Monday, 21 November 2011

"Engagement": Accepting an Inadequate Metric

"Engagement".  It's a term that's often bandied about in media, and has been deconstructed and reinvented many times over.  However whilst within the digital sphere, conversation and debate over the concept of consumer "engagement" has evolved, consideration as to its appropriateness as a metric has somewhat fallen by the way-side.

Is it Engagement?  Or is it something else?

Recently speaking at the IAB Engage conference, Michelle Klein stated her belief that the currently used "engagement" metrics of dwell time, sharing, etc, don't accurately reflect the nature of a truly "engaging" experience.  Too often it is assumed that a consumer that plays a game, signs up for a Facebook competition or watches a video has had an "engaging" experience.  Realistically, the only certainty that can be taken from the resultant data is that the consumer interacted with the campaign.  Any meaningful brand connection as a result of that interaction is generally inferred.

Engagement goes beyond interaction or enjoyment of content.  It's an interaction that results in an emotional connection and association with the brand. 
Think of the last brilliant dramatic film you went to see.  One where all of a sudden you realise that your eyes hurt from watching the screen so intently.  Now that's engagement.  That's engagement to a point of personal immersion.  Whilst this isn't achievable (yet) at a campaign level, this example serves to show the extent of what a fully engaging experience can do to you.  This is what the goal should be.  Not the eye-watering part, but that feeling of unbiased personal connectivity to the previously unknown content put in front of you.  Judging whether a user achieved this connectivity through examining whether or not they entered their details or clicked through is clearly insufficient.  Generally, such interactions serve a more functional purpose, it taking a lot more to elevate them to the realms of becoming an engaging experience.

An Unfortunate Acceptance

It would be preferable to measure campaigns in terms of brand perception, consideration, preference, etc due to their superiority in measuring levels of a consumer’s engagement with a brand following content interaction.  Unfortunately however, the lack of science and direct accountability behind such methods renders them to be perceived as less efficient metrics than those currently used.

That said, despite the inappropriateness of current engagement metrics, they are far more preferable for branding campaigns than the more commonly used alternatives of CTRs and CPAs.

Why?  Because they fail to reflect the notion of what branding is.  Clients appear to be constantly asking for branding campaigns; though insist on measuring such campaigns on what are essentially performance metrics.  It'd be nice to say that this is solvable through a snazzy presentation on digital, but the reality is that it's not that simple.  Unfortunately, such demands are generally a result of those in the upper echelons of the client’s hierarchy stubbornly handing demands down to those that have no choice but to follow. 

Whilst a wish to focus on ROI is understandable, just as it would be fine to consciously state a wish to intermix branding and performance.  However to ask for performance metrics to be used on what’s been briefed as a solely branding campaign makes achieving communications goals tricky to say the least.  Not only does it make digital teams less likely to choose more "engaging" rich media over its more ROI-friendly brothers of standard display, but it causes a lack of creativity.  This generally results in a campaign that leaves clients scratching their heads as to why people still don't have a positive brand perception, or haven't increased their consideration levels.


So whilst the current use of engagement metrics is perhaps slightly unsatisfactory, if given budget to engage consumers in a digital landscape, I'd say "go for it".  Affording creatives and planner/buyers much more scope for creativity, it's a far superior branding metric to the currently favoured CPC/CPA system that's frustrating the industry.  Unfortunately, until either the client big-wigs get to grips of what a branding campaign is truly about (or those that do get their jobs), or engagement is measured in enough of a scientific way to sell it in to clients, engagement and branding will continue to be left in a confusing state.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Google+ v Facebook: A Modern Day David vs Goliath?

An Introduction of Biblical Proportions

Who'd have thought that The Bible’s author failed to mention that Goliath-defeater David's last name was actually Googleplus?  Well that may not be the case (in fact it definitely isn't), but apart from using money and not rocks to try and fell the social media giant Facebook, the match-up appears identical.  But is David up to the challenge? 
A Clever Cop-out

Though Larry Page recently revealed that their user base has passed the 40 million mark, if playing social by numbers, newbie - barring their floundering attempts in '09 and '10 with Wave and Buzz - Google+ is dwarfed by Facebook's mammoth 800+m user base by roughly 20:1.
More interestingly however, whilst Facebook happily admit that over 50% of their total user base returns monthly, Google refuse to promulgate any reciprocal stats.   

