Marketing Media Social Networks

What Does It Mean To Be “Engaged”?

I’m not talking about the first step towards getting married!

Online marketing buzz words include “social” and “engagement.” Let’s set “social” aside for another day.

What does it look like when a customer is “engaged” with a brand, with a web site, with Twitter or Facebook? Who are “engaged” customers and why are they important to an organization? Why might their web site visits be more valuable — in the traditional, monetary sense of the word — than less “engaged” customers?

What the heck does it mean to be engaged?

Searching Forrester’s database for the word “engagement,” I found 2373 results; 26 were published in October alone. Since 2006, the Advertising Research Foundation has an Engagement Council, which directs engagement-focused research. Here’s their definition:

Turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context.

This definition is, ummm, squishy. It’s not unlike this one: beauty, qualities that give pleasure to the senses. Or even obscenity: I’ll know it when I see it.

Back Story
In 2008, two researchers — Joseph Carrabis and Eric T. Peterson — tried to quantify online “engagement” by developing a definition and mathematical measurement (pdf):

Engagement is an estimate of the degree and depth of visitor interaction on the site against a clearly defined set of goals.

Σ(Ci +Di +Ri +Li +Bi +Fi +Ii)

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).

Today’s Story
NiemanLab brings us the story of, which has modified the above equation in an effort to measure engagement with a news media website. Here are the characteristics — categories — that they believe shape “engagement”:

Ci — Click Index: visits must have at least 6 pageviews, not counting photo galleries

Di — Duration Index: visits must have spend a minimum of 5 minutes on the site

Ri — Recency Index: visits that return daily

Li — Loyalty Index: visits that either are registered at the site or visit it at least three times a week

Bi — Brand Index: visits that come directly to the site by either bookmark or directly typing or come through search engines with keywords like “” or “inquirer”

Ii — Interaction Index: visits that interact with the site via commenting, forums, etc.

Pi — Participation Index: visits that participate on the site via sharing, uploading pics, stories, videos, etc.

What have they learned in the two months that they have employed this analytical framework?

  • Click Index: in a recent measurement, 17.9 percent of 3.9 million total visits featured a visitor clicking through to at least six pages.
  • Loyalty Index: this engagement metric is inversely related to site page views (“new visitors are, by definition, not loyal ones”).
  • Overall engagement: In September, “sports page visits were 46.6 percent engaged, while news page visits were only 34.4 percent engaged.”
  • Referrers matter: “Only 20.34 percent of visits that come through Google are engaged visits. In comparison, 33.64 percent of visits that come via Facebook are engaged.”

What is doing is trying to understand the different types of customers visiting their site, which should help them develop navigation paths, think about story assignments and negotiate for additional advertising revenue. However, it is a long-term project, not a short-term one. And at least one online news site manager thinks it is too complicated:

While the equation might provide interesting feedback to editors, [Sonia Meisenheimer, digital marketing strategist for the St. Petersburg Times’] said she thought the results it produced were too complicated. In a competitive market, businesses want to compare different web outlets on apples-to-apples factors like total audience and local audiences. She said would measure engagement in a much simpler way, focusing on registration numbers and their brand index, or how many people come to the site through a bookmark or by searching for terms like “St. Pete Times” or “”

Internally, she said the most important number for is simply revenue per unique visitor. “My question to is: how does this help you make more money? Because I don’t see that in the equation.”

I’d argue that in a competitive market like this one, the more you know about your customers, the better.

Most of the data upon which this engagement index is based are easily available from web server logs. Whether or not you combine the data into an index or look at each metric individually, they are all critical to understanding why people visit your web site and what they do once they get there. Plus, they help you identify where you should be focusing your own marketing efforts.

At the end of the day, these  two statistical tools don’t define “engagement” although they do provide a rubric for measuring it. Because business tends to “get what it measures” choosing what to measure is equally as important as implementing a formal system of measurement. How, then, might these tools help us figure out what it means to be engaged and identify exactly what bits of that engagement are valuable?

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By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

One reply on “What Does It Mean To Be “Engaged”?”

Thanks for spreading this out a bit – I’ll be interested in comments. Also interested in your assessment. Trying to figure out who is visiting is a necessary thing when one wants to target ads! I applaud them for trying at least!

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