Digital, Marketing, Social

“Engagement”: marketing’s most misunderstood word?

There was an interesting article from Fast Company that I read the other day which spoke about an oft-used word in the age of digital branding: “engagement”. This particular word seems to be important to anyone who conducts business online, but as Jeff Beer wrote, “‘engagement’ is an imprecise term”. So how exactly do we measure its value, then, if it even has any at all?

The story I read was about Burger King Norway and an interesting tactic they employed when re-launching their Facebook page: “In an effort to get a fresh start, [they] offered all of the followers of its previous page a free Big Mac to not join the new page… The rationale: the brand had low engagement and a lot of fans whose activity consisted of making negative cracks and asking for discounts.”

In a culture where many brands and companies still place a massive emphasis on follower counts as a measure of digital success, Burger King’s decision seems bizarre, especially considering that they went from 28,000 to 8,000 fans with the maneuver. Conventional wisdom would say that they just cut their audience down by two-thirds and limited the reach of their marketing messages.

However, the problem with this line of thinking is that it comes from an outdated and frankly, uneducated mindset. Overemphasis on follower counts as a measure of engagement comes from the same school of thinking that says that spending big money on a national ad will always be more effective than a lower-priced local ad, simply because more people will see it. This mentality is rooted in the belief that companies have customers, not communities, and is exemplified by one-way rather than two-way communication tactics.

Instead, I think the better way to measure “engagement” is by looking at “conversion”. That is, how many people are actually taking the desired action that you want them to take with your marketing/sales message? The traditional definition of engagement might tell you that 100,000 people on Facebook saw one of your messages, but conversion will tell you that only 4,000 of them clicked on the link in your post. So if you were asked how many people were “engaged” by your post, which number actually makes more sense?

The difference between “engagement” and “conversion” isn’t just haggling over different numbers, however. It’s also a difference in ideology. Engagement is statically rooted in one-way conversations: “Okay, great, 100,000 people saw our message. Our work here is done”. Conversion, on the other hand, inherently requires two-way communication to optimize: soliciting feedback, crafting messaging with clear calls-to-action, and constant testing and fine-tuning. With conversion as the focus, both parties benefit, as the business understands their customers better and customers interact more meaningfully with the business. Through the narrow lens of engagement, though, achieving either of these is not possible.

Still, at the end of the day, we might not ever be able to come up with a universally-pleasing definition of “engagement”. What we can do, though, is agree that it certainly isn’t measured best through metrics like follower counts. Sven Hars, Burger King Scandinavia’s marketing director, put it best when he told Fast Company, “We stopped focusing on how many likes we had, and put time and resources into finding out what to talk about and how to engage our fans.”

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Digital, Marketing

It’s the Message, not the Medium

I read a great article by Joe Pulizzi today, in which Joe writes that Newsweek‘s decision to move back to a printed version of their magazine represents a “huge opportunity for brands”.

As a self-professed social and digital media advocate, this definitely got my attention. I mean, I know about the effectiveness of direct mail marketing (especially among “Baby Boomers” with high disposable incomes) from my time in the classroom. The value of “traditional” media for marketing purposes has never been lost on me.

Instead, what left me so surprised was that I never thought about the flawed reasoning behind why many people have been so eager to declare print as “dead”. After all, we see it as useless as we tap our smartphones and open up entertainment, news, social, and leisure portals with the click of a button. In the digital age we live in, print seems slow, outdated, clumsy, and worthless. Thus, we quickly dismiss the value of the actual medium itself.

Yet, as we’ve all become digital natives, advertisers and companies have immediately moved with us in lockstep, for better and for worse. Our email inboxes are now flooded with vague offers. Our social media feeds contain an abundance of information, which we’ve grown accustomed to scanning and then discarding, all within seconds. Indeed, what we used to call “non-traditional media” has become second nature to both businesses and consumers.

This is why Newsweek‘s decision might strike you as bizarre. It flies in the face of convention, especially in today’s digital-savvy media industry. Yet, consider that it’s not as if Newsweek is suddenly going to start reporting exclusively on sports now. Much of the attention is on the fact that they are changing their medium, not their content.

It seems to me that with all of the communications channels that we have at our disposal today, many of us are more focused today on how we will say something instead of deciding what we are going to say. Instead, I think we should focus on the message first, then the medium.

After all, it’s easy to get caught up in technological trends, shifts, and what competitors are doing: “Hey, it looks like Corporation X just used Twitter to promote their latest campaign. Maybe we should do that too”. Soon enough, your Twitter feed is clogged with 80 companies running similar promotions, regardless of whether it even makes sense for them to use that method of communication. How many times have you seen this for yourself?

Instead, if you first seek to understand your customer/audience, you’ll be able to craft compelling messaging to get their interest. That’s when you can choose the appropriate channels to communicate with them. Because at the end of the day, whether it’s a Facebook post or a magazine, it doesn’t matter how you choose to say it, if what you say doesn’t matter.

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