Despite reportedly being grilled at Web 2.0 Summit for some numbers, the only water anyone's managed to get out of the stone-faced execs is that they're "happy with the figures". 
Now if you're like me, you're thinking this is likely to equate to "not many", and you're probably right.  However according to the Google's big-wigs they’re simply not bothered about such "hard user metrics".  Instead, their MO is apparently "user engagement and cross platform integration".
Whilst appearing to be a bit of a cop-out, it's actually not a bad response.  The approach well reflecting the industry's new(ish) focus on engaging consumers/users beyond the mere impression level. 

Though it's the necessary monetisation of the £585m project that'll likely reveal just how "engaged" these users are, get some smooth-talking Googleites in a room with your budget conscious clients, and they could well lap up the idea of +Advertising.

"Improved ROI" being the in vogue buzz-phrase for media agencies, the supposed opportunity to reach these grail-shaped users that are ripe for their transformation into a brand ambassadors, could be tempting to clients.  Especially since their brand message will allegedly be received crystal clear from these super engaged users, and no longer falling on the deaf ears of the masses, hoping to get that click through.

“I’m Still not Going to go on it”...Or are you?

So, G+ has an up to date approach that will please brands upon the site’s monetisation.  Big whoop. Unfortunately however, as much as they want to avoid it, if they want to have any real clout they need to back up these propositions with some hard facts.  I don't think I've ever been in a presentation where I haven't been smugly shown some impressive stats, which at that moment in time prove that site/product is superior.  Google+ needs more of these stats.

Recently, agency Chitika has reported that over the past month, traffic to Google+ is in a fairly stale state of affairs.  Whilst not necessarily negative, it's far from breaking any records either.  But is Google+ capable off upping their game in order to take on the big guns? 

Yes.  They’ll have to be mighty clever in order to convert the thus far unconverted, but they have the weapons to do so.  With an arsenal containing: 200m Google Chrome users, the Android mobile operating system, the Chromebook, Google TV, and YouTube (with their recent announcement of 100 TV channels), there's certainly an opportunity to get Google+ into your hands. 

At the moment they’re still opting for the art of persuasion to pull people to the site.  However, for example, if they could get Google+ preloaded on Android devices, whilst people would grumble and gripe it’s likely that they’ll at least give it a go.  As is often the way with new/resisted technology, it’s the initial trial that’s the tricky part.  Once achieved, if your product is good they’ll start to realise its benefits, and (importantly for Google) tell others about their conversion to the device.
OK, So I Know About “Circles”, but What’s New on There?

You know what they say "Out with the new, in with the newer" - or at least that appears to be G+'s approach - as on the 27th October, Google+ got its first revamp.  Beyond their original USP of creating “circles” of friends to choose who you share content with, they’ve come up with a couple of new additions:

What’s Hot?
Basically a more visual Trending topic.  Appearing in your main stream or standing along, it shows you the most popular content on Google+.

Visualises how content has organically spread throughout Google+, letting you identify specific events and top contributors that helped your story spread

Creative Kit
A rudimentary photo editing tool that lets you add effects to you pictures and then share them on Google+.

Have video conversations with up to 10 of your friends at once.

(see some videos from Google introducing the new features here

Not all that impressed? That’s what I thought.  Now group chats could be useful, and everyone likes their ego massaged by seeing that their post reached 426,947 people.  However I’ve never needed to speak to that many people outside of work at the same time, nor have I posted anything interesting enough to extend my “ripple” far beyond my friend Bob.  Additionally, whilst Twitter-rip-off  What’s Hot is a fairly commonsensical addition, the Creative Kit is little more than the photo editing tools you had on your Nokia 5 years ago.


Overall, at the moment Google+ just isn't good enough to take on Facebook.  It's not large enough for it's semi-useless intricacies to have a worthwhile affect on users, and it isn't useful enough to drive enough traffic to afford it such extravagances.

That said, whilst their most recent renovations aren't likely to entice users into utilising the site, at least it's a start.  In order to draw users into willingly joining and using Google+, it has to be differentiated from Facebook by useful quirks and features.  They need to make people go beyond wanting to have it, to having to have it – and more importantly, use it!

So if they can keep positively improving and differentiating their site, whilst gradually integrating it across the platforms available to them, there's a (albeit very slim) chance that David could end up a pretty good match for Goliath.  The victor?  Well that's up to the public to decide.