Can Web 2.0 user engagement be measured?

Web 2.0 consumers are in control? If so, that control will soon be quantified, “old-school
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor

Web 2.0 consumers are in control? If so, that control will soon be quantified, “old-school” marketing performance metrics style.

“Consumer-Generated Media's Role in The Engagement Equation” was on the agenda this morning at the (jam-packed) Ad:Tech conference in New York City.

There is a “steadfast need to adopt ‘engagement’ as a complement to traditional exposure measures," according to the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Advertising Research Foundation, and they aim to spur that adoption.

The advertising industry trade groups jointly define engagement as:

"Turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context"
(capture the turned on part here via stimulating co-creation, more personal, deeper brand meaning).

Although the industry’s definition of consumer engagement is nebulous, its goals for seeking to quantify the engagement are not: the development of valid engagement metrics to support measurement of advertising and marketing performance.

A panel of online publishers and agencies debated the issue:

Terry Pittman, Director, Consumer Insights, AOL Digital Services
Jonah Peretti, Founding Partner, Huffington Post
Bob Desena, Director, Active Engagement, Mediaedge:cia
Ze Frank, Founder, ZeFrank.com

Moderator: Pete Blackshaw, CMO, Nielsen BuzzMetrics

The panel’s thoughts on engagement and its measurement were as diverse as the firms represented.

Blackshaw framed the debate by stating a need for advertising metrics in a Web 2.0 world to move beyond “reach and frequency” and address the “context of conversation” within consumer generated media (CGM). 

For Desena, marketing in the 21st century will breed new metrics as the “interruption based marketplace shifts to a permission based marketplace.” Desena highlighted the importance of a performance measurement that serves as a “surrogate for sales.”

Desena emphasized that at the end of the CGM day, the end goal is “business growth.” Among Desena’s bottom-line reminders: 

Engagement is about accountability,
You are what your results are,
Business has to grow measurably.


Ze Frank and Peretti’s thoughts on engagement metrics, however, were decidedly more fluid.

Peretti touted that “thousands of bloggers link to us and read us daily” to explain why Huffington Post is “valuable.”  Peretti signaled the importance of making content  “sharable and linkable.”

For Ze Frank, CGM can be likened to a “kindergarten classroom,” where “everyone is drawing.” In a “viral jackass video promotion world,” sites need to figure out how to “play with” the conversational component.

Ze Frank believes actions by users are key to engagement metrics: “pressing a button, submitting a comment, posting a photo.” Online properties with “higher ratios of activity” are valuable. 

For Pittman, “a click stream is a conversation.” Specific user actions such as video searches completed and email accounts created also represent value.

Desena honed in on the CGM risks and the need to account for “hostile online conversation” with a “debit model.”

At Huffington Post, CGM risk is mitigated through a political campaign style “war room.” Peretti noted that as site content shifts dynamically, responses are readied at the same pace. 

Huffington Post will undoubtedly be on high CGM alert tomorrow, election day.

ALSO SEE: "Web 2.0 hype: Popularity without profits"

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