Online “engagement” - it’s meaningless if you’re not engaging the right people

Brands trying to understand their performance online have become increasingly focused on engagement, moving away from so-called ‘vanity metrics’, like impressions and page views. But are they still getting it wrong?

Like Comment

I’ve been thinking about engagement a lot lately. This has stemmed from some internal discussions here about whether showing the number of ‘Likes’ and comments is actually a valuable measure of our customers’ content.

It is timely to see this recent news that Instagram is considering removing ‘Like’ counts from its platform.

Why are we questioning the value of this type of ‘engagement’? We’ve found that on many of our customers’ communities, members and visitors are sharing content actively, even if they haven’t clicked that pesky ‘like’ button. I’d take a punt they’re sharing the content because it’s relevant to them and they like it, but they haven’t ‘liked’ it.

But there’s also a bigger issue when it comes to measuring engagement as a whole, and that goes for shares too, not just likes or other ‘reactions’.

The social media and Web 2.0 have revolutionised communications and the way we find information, but the noise and volume is out of control. Businesses, and many individuals, are completely focused on big numbers. More followers, more likes, more shares, going viral. It all feels like we are valuing noise over genuine connection.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story. You might be reaching lots of people (and machines), but the real questions you should be asking are: are they the right people? Are they even real people?

Quality over quantity

I’m not the first person who said this, and I’m sure I won’t be the last, but we should be focusing on the quality of our online engagements, not the quantity of them.

As a brand, whether you’re B2B or B2C, you’ll have identified target audiences you’re trying to reach. If that’s the case, then there’s a clear benefit in focusing your efforts on reaching just them. Not on achieving the highest numbers, no matter what.

If I’m running a business whose target customer is senior marketing people at large organisations, it doesn’t matter if a junior graphic designer at a small agency has liked my content. That’s not to say the junior designer doesn’t matter, of course, but he or she just isn’t relevant to me.

I could have 300 likes on a piece of content, but if none of them are people I’m genuinely trying to engage with my business, it just doesn’t matter. On the other hand if I have three or four people who really engage with my content - leave comments or share it with colleagues - and they’re exactly in my target market, then I’ve started a conversation that I can continue with the very people I’m trying to reach.

Targeting your niche

That’s why I’ve been writing about niche communities. They’re a growing trend, with even Facebook admitting that people are looking more and more for the ‘digital equivalent of the living room’. But this trend isn’t just about benefiting end-users, it also creates significant benefits for businesses trying to reach and interact with their target audiences.

Take a consulting firm for example. Their whole business is based on the expertise of their people. They want to reach senior people at large businesses who could benefit from their services. Creating a niche community that offers genuine advice and insight from their consultants offers multiple benefits in this example:

  • It showcases their business’ own expertise

  • It creates a community of similarly high-level executives who share similar problems, facilitating peer-to-peer learning, as well as learning from the firm

  • It offers opportunities to have genuine interactions and build relationships with target prospects

  • It can connect current customers with target prospects, turning customers into advocates for the business

That’s a hypothetical, but we’ve highlighted some real examples from our own customers and the wider world in this article.

Another favorite of mine is the OECD Forum Network, which has grown around their annual forum event - you only have to look at the discussions and comments around this post to see that the OECD are getting insight and building genuine relationships which are helping to make their event as valuable as possible to their attendees.

Online communities, as with social media, often fall prey to the same vanity metrics and so-called engagement metrics. But if you start off with the objective to reach the right people, rather than hit big numbers, that’s where the true value lies.

Go to the profile of Charles Thiede

Charles Thiede

CEO & Co-Founder, Zapnito Ltd.

My background is in technology, professional services and digital media. I co-founded Zapnito due to a number of related observations from my time in these sectors: 1) the social web is creating a huge amount of noise 2) expertise that brands have built up over decades is being drowned out and hidden from those that need it 3) these brands are therefore losing their audience to often undeserving and unhelpful sources, and 4) people are finding it harder to access the expertise that they truly value. I therefore decided to create Zapnito, a white-label platform to help trusted brands reclaim their audiences via expert-driven knowledge networks.


Go to the profile of Susanna Kempe
Susanna Kempe over 1 year ago

Marketing has always been about the cost / return ratio between reach, engagement and action. If you are running an event for 1000 delegates and can accurately target the 2000 people who most closely match your delegate profile at an affordable cost, knowing that 100% of them will avidly read / join in your community, and 50% of them will will then sign up for the event, that is absolutely all you need. The challenge of course comes in the accurate targeting and the conversions. If you can't achieve 50% conversion (which you should absolutely be able to do for your returning delegates but might struggle with on new business), you'd need to spread your net wider to begin with. Which doesn't at all negate the importance of niche communities. It just underscores the fact that you need to know what size of Living Room -- and how many of them -- you need in order to make money. Happily with consulting and professional services more widely, typically just one deal will more than pay for building and managing a community. 

Go to the profile of Charles Thiede
Charles Thiede over 1 year ago

Thanks Susanna for your terrific insights as always. I totally agree about consulting (professional services) as well. I would also suspect that those who do not attend the event (but have paid) would have a higher retention rate for the next event vs. everything going relatively quiet post event - which is what usually happens without a community! Since we can integrate into different CRM's this should be something that is tracked.

Go to the profile of Pablo Markin
Pablo Markin 3 months ago

This piece sounds compatible with omni/multi-channel strategies for marketing, customer retention and CRM. Brand (equity/value) management is definitely a part of that qualitatively, as the importance of communities grows.