NMA Live – Defining ‘engagement’. Clue: (You can’t)

Having attended the NMA Live event last Friday entitled ‘Demystifying Engagement’ it struck me that not one person in the room could answer the question ‘What Is Engagement?’ without answering like a politician (this isn’t intended to offend it merely proves the difficulty involved in answering the question…).

Well all definitions start in the dictionary so we’ll start with a quote (courtesy of Wikipedia):

“Engagement measures the extent to which a consumer has a meaningful brand experience when exposed to commercial advertising, sponsorship”

The esteemed educational establishment of Princeton, USA defines it as:

“the act of sharing in the activities of a group”

But engagement can also be an offensive term when used in the context of war and fighting!:

“a hostile meeting of opposing military forces in the course of a war”

So when we’re talking about how engaged someone is in a brand, what on earth do we classify as ‘engaged’. Some people may offer that engagement can easily be measured in terms of clicks or dwell time for a piece of content.  They would argue that if people are choosing to click on the ad or the play button on a video and then watch a large percentage of it (dwell time), then they have been engaged.

Maybe, maybe not. What I would say is that there are far too many factors (and factors within those factors) that affect engagement that it is nigh on impossible to measure, control or predict.

Copyright BBC

Factors Affecting Engagement

Personal Experience

Engagement is impossible to measure on anything more than a personal level. What engages Mr White may not engage Mr Black. Mr Black and Mr Grey may both find a video about someone slipping on a banana skin funny, but this may have actually happened to Mr Grey so he finds it a bit less funny. So personal experience affects Mr Grey’s level of engagement. Mr Green might have heard from Mr Grey about how funny this video clip is and so clicks on it on Youtube and watches the whole thing. He doesn’t get it and is not engaged at all but when Mr Grey asks him about it he agrees how funny it was. So he acted like he was engaged…but he wasn’t. Still with me?!

Propensity to return (loyalty)

I’d go out on a limb and say that ALL brands like their customers to stay loyal. Loyalty is the product of engagement and engagement can increase loyalty. Chicken or egg anyone?

Propensity to share with others

This factor depends on three things; How shareable your content is, how easy you make it for users to share and whether individual users are ‘sharers’ (see Forrester’s Technographic Ladder for certain users that are more likely to share)

Intended Reaction

If you meant to make them laugh, did they? How much? Was it just a wry smile, a chortle or a hearty bellow.

Heart On Their Sleeves Index (HOTSI)

How much do they wear their heart on their sleeve? People who are easily excited, angered, amused are surely more likely to be engaged in a short piece of glanceable content? People who are guarded or who control their emotions may not be affected too much by your 20 second banner game and so although they click on your banner to play the game/watch the video etc they do so out of interest not excitement.

Brand/Subject Affinity

Previous exposure to a brand or having an affinity to something related to a brand will affect current levels of engagement. For example, Mrs Poodle who loves dogs is far more likely to be engaged in content or a story for the RSPCA than Jimmy the Postman who nearly gets his hand bitten off every morning by the dog at number 26!


So, in conclusion there is no conclusion. To qualify someone’s engagement by using metrics is like trying to define what makes a piece of music good or a painting a work of art. It is so subjective and personal that measurement can only really be done on a one to one basis through detailed questionnaires with open and closed question, Likert scales, interviews and other forms of qualitative data capture that you just can’t do on a large scale, only on a representative one.

Read the official NMA write up of the event here

Read presenter and panellist James Whatley’s round up including slides of his great presentation here


4 thoughts on “NMA Live – Defining ‘engagement’. Clue: (You can’t)

  1. problem with this issue, which is being talked about an awful lot at the moment within publishers, is that engagement is basically another word for people liking something. If someone’s engaged with something, it really just means they like it. And there’s no reliable way to measure people liking something other than asking them, and even if you take their ‘i like it’ answer at face value (which you wouldn’t), you still can’t put a price on it… I’m not sure online media really gets us any closer to accounting for engagement than offline media does.

    • Sorry Jonathon, but I have to disagree ‘like’ isn’t the same thing as ‘engagement’. I like lots of things that I’m NOT engaged with. Engagement needs to have a behavioural as well as an emotional expression which ‘like’ doesn’t necessarily have.

      I like baseball but I’m not engaged with it. (It’s been over eight years since I’ve been to a game, a couple of years since I’ve seen one on TV and about five years since I bought anything baseball related.)

      The definition we’ve used in the cScape Customer Engagement Unit for the last four years is:

      “Repeated interactions that strengthen the emotional, psychological and physical investment a customer has in a brand (product or company).”

      This is also the definition that has been central to the Annual Customer Engagement Survey Report (now in it’s 4th year) http://bit.ly/Engage2010

      Because of it’s emotional and behaviour requirement any measurement of engagement needs to be synthetic i.e. combining different metrics. That’s tough and often complicated (see Eric Petersen’s Engagement Metric http://bit.ly/4JxgMe )

      Ultimately how and what you measure’s going to be closely aligned with what you’re objectives are and what insights you need to gain to improve. So different
      interested parties will always have different definitions of engagement.

  2. Thanks for the comment Richard. Some interesting points and the definition you have quoted is the best I have come across yet.

  3. Pingback: 100,000+ Facebook Ad Impressions For… £4.04 « Social Media Mashup – UK Social Media News

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