Hello. My name is Dena Walker. I go by many titles - brand strategist, digital strategist, Head of Digital, cynical of cow and various others. I'm here today to talk about a subject that I'm often tasked with and the inevitable debate that follows - how can we drive "engagement" and what's the best way to measure it? By the end of the next 20 minutes or so, you're probably going to think that the cynical old cow label is absolutely right. It very probably is. But the point I'm about to make, although perhaps a little unpopular, is nevertheless valid, so please bear with me. Any of you that are involved with managing projects that include social media have no doubt faced the same frustrating questions around how we can tell if it's delivering ROI. Not to mention the seemingly endless skepticism that exists when you try and explain its value to the less adoption prone in a company. Lest you think I'm not an ardent fan of social media, let me tell you now that I am. To a point. Too often Social Media is treated as a Silver Bullet that will short cut our way to success. And there's tendency for us, as an industry, to refrain from asking the hard questions about it, instead focussing on the quest for the holy grail - More engagement.
A big part of the problem, I believe, is that sometimes Social Media strategies are not really strategies, and are, instead, just content creation excuses. If your activity has no strategic justification then it shouldn't be happening. Wishing me a happy Friday or jumping on a breaking news bandwagon to appear current and zeigeisty is not strategic. And very often is just REALLY annoying. A strategy should clearly define Where you currently are Where you are trying to get to What is standing in your way A decision on how you will tackle that A course of action to be implemented At the end of the day, everything we do should have a business objective. It should be trying to do something specific that will ultimately improve your bottom line. This is where Social Media, and the word of the day, Engagement, sometimes leads us on a merry dance and we start to do things for the sake of doing them.
We spend a lot of our time on Social Media thinking about these kind of metrics. Especially the number one nonsense metric - Likes and Followers. They are just potential reach. No more, no less. Avinash Kaushik, Google's Digital Marketing evangelist summed it up for me when he said - "It's a dumb, stupid thing to measure. 'Likes' is like me walking on Grafton Street and people are coming past me and some of them smile at me. And I take out a book and mark them as 'lover', 'lover', 'lover'. ” When we're talking about measurement and the need to think about ROI we should also be asking ourselves. What are these things REALLY doing for our business? And this is where I get annoyed with "Engagement" as the be all and end all.
So I'm going to call it and say this - Engagement as an objective, and as a metric is like the proverbial Naked Emperor. It is stark bollock naked and most of us are too afraid of pointing out the really obvious nakedness. Why do I hate the term so much? And I do? Well there are more than a few reasons, but I'm going to explain a few of them - I've only got 20 minutes and I could rant about this for hours!
First of all, we cannot assume that Engagement is a legitimate metric. It absolutely is not. Again I'm going to echo something that Avinash Kaushik said recently, " Whenever I see 'engagement' detailed on a brief as an objective and even worse, as a metric or KPI I know that person needs to get fired ” The number of times I've been given a brief with "Driving engagement" as the overall objective or goal is enough to make me want to run off to a desert island and never speak to another human being ever again. If you can't define it, you can ’ t measure it, so it's not a legitimate objective. If you can't measure it then you can't tell if you've achieved it.
For starters, none of us can agree on what it means. For a metric to be a useable one, it has to be accepted across the industry - so it needs to be understood by the whole industry and it needs to be consistent - otherwise we're comparing Apples with Kangaroos! Several bodies have tried, over the last few years, to establish an industry standard definition of engagement and failed. The Advertising Research Foundation published a report a few years ago wherein they detailed the many and varied responses from the industry as to what their definition of engagement was - unsurprisingly there was little consistency in response. Why is this? Well for starters, we can't seem to agree whether or not it's a cognitive or behavioural response that we're trying to solicit. The ARF in their final definition, summarised engagement as a cognitive response. The problem is we like to measure behavioural things - things that we can see. Cognitive responses are fleeting and they're not always positive. Anyone that's ever rubbernecked as they've driven by a crash on the side of the road, which is basically all of us, should know that sometimes even the most upsetting things are engaging. To quote Avinash Kaushik again, "Engagement is not a metric that anyone understands. Why? Because it's not a metric, it's an excuse" . It's an excuse for us to not tell the emperor he's running around in his naked glory. It's an exuse for us to avoid looking at the bigger picture.
