Defining “Engagement”

I’m into this whole defending terms and definitions crusade as I believe it defines where we go from here.

Don’t use that term until you know what they mean
That term Engagement sure appears to be thrown around recently, (and I’m not talking about Cap’n Jean-Luc Picard) with a wide variety of use and understanding. Honestly, it scares me quite a bit.

Some highly criticize this term as it’s being pushed by the advertising industry to move into this space. That’s bull crap, because we did a study ourselves (none if few were advertisers) at a a recent roundtable, and it scored as the top ‘wanted’ attributed to be measured, for whatever that’s worth.

A few weeks ago, I compared how Advertisers think of engagement vs a social media professional.

It’s important to define and measure
Before the snarks, haters, and other ill-tempered cube bullies jump on to attack such a silly notion, (I’ve recently fallen under attack for defending the term social media) please remember that in the end, we all realize that it’s impossible to truly measure something gray (humans come in so many different flavors), but our clients, bosses, and customers will hold us to at least try with whatever yard stick or tape measure we decree as patternable.

CEO of Nielsen Buzz Metrics Johnathan Carson discusses Engagement importance and measurement but does not define it.

Respected thought (and practice leader) Eric Peterson defines engagement as:

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

He suggests that it will be measured depending on the needs of every client or situation. I noticed that pattern upon reviewing Charlene Li’s recent Blog ROI report she sent to me.

Whatever we decide for that term to mean, engagement is only part of the story to be measured, there’s quite a few other attributes that require study to accurately tell the story.

I find Eric’s activities (part two, and three) (Update Feb 12th: and now part four) taking on the actual measurement insightful and fascinating, this spurred from the challenge my colleague Robert Scoble requested of the industry to define and calculate engagement metrics. I’m kind of the middle of this thing, as I also have been communicating with Clint Ivy, and Daniela of Factiva, it’s a fun party I can assure you.

You can view all my thoughts that are tagged Social Media Measurement, and yes Brian S, excellent job!

Ok, I’m going to be brave and attempt again, I won’t be last, and I encourage anyone to make suggestions, here goes:

My working definition:

“Engagement indicates the level of authentic involvement, intensity, contribution, and ownership”

It’s possible for me to shorten it to:

“Apparent Interest”

I say apparent because someone can be interested and never act on it, measuring that will be difficult. If they act on it, say it, or gesture, then we can measure. I say interest, as I really see engagement the verb of interest.

Engagement Formula:

“Attention + Interaction + Velocity + Authority + Relevant Attributes (variable)”

This formula uses Attention, which is often time-spent. The attribute should be limited to when users time out of a website, as a single user can have multiple tabs open, and even open all night. Interaction is a clear example of a user being engaged. You need both attributes together as a user could be engaged without interacting with the site. I listed out “Other Attributes” as each tool is different with variable outcomes. For example user engagement on my blog could range from reading, commenting, or subscribing. Tools like Facebook could have a different set of attributes to determine engagement, such as poking, sharing, or friending.

Update: Feb 3rd
The Ad agency tried to define engagement over 8 months, they were criticized. Wiredset has some interesting concepts.

Based upon the great feedback and discussion in the comments, (Damon and Charlene Li in particular) I think it’s now possible to even simplify the term down to “interest”.

Update: Compete has now launched a service that is tracking web activity from a browser plugin (like Alexa) and has given a rating to the sites with the most ‘attention’. It will be interesting to compare this data to Alexa, MyBloglog, and Attention Trust type services.