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February 22, 2010

What Is User Engagement Anyway? (Part 1)

One of the most valuable services we offer our clients is the ability to increase user engagement with their brand digitally. However, what we have learned from our clients is that they do not all share a holistic view on exactly what “user engagement” means, or how to measure it. For example, are Pageviews or Unique visitors good indicators of an engaged audience? Or is it something softer?

Defining User Engagement

Because of my analytical and computer science background, I take a very mathematical and metrics-driven perspective to user engagement.

To me, user engagement formulas and variations always follow a simple pattern: Take the number of content items a website has, and divide it by one-to-many interactions performed by the user.

Please allow me to explain.

Let’s say you ran a publishing website (maybe it’s a blog). The primary way for users to interact with the website is through comments. As such, the metric you might want to track is “number of blog posts divided by the number of comments” for the new posts for any given month. This will show you how engaging your content is. Plot the results over time: you want this number moving up … and to the right. Page views and unique visitor stats will never provide you with this level of insight. As a real world example, BusinessWeek uses this method to track their user engagement levels.

The interaction could be anything: buying something online, signing up for a whitepaper, posting a review, or commenting.

The Social Media Factor

A secondary approach, is to measure engagement offsite, on blogs, digg, twitter, facebook, etc. I typically suggest to clients that they create a Social Media scorecard, plotting their performance over time (e.g. “Hey Johnson, did you see this month’s Retweet performance compared to last month? We increased from 44.1 retweets per article to 67.3 retweets per articles. We’re clearing doing something right”)

Making Sense of the Data

What many organizations have trouble with, is actually measuring the data in the first place. Often this data needs to be collected in different places using different methods, or the wrong metrics are being used. Often Google Analytics (or another analytics package), the content management system being used, and deep insights into social media are required to make sense of all of this. The good news is, there are tools to help make this easier.

When helping clients increase user engagement, the first task required is to create a baseline of current engagement levels. This generally requires one of our consultants to figure out a repeatable and painless process to get the metrics, and then creating a baseline document based on existing performance.

We then make user engagement go up, and to the right ;)