All of this lack of clarity brings about a continued focus on short term metrics. Digital marketing has given us access to a plethora of things to measure - which in itself is confusing - what should we measure and what should we ignore. And we can measure them all in real time.It's really seductive, the temptation to focus on intermediate measures such as likes, retweets and views under the guise of campaign success. They move quickly and there's a lovely feeling to see SOMETHING happen as a result of your campaign.But that's the issue. The metrics that we're paying all this attention to are merely an indication that our communications are having SOME KIND OF EFFECT. That does not necessarily mean effectiveness though. It's an important distinction to make and one that gets overlooked far too often - campaign effect is not the same as effectiveness. What we do by focussing only on what ’ s immediately ahead of us is continue to give ourselves permission to keep driving, with absolutely no idea of where we ’ re heading, let alone whether or not you ’ re even close to your end destination - the Point B of your strategy.
What we're doing is driving around in circles patting ourselves on the back for covering distance and trying to create more engagement, yet not giving any thought to where we're trying to get to. Where is our destination? What was the end point of our strategy? Are we any closer to achieving that? To know this we need to tackle the hard metrics if we really care about proving the effectiveness of social media. Not just the stuff that's easy to measure and looks good on the context-less slides we send up to the Board.
If we dovetail this back into our strategy, into understanding where we re trying to get to as a business, then there becomes a greater need for us to really focus on the harder metrics. This means not focussing on the amount of views our content received. Or the potential reach we build. Delivering an audience for your campaign is not new or impressive - it's just counting eyeballs. If we actually focus upon what the activity is designed to deliver for the business then we can be a bit tougher with our measurement and really work to drive genuine, meaningful results.
So why would you opt for just over a 1/10 shot of effectiveness instead of a ½? Binet & Field concluded that "marketing metrics should aim to measure changes in the real commercial world of the brand" and that goes for social media too.
Meanwhile, because we're not focussing on the hard stuff and are preoccupied with chasing the metaphorical rainbow that is "Engagement" we are churning out rubbish. Retweet to win competitions, Like and share mechanics, upload your blah blah blah… Just more and more noise.
Richard Huntingdon summed it up best when he said… The end result of this is that we're ultimately making life harder for us as an industry overall. The more we continue with poorly constructed campaigns - social and otherwise, the harder it will be to tackle those things that stand in the way of us and our end goals. TNS Digital life at the end of 2011 told us that: 3/5 people don't follow any brands on social media 71% are more selective of "liking" a brand on Facebook than they were a year prior More than ½ feel overwhelmed by brand messages on social media In our wild quest for engagement we're actually turning people off!
So, in summary. Why do I hate the term Engagement? ‘ Engagement ’ - just like a good old fashioned ratings point - has no intrinsic value until it affects purchase behaviour. So not only is a vacuous word of no meaning; but our fixation with trying to achieve it and measure the immeasurable is causing us to lower our standards. And for those lower standards to become the norm. Frankly it's not good enough. We're alienating our audience. We're making our jobs harder and harder. And if we're just making noise for noise's sake (and we are) then we're not driving any meaningful action.
So I guess I'm really asking you all to join me in calling bullshit on the bullshit and demanding better of ourselves, of our peers and of the industry as a whole. Focus on what really matters and put some clothes on the Emperor before he catches his death of cold.
Breaking up with "Engagement"
ENGAGEMENTYOU KEEP USING THIS TERM BUT I DO NOT THINK YOU ARE MEASURING WHAT YOU THINK YOU ARE MEASURING
Lack of real strategyis a big issue Diagram by Mike Arauz
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The emperor wecall, “Engagement”is stark, b***cknaked!
“The involvement of mostbrands in the social medialives of the public remainsclumsy, inept anddisrespectful” Richard Huntingdon Director of Strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi @adliterate Photo by @insideology