What is customer engagement and does it really matter?

Rules of Engagement - do the old ones still apply?Last night’s CIMTIG event brought together a panel of experts from different media to make their case in the search for the most effective way to reach customers in today’s technology rich and time poor world. Representatives of Google, O2, News International, radio and ‘out of home advertising’ (billboards, underground, bus shelters etc) argued how they would provide the best returns on investment for clients with a £10,000 and a £100,000 budget.

It made for a lively debate and at the end of the evening the audience voted Google the most effective medium for the smaller budget while out of home and radio tied with Google for the best use of a £100k budget.

While each speaker attempted to show how their medium was the most successful, the absence of trackable metrics with which to measure this success was noticeable. In this regard the man from Google had something in the form of Analytics that the other media could only dream of.

While the inability to measure definitively the results of a campaign is a long-standing marketing challenge, the world of social media has created many new ways to reach an audience and a whole new set of metrics based around that magic word ‘Engagement’. Do any of them actually stand up to scrutiny?

Does a Facebook campaign that has thousands of ‘Likes’ represent a tangible success?

What about a company that has tens of thousands of Twitter followers?

Does Twitter reach, impressions and amplification translate into anything meaningful?

Even a Youtube video that goes viral and has millions of hits – it is a success to please the company’s Financial Director, whether in the short or long term?

Certainly those involved in planning and executing the campaigns will point to the big numbers and claim success. But how often does the final analysis of a campaign stop with self-congratulation of securing a large number of likes/hits/impressions?

O2 made their case by claiming that they can reach millions of their mobile phone customers with targetted messages by sharing with a travel company their customers’ individual travel habits and international calling trends. Personally I consider every single unsolicited message on my phone to be spam and any such intrusion is deleted without being read. Yet I am part of their measure of success.

In the old days, action was commonly defined as walking into a shop and actually buying a product. Today it is increasingly rare for people to make a purchase, particularly in travel, without checking out the company’s website. Getting traffic to that site therefore has become a central goal of a campaign. Indeed the representatives of each form of media agreed that many of their initiatives were intended drive people online to research or book their holidays.

Where then does this leave the desire for ‘engagement’? Will a company’s coffers be better served by a high Google ranking or a Facebook page with many fans and lots of lively interaction? Will the shareholders rejoice more at a thousand new customers or a million new Youtube subscribers?

Yes, social media can reap rewards that eventually translate into financial success. But perhaps the fact that the path between success in one to success in the other is linked strongly to search engine results is often underplayed or even neglected. A campaign that has the ultimate objective of raising a client’s search engine ranking for its key search terms is hardly a sexy one to design, but as a tactic I suspect it might just offer the most tangible return on investment.

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Freelance travel writer

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