Revisiting The Meaning Of "Engagement"

In 2007, Forrester called "Engagement" marketing's new key metric. We defined it as "the level of involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence an individual has with a brand over time." Since then the term has taken on a life of its own (a Google search for "marketing engagement" returns more than 47 million entries) and has come dangerously close to becoming an industry platitude bandied about with little to no meaning. How did this happen? Well, due to overwhelming clutter and the need to connect with customers in a world in which people created 500 billion online word-of-mouth impressions through social media, marketers needed a new term to describe the interaction they were having with customers and "engagement" fit the bill. Yet the term is now mostly used to describe the first half of our definition: "involvement and interaction." But any good marketer knows just getting a customer to be involved or to interact with an application or campaign is typically not enough to drive results — even basic awareness. In fact, there are two types of failed marketing campaigns on the Internet. The first is the ghost town of shiny objects that are littered across the Internet (see Second Life just to start). One marketer aptly described these as "the ones where we had great expectations and heard nothing but crickets." The second type is even more common but not always deemed a failure. These are the ones in which the marketer, and more often the agency, spin the program with a variety of metrics like clicks, visits, time spent, downloads, etc. — yet are never able to tie them back to real business results.

All of this leads to why the second half of Forrester's original definition of engagement, the "intimacy and influence," is crucial because it represents the impact of getting a customer's attention. "Intimacy" represents the qualitative data like brand awareness, brand favorability, and sentiment (when proven at least directionally accurate). And "influence" represents their propensity to share it through word of mouth (e.g., share rate, Net Promoter Score). Of course, the other aspect of impact would be actual conversions, when measurable.

So how do you get back on track with engagement? Simply by ensuring that you define it as a metric that not only captures interaction and involvement but also intimacy and influence. You can get really lost in emerging technologies by creating all forms of interaction and involvement — so make sure that you always tether your objectives to whatever program you develop. If it's about sales, then build engagement that will get people to interact but also buy and advocate. If it's about brand, then build an application that captures both the interaction and involvement metrics as well as the intimacy metrics. And as you do so, make sure your team and agency partners focus on those metrics that tie back to the predetermined objectives. It's simple advice, but unfortunately too often ignored in today's fast-paced world.



In this article you fail to describe WHY we have to redefine it.
I also - to be quite hones - would like to tear these two parts of what you see as a whole apart.
For one because one half of it is directly meaurable and the other half is indirectly measurable.
In order to get a good measurement we'd have to implement both direct & indirect measurements.
Besides - measuring 'influence an individual has with a brand over time"... good luck with that one.

In your (Forrester's) analysis regarding measuring social media you rightfully differentiate between volume (quantative, qualitative) and energy (quantative, qualitative) - here it seems as if you say these two things are more or less all found within the one metric "engagement"
This does not seem to fit with each other.....

Thanks for the comment

Thanks Eric. In terms of why we need to redefine it, the answer is simply that it has lost definition and reminding marketers that just getting people involved with a campaign or application does not mean you've succeeding with a marketing objective. I agree that there are quantitative and qualitative metrics involved, but that's nothing new in the world of marketing analytics. And in regards to "engagment" being one metric, I personally see it as an umbrella of data just like reach could encompass all of the metrics that define potential exposure or conversion could include leads, sales, and average order size metrics. Nate Elliott's "Social Media Marketing Metrics That Matter", Augie Ray's "The ROI Of Social Media Marketing", and Fatemeh Khatibloo's "Untangling The Attribution Web" are all great Forrester docs that dive deeper into measurement.

Thanks for the quick response, but...

Hi Sean,

I completely agree with your 'why' - I think my question is more: why is engagement still (or even more so now) marketing's new key metric.

I also am involved with a number of clients - all of whom have difficulty measuring qualitatively online campaigns. This because to measure this, they want to set it against other media - which then means using a medium which is not used in a Massive way (budget is less than 1/5th of say TV) but measuring it in the same way as the Mass media (TV/Outdoor) in order to compare apples with apples.
Because of this - it is near impossible to really say anything beyond actual measured metrics as the energy of WHOLE TA (not just those who actively engage) is not big enough to truly make a big splash.....

