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February 4, 2016
Engagement is a Bogus Metric
“Engagement” is used as a metric for online social and mobile media interactions. Although not uniformly defined, “engagement” seems to be an aggregate measure of a variety of interactions, including likes, comments, shares, and re-posts. It is a proxy for conversion in environments where goods and services aren’t directly sold.

To the old-school crowd, like yours truly, engagement is measured by counting the number of people who show up at a site and take the marketer’s desired action. These engaged visitors sign up for a newsletter, download something, use a calculator, enroll in a class or webinar, or maybe even buy something.

Part of the debate centers on a definition and the use of the term relative to media values and media buying. It looks like someone needs a snappy rationale for taking ad money when, after exposure to content and advertising, nothing happens. 

If someone comes to your site or onto your Facebook page, are they engaged or not? If they view two pages or less are you suffering from low engagement? In the old-media world we measured time-spent-viewing or time-spent-listening and inferred engagement from lapsed time. So if Nielsen clocked you as listening to Z-100 for 45 minutes between 6a and 9a, we inferred that you liked that station, probably tracked with the core demographic, probably listened as much as the average dedicated listener, and probably paid some attention to its content and the ads.

All media experiences are not equal and therefore have different outcomes. Engagement is a concept designed to obscure the differences in outcomes. This tempest in a teapot is an attempt to deflect criticism of the online properties that are not trackable, accountable, or measurable in ways that even brand advertisers have come to expect. In some cases, the burden of proof is shifted from site owners to advertisers who are told that the customers on these ultra-cool sites are rejecting the message either because the psycho-demographics don’t work or the creative sucks.

The endless engagement debate is a step in the evolution of an elusive advertising rationale to support spending money where people come to do cool things but brands haven’t figured out a way to quantify what they do, what it means, or how to justify incremental investments. 

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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