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Capturing the Lurkers

Why “Engagement” May Not Be All It’s Cracked Up to Be´╗┐

 

Featured in last week’s PR Week White Paper Update is an offering from SAS titled  “Social Media Metrics Listening, Understanding and Predicting the Impacts of Social Media on Your Business,” labelled as insights from a May 2010 workshop on social media metrics at the eMetrics conference in San Jose, CA. One of the key participants in the workshop was Katie Paine of KDPaine & Partners, and she made an observation that I think is keenly important:

Now the Holy Grail is “engagement,” Paine said. “Proctor & Gamble last summer said to all of its media folks, ‘We’re no longer paying you for eyeballs. We don’t care about how many eyeballs there are, all we care about is engagement.’ Needless to say, the media folks said, ‘What’s engagement?’ And they said, ‘We want some evidence that the people you’re reaching are at least alive and at least somewhat interested in the brand. If they clicked on something, bought something, downloaded something, retweeted something, or said they liked us, then we have some sign of life out there. That’s what we’re going to pay for.’ Good thinking.”

The paper also references a 2009 IBM study of 250 chief marketing officers, which indicated that organizations are shifting significant amounts of money away from traditional advertising and into public relations, particularly mobile and online channels. Paine is further quoted as saying. “So measurement is shifting away from ‘impressions’ and ‘eyeballs’ and toward ‘engagement’ and ‘impact-based metrics.’ This isn’t me saying this; this is 250 CMOs out there who are predicting that most of this will happen within the next three years.”

Paine classifies information consumers into five levels of engagement, based on how they interact with online channels, each more valuable (in her estimation) than the previous:

  • Searchers: most passive, they scan online resources to find specific information and largely ignore social media
  • Lurkers: those who listen in on the conversation but don’t participate
  • Casuals: followers/fans, but participate only lightly in social media
  • Actives: more valuable, in that they retweet to others, regularly participate in interactive threads, and post comments frequently
  • Defenders: your most influential ambassadors, advocating, recommending and defending the brand and helping police your critics in the community space


On the one hand, this is all well and good. Clearly it is easier to claim value from a more active audience, and most social media marketers will say they want “engagement” with their audiences, as if we all understand and agree on what that means.

I have some concerns about the focus on engagement as the only way to measure social media success. This runs the risk of devaluing customers that could be equally or even more valuable than active social media participants. There is no evidence that a Lurker, to use Paine’s terminology, buys any less product than a Defender. This illustrates the complexity of determining value in social marketing; we assume that the more vocal participants in the conversation are more valuable as consumers, but in fact that may not be so.

Certainly there is huge value in a positive tone in any sort of brand conversation, whether it be media coverage or Facebook posting or water cooler chats. Undeniably, it is better to have more people say good things about you than the opposite or to say nothing. My point however is that the Lurkers have value too, and since they are in the majority (only 22.5% of users accounted for 90% of all Twitter activity in 2010 according to Sysomos) they represent the biggest potential as customers.

A brand’s Defenders and Actives are also, arguably, the ones that least need marketing, since presumably they are committed users of the product.

So how can one tap into the Lurker market, and more importantly, how can we measure success?

Make it worth their while. Social media mavens talk a lot about the importance of the conversation, and caution against overt marketing or (gasp) selling in social media channels. I would argue however that today’s social media-savvy consumer EXPECTS to get some tangible value for her interaction with a brand. The explosion of online coupons has furthered the collective desire for incentive or reward with almost any transaction, to the point where it feels wrong to purchase anything WITHOUT a coupon. Coupons are the core method for a brand to tie a marketing initiative directly to sales.

Make it about more than money. There are many other ways to bring value to a consumer and the reward does not always have to include coupons or incentives. Lifestyle and luxury brands thrive on exclusivity or supporting a kind of cultural image, and social media connections to “private” groups or preferred customer status can be compelling even for non-active consumers. Green messaging is important to many brands, so links to reassuring product or eco-action brand information also bring value.

Make it easy for them to participate. Every tweet or post should include a link to content of value, whether an online coupon or registration for a customer community or more info about brand sustainability. It is keenly important to use technical sophistication to provide the absolute best user experience. For example, you must know what kind of device your consumer is using and return content that is optimized for that device. You must have different versions of your content--don’t send somebody to a regular web page if they are linking via Twitter’s mobile app, make sure they get optimized mobile content or even better a custom app.

Make it even easier for them to participate. More and more consumers are admitting that they want a seamless user experience across all interaction channels, and they are willing to permit the technical deployments that support it. Cookies, behavior profiles, single social sign-in capability: as long as these actions are not intrusive, and as long as brands are not egregious in their targeted marketing, consumers will tolerate them and actually appreciate the resulting enhanced user experience. People respond well when they are given customized content, even in a cross- or up-selling vein, as long as it is accurate; if you “get” them wrong, then you’ve lost them, so brands must be careful.

Measure, record, report, iterate. The traffic generated via those links must be carefully measured, as must be the data from the interaction on the landing page, app, or site. Obviously, any coupon use will be tracked but must be segmented in such a way that you can see which channel gave the best result. All marketing and customer interaction activity must be viewed holistically and considered as an integrated and connective whole; social media can really help as a kind of electrolytic fluid that carries the consumer from one channel to the other but with the same connective experience. The key is to take your measurement strategy to a new level, where you are monitoring different metrics in different ways based on your audiences. Data must be regularly analyzed and should be used as the basis for positive change; do not expect the interactions to always be the same, and don’t be afraid to jettison things that are not working.

This will help you tap into the huge customer potential of a social media user segment that generally gets short shrift, and shows how the focus on engagement may not necessarily be the most conducive toward building business success. However, it also might help you convert some of these passive listeners into more active participants, and build the chorus of positive voices that ARE engaging in the conversation.