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What Is Engagement?

What is real engagement with content? It’s a term often used these days and most often associated with digital media. Can it really be illustrated as simply as clicking to view a video or entering a competition, how do we know if people had a real connection with the content and your brand when doing so?

To me it is more about people being moved on an emotional level, getting into their brains and giving them an association to hang your brand on. It is more about the extent to which someone retained and enjoyed what they experienced of your brand rather than simply how many times it was done. Unfortunately for us, this qualitative nature is a lot harder to deliver measurables on than quantitative. It’s this immeasurable element that can make good advertising so special. I think it’s also important to note up front that when discussing content, this could be anything from a printed ad in a newspaper to an Adshel in a bus shelter or a video on Youtube.

In an attempt to try and measurably quantify what engagement really is and how engaged people actually were, Nielsen asks to what extent the subject agrees with the content across three pillars: Funny, Emotionally Touching, Informative. Broadly speaking any piece of content would fit into one of those three categories in terms of what it is trying to achieve in terms of enagement, if it ranks on this then it’s doing it’s job. Looking at it through the lens of these three axis helps us to begin to examine how engaged people really were with the content and in what capacity. If someone can associate after the fact, a degree of connection across one of these pillars with a piece of content, I believe that shows that they were engaged by it. To try and manage this at a strategic level up front, you could for example map “Engagement Profiles” of the content based on to what extent you think they should rank across these pillars in the consumers mind. Is the content designed to be humorous and a little informative? Or simply about creating an emotional brand connection? 

The content above is something that whilst rating quite strongly across all axis, is predominantly geared towards being funny whilst capturing an emotional connection with the brand, to a lesser extent delivering a product message. The consumer behaviour you’d hope to see from content such as this is people enjoying it, sharing their experience of it with their friends and hopefully as a by product driving brand awareness and revenue. On this note, as Clay Shirky says, “behaviour is motivation filtered through opportunity” and technology has changed the opportunity space in many ways. Now that technology has made it so easy to measure peoples immediate behaviour with online content (like, share, tweet etc), as advertisers it is all too easy to focus on measuring this as successful engagement rather than a longer term qualitative behaviour change. Not only does this ignore all other media channels it also can’t measure that emotional side of true engagement. To quote Faris Yakob,” If a piece of branded anything falls in the woods and no one Tweets about it  – did it have any effect?”.

The concept that “good work works” hasn’t changed and will never do so, it will always be that the interesting content will deliver greater than usual engagement. What has changed is how people consume it and what they do with it. We must be careful not to solely focus on using these easy to access short term metrics as barometers of this and keep in mind the immeasurable emotional connections which people have with brands built over time from true engagement across all media. To end, an open letter to all advertising that has been floating around the internet for a while but I think it sums it up quite nicely.

Alex

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