It's almost Valentine's Day, so let's muse again about what it means to be "engaged." In this day of figuring out whether people will pay for web news, defining success by measuring engagement is more important than ever.
It doesn't matter whether you love or hate a news organization if you're engaged with it – as demonstrated by behaviors such as going to the site frequently, contributing content, e-mailing a story, rating a video or paying a monthly subscription fee.
Many worthy people have come up with all kinds of complicated mathematical formulas for measuring and tracking engagement. Nothing's stuck. In other words, just because a number was produced ("Disaster! Our engagement rating was 14 last month but our goal was 19!") doesn't mean site traffic and other key performance indicators move in conjunction with it. A metric is just a number if it doesn't move up or down as a result of some action or mistake on your part.
Although measuring engagement still eludes us, I hope news orgs will still adopt an engagement philosophy and an audience-focused culture that will guide the decisions that do lead to measurable results.
A philosophy still needs some definition. I like this quote from Dave Smith, CEO of Mediasmith, a digital advertising agency. The interview is in "Digital Engagement," a book by Leland Harden and Bob Heyman.
"Engagement is an unconscious tick of the mind that causes you to think differently about and notice a brand differently in the future."
In the same interview Smith also quotes Erwin Ephron, perhaps the "founder of modern media planning," as saying that "Media engagement and advertising engagement are very different things….Historically, media are measured by audience delivery. Advertising is measured by response. Engagement-based ratings would measure media by response."
In other words, it's not enough now just to put content out there and hope your audiences will like it. Traditional audience research that produces various numbers for loyalty and satisfaction isn't enough either. Audiences can't just tell you how they feel. They have to show you.