Closing the Engagement Gap

Larry Irons · September 3, 2008 · Short URL:

Innovating Engagement through Customer Experience

A few weeks ago, I discussed the 2008 Tribalization of Business Study, sponsored by Beeline Labs, Deloitte, and the Society for New Communications Research, to discuss the gap between the importance many enterprises attribute to the development of communities and the accompanying investment in that engagement strategy, whether focused on internal stakeholders, or externally on customers.

I noted that the findings of the Tribalization study point to a Community Gap. Yet, drawing from Rachel Happe, I also pointed out the differences between the conversations characterizing social media and the conversations of a community. The distinction is important to keep in mind when considering an overall strategy for connecting with and engaging people online, whether they are employees, suppliers, or customers. After reading two recent research reports, one from Fleishman-Hillard and the other from Forrester Research, it is clear that the Community Gap is one manifestation of a larger gap, the Engagement Gap.

Fleishman-Hillard's Digital Research Group and HarrisInteractive recently released their Digital Influence Index Study, focused on the Internet's importance to the lives of consumers in the UK, Germany, and France. The Digital Influence Index Study provides an overall strategic assessment of the role of digital communications to 35 different decisions, from voting for politicians to buying entertainment tickets, electronic devices, and a range of purchases, made by consumers in the three European countries. Though it doesn't use the specific term, the study outlines an overall engagement gap between the influence of the Internet in consumer decision making and the amount of spending, and effort, by corporations and government agencies in trying to interact with and shape the thinking behind those decisions, particularly through advertising. In the UK, Germany, and France, the Internet is the most influential medium, almost twice as influential as television. However, globally, online advertising accounts for only 7% to 8% of the advertising market.

The Digital Influence Index Study examines the influence of the Internet across consumer decisions for the range of web applications, including Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and what the study refers to as Web 3.0. Regarding the latter, the study notes:

Web 3.0 is an enabling technology that will liberate consumers from the limitations of PC’s and laptops and put the power of the Internet in their hands, anytime, anywhere. Although there are competing definitions of Web 3.0, for this study we have adopted the concept that focuses on mobility as the major factor that will transform the way consumers use the Internet.

Our interest is in the findings offered by the Digital Influence Index Study regarding engagement and conversation with the consumer across all web applications, though the predominance of opportunities to engage and converse occur largely in the Web 2.0 space where social networking and communities are supported.

Engagement occurs on at least two levels on the Web. Web 1.0 engagement is largely defined by interactions at the page or website level, where page views, click-throughs, unique visitors, time spent on site, and other SEO metrics are important. Yet, Web 2.0 engagement, though inclusive of the standard Web 1.0 metrics, occurs at the social level, across a network of people interacting with advertisements, media sources for entertainment and information, and other people. For example, networks of interaction with advertising are seen in recent Facebook ads. As Kaye recently noted over at ClickZ:

The value of the Facebook ads lies in their viral quality. The site alerts friends in a network to the actions of their fellow network members, and the ads work in a similar fashion. A small number of friends in someone's network may be notified when he has interacted with an engagement ad. That distribution can be extended by advertisers willing to pay to notify all friends of those who have interacted with an ad. The company refers to that option as "social" ads.
Facebook engagement ads are an explicit effort to leverage social networks to boost viral marketing campaigns. The topic of what gives a social media object, such as an ad or video, a viral quality is an emerging challenge for anyone wanting to get their message out through social networks or online communities. For now, the thoughts of Michael Wesch from the Digital Ethnography project, an ongoing ethnographic study of YouTube videos, at Kansas State University are sufficiently precise.
It’s not about producing for a mass, but building a critical mass. For a video to go viral it has to do more than just passively entertain. It has to co-opt the viewer into *wanting* to spread it. The key then is to look at what motivates people to spread videos. There are many motivations: political, presenting identity, just sharing something amazing or funny, etc. Likewise it is equally important to look at what might stop people from spreading a video. For example, people do not spread videos that might make them look bad for having enjoyed it, or videos they don’t want to be associated with.

Companies concerned about their brand, or individual bloggers interested in their blog's reputation, are now able to use a range of tools to close the Engagement Gap and understand who is saying what about them across social media. To name just a few of these social media analysis tools: SM2, nuconomy, ClickTale, TruCast, backtype, and others.

The Forrester research mentioned above, which many readers may already know about, came out earlier this year and is incorporated into a book, groundswell, written by the lead researchers, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. It offers a social technographics profile of participants in the groundswell. They define the groundswell as, "A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations" (p. 9). Li and Bernoff distinguish six types of participants in this social technographics profile: Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners, Spectators, and Inactives. For our purposes, Li and Bernoff's main point is in advising that the choice an organization makes on how to engage the groundswell (through communities, social networks, etc.) needs to take into account the social technographics profile of the people available for engagement there, and their behavioral preferences in how they use the Web.

Moreover, just as the Fleishman-Hillard/Harris Interactive research advises that, "any organisation's digital engagement with consumers must be based on an open and honest representation of interests and positions" (p. 4). The Forrester researchers add that, listening strategies alone, though useful in understanding the interaction of an organization's brand with participants in the groundswell, are most effective when the organizations plan how to act on what is learned. In other words, closing the engagement gap also means learning from the customer's experience with your brand.


Larry writes the blog Skilful Minds.


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