Illusion of Engagement

There has been a sudden surge of briefs in recent years, where one of the goals has been to increase engagement. Usually said in those exact words.

Increase engagement.

I buy the basic idea of the engagement: The more customers talk about our brand and the more they spend time with our brand, the more likely they are to spend more money to the brand.
There is usually a correlation. I stress the word usually. Other thing I stress is that you have to engage your customers (and potential prospects). If you engage random people, you will get random results.

However with fluffy terms and catchphrases such as “engagement”, “joining the conversation” and “listening consumers”, we usually miss the bigger picture.

How does this engagement actually helps our business?

Like Martin Weigel highlighted in his brilliant presentation “How not Fail” (which also inspired this post heavily), the advertising is more about mass reaction than mass participation. Even with social media in the mix, advertising is still mostly about the struggle to get enough eyeballs. Engagement has not replaced reach.

What is the biggest problem with display advertising?

Some might say that really low click-rate is the main problem. But actually the biggest problem is that the small minority who is clicking the ads is not representing the whole online population. To put it bluntly, those who click ads are those we do not really want to target.

The same problem is there with Facebook Pages. We keep our fingers crossed that our “Fans” are really our customers. The brutal truth is that many times those “Fans” are people with no higher affinity to your brand but just higher tendency to like anything that is on Facebook. Especially when there is lottery involved. Also when talking about passion brands, the engagement level in Facebook is still relatively low (around 0.64 %). And majority of the brands are not passion brands.

So am I suggesting to get rid of term engagement totally?
Yes & no.
Engagement might make business sense and has its place in brief, but then you need to consider the following three things:

1. Engagement should be tied to business goals.
What is the value of the Facebook share for us? What is the value of the positive blog comment? What is the actual next step of engagement?
This requires some serious soul searching for both client and our agency people. If we do not measure the real effects of engagement, we are walking in the dark. We need to understand the role of engagement in different parts of the consumer journey and set appropriate KPI´s for them (with connection to actual business).

2. Engagement needs to be tightly defined.
What kind of reactions do we want to achieve? What kind of reactions can we anticipate? Do we want spark controversy like GoDaddy? Do we want to educate or entertain?
Every brand wants to remain positive in online, but the things which spark actually the most engagement are negative. Like Timothy Ferriss put it: best content is threat to either behavior, belief or belongings. How many of the brands are really willing to threat anything?
Engagement never trumps relevance.

3. Engagement should be made as easy as possible.
What is the most lightweight interaction we can have? How we made reacting as easy as possible?
The average web user is too busy to comment, but he just might have time to share your content forward or press like. Majority of the people want to be passive consumers, not active participants. They want entertainment, not engagement. That is also the reason why Superbowl Ads are so popular, they are great entertainment which you consume fast and easily and then move on.

Brands seldom can dictate what is discussed at the water cooler. However it can tap to existing discussion topics and add its own twist to it (pun intended). By acting like this, you can actually become a topic at the water cooler.

Great case example of good engaging program was Oreo Daily Twist for the following reasons:

1. It tapped into existing conversations.
2. Made it easy for people to participate with micro-interactions.
3. Instead of big bang, it had lots of small starts, which had the potential to go viral.
+ Was still able to have the product in the center.

This is good example of engagement done right. We need to do more campaigns like this.

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