P.s. Yup - I love those researches as well. Have been using them to good/great effect! Just the actual measurement.... there it often does not go as far as one would strive for. To be completely honest, that is.

Empllyee Engagement

We use the term engagement to mean employees who love their organizations as much as the leader does. And this requires the development on work enviornments that spark this level of interaction.

The Deeper Meaning of a Promise to Marry

Sean, I think you did right by the term "Engagement" by revisiting this in your post. The term "Engagement" is a promise to marry. When used in the context of business to business, or especially business to consumer, I think engagement is the marketers promise to commit to customer expectations and interact with the customer in a meaningful way. The marriage part being when the prospect crosses the threshold and becomes a customer.

What I think you missed in your post is another aspect of intimacy: the customers ability to initiate engagement and the business being there to engage. If you run a search on "customer engagement platform" you'll find our Workface technology as a top result. We power meaningful 1:1 customer-initiated engagements. Have you ever walked into a business and been greeted by a sales person who delivered an incredible, high-touch buying experience? Sure you have.

I think there is a tendency to believe that web-based Engagement means 'in the absence of human connections'. It doesn't have to be that way. For any organization who has customer-facing people there is an unprecedented opportunity on the web to give customers an entirely new engagement choice: real human beings!

A good post Sean. I think your simple advice is well placed.

Great point

Love the tie back to marriage Lief. I used the word "tether" for a reason in the post because it's crucial for the prospect to cross over to become a customer - otherwise we're just making content for the sake of content.

Its not about how many, its about "who"

You have to separate Quantative and Qualitative. "engagement" doesnt mean the two of us, theres metrics for each,
Its not about how many, its about "who" and Engagement is about knowing that "who".


Engagement is at theHeart of Expanded ROI

This post hits at the heart of the need to define an expanded ROI in Social Media Marketing. Understanding "engagement" and how it relates to developing relationships and adding value provides a more comprehensive picture. GERVAS is an approach to look more comprehensively at six benchmarks that determine a campaign's success. welcome your feedback.

How do you define engagement?

Would love to hear everyone's thoughts. You can post them on this blog or here on our community:

Thanks, Sean, for some

Thanks, Sean, for some interesting thoughts on engagement. At Constant Contact, we like to think of engagement as a cycle of experience and interaction that attracts prospective customers to your door, provides a level of confidence in their first purchase that stays with them after walking out your door, brings them back time and time again, and encourages them to share their experience and knowledge gained from you with others. Engagement is not something you do to acquire a customer, but rather what you do to build a relationship with a customer. Interestingly, it’s what small businesses do every day. Because it’s in their DNA, it gives them a competitive advantage over the major brands. Today's online tools make it easier than ever for people to share their experiences and spread the word.

Excellent point

Eric, the point on small businesses doing this is spot on. I've found myself arguing that big businesses can learn a lot from small businesses in how they build relationships with their customers - but that's a big shift in thinking, culture, skills, and infrastructure.

Typically I love reading any

Typically I love reading any and all from the great minds and team at Forrester, however this story has one comment that puzzled me.

"But any good marketer knows just getting a customer to be involved or to interact with the brand is typically not enough to drive results — even basic awareness."

I for one would argue that if a consumer has some level of involvement or interaction with a brand, that most definitely creates brand awareness. In campaigns that I have run where studies were performed before and after related to brand awareness, engagement even at very simple levels positively impacted the results.



The point was really that engagement is not about simply getting a consumer to interact with some form of marketing campaign or interaction, but about driving results. Too many marketers think that getting someone to watch a video or play a game with the brand's logo mixed in somewhere that they've "engaged" with the brand, or even created a basic level of awareness - and I strongly disagree with that assessment. I've updated the text to reflect this clarification.

That I agree with, just

That I agree with, just because a consumer engages with a rich media ad, or game, or Facebook application does not always end up with a transaction taking place. Engagement does not always mean an end result. It still amazes me in this day and age of marketing that any marketer would not be forced to consider real world results that are measurable as part of their strategies and tactics... do brand budgets still exist today that simply go towards creativity and fun without the need to seek results and ROI? Good stuff Sean!

You are right in that this is

You are right in that this is a tough issue to solve for brand managers. Tagging a complex subject to a definition is difficult, often academic, but hard to put into practical terms. Most marketers selling a continous product stream (not just one-time big ticket items), really try to invoke brand relationships versus just engagement. Those relationships should be built on trust and be sustainable over time. This takes a ton of work from all angles and takes very little to destroy quickly. Ultimately, you want engagement which leads to a sustained relationship which leads to evangelism of your brand. I know a lot of people who had no relationship or little engagement with Apple, and have been turned on by friends/familys/influencers to buy the new iPad2. I also think that "engagement" (or "relationship") has a series of leading and lagging metrics vs. just one metric, especially in something so opaque and multi-dimensional.


Forrester's definition of engagement was designed to keep all media happy. For decades we have had the ability to measure the impact of an ad exposure that was simply absorbed by the consumer. TV commercials in particular. This effect of advertising is tracked with sophisticated survey research and the umbrella term for the benefit is Brand Equity. Lifts in scores like "intent to purchase," "top of mind awareness," and "likability" among others are the valuable outcomes from this type of advertising. We never needed or used the word "engagement" for this type of advertising value.

A definition for engagement that is so broad that it encompasses everything ends up having no pragmatic meaning.

When a consumer simply watches a TV commercial from beginning to end, the value to the brand advertiser is significant and important but we don't need to wrench the definition of engagement so hard that it includes this type of communication.

Here is a much more useful definition of engagement. Engagement is: Measurable consumer behavior, short of the sale, that advances the brand’s objectives.

We already have excellent skills for measuring brand equity lifts with survey techniques. And, we already have great tools for measuring sales using direct response type metrics. The gap is other measurable forms of behavior that build a stronger bond between the consumer and the brand. A simple example is getting consumers to "Like" our brand's Facebook page. That type of behavioral objective can be measured and defined as engagement in this context.

Forrester is welcome to its opinion about the definition of engagement. I just find that it is not useful. Over the eight years since this terms came into vogue - as a result of the growth of the Internet which introduced many new BEHAVIORAL activities between brands and consumers - I have found that the term is only pragmatic when you narrow the definition in the way I've described here.

jumping the shark

I love your comment about how engagement has come dangerously close to becoming an industry platitude bandied about with little to no meaning. I feel that has happened with flash mobs. I saw a flash mob video on youtube that was coordinated by Wells Fargo. I mean SERIOUSLY?? who was the marketing genius at WF that thought of this idea? The whole spirit of a flash mob is anti-corporate and this just ruined this marketing strategy forever.

Engagement can be quantifiable

I completely agree with the rich description of 'engagement' vs. plain old 'interactive.' Just because a snazzy interactive tool has been put on a site or Facebook page doesn't mean customers care.

We believe in quantifying the qualitative metrics beyond the surveys. At Voices Heard Media, we proactively track users who engage in an interactive event, post to their social networks (luring their friends), see their friends being compelled by the user's message to engage, the friends posting to their friends, everyone returning again and again to interact or convert (depending on the goal). In one example, a 'how to' blog has reduced its workload by 25% by empowering community experts to answer questions in lieu of the staff -- and those experts have become brand evangelists. Another site increased it's traffic 500% over 5 months through a consistent effort to engage its visitors and leverage the cycle described above. A third site increased traffic not only because of interactivity but because the interactivity produced measurable evidence of the most popular topics in the community (and their preferred social networks), and the site adjusted its overall editorial content and social media tendencies to fulfill the community's wishes.

At the end of the day, if you can't prove ROI then you have no engagement.