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Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Let’s get engaged

What is engagement with media all about? How can we define it? What does it tell us? What are the relationships between the impact of communication through the different media channels? And why does online appear to be that much more deeply engaging?

These are just a few of the questions that appear once you start investigating what engagement means, and while the industry doesn’t yet have an answer, it is starting to uncover the roadmap to getting there. Some new insights from NetRatings are starting to show how you can measure some of the basic metrics for different types of engagement.

We don’t have the language that describes engagement yet, but online as a media channel can deliver an intimacy, response and connectedness rarely seen in other media. It can be a brand activation tool that prompts us to act; at the same time it can be a customer service channel or the actual sales process. The advertising copy can encourage real involvement from the customer, and with other media unable to compete on this scale, it’s clear that it’s up to the online industry to seek out the metrics.

Starting metrics for understanding website performance:
• People – this measures the popularity of a website, normally we talk about unique users
• Visits – this is the number of times people have logged on to the site
• Pages – pages per person gives a sense of the amount of involvement people are having with the site
• Time – the new measurement frontier that explores in one way how important the importance of the site in our lives

“Popularity just doesn’t tell the real story. Nor do visits, which might be useful for understanding loyalty, but nothing more,” explains Alex Burmaster from NetRatings. “Everyone uses impressions, but that doesn’t mean it tells the full story.”

A history of engagement
The engagement debate is one the online industry has flirted with since 2000. That was when a group of us came together in the UK to form the joint industry committee ‘JICNET’ project to explore smarter ways to measure website audiences to help media planners get it right. JICNET led to a second project which helped improve the data from NetRatings and other providers, and that led to the JICIMS group that took the work further.

A new landscape
Those metrics of impressions and visