Businesses<br />Stuff everyone knows about and don’t need help to find<br />Stuff not everyone knows about, and not everyone values (but is VERY valuable to some people)<br />
So Start A Conversation!<br />Good engagement is about a quality conversation with your audience<br />Lots of tools to deliver different types of relevance<br />Combinations of these tools will increase chance of achieving valuable business outcomes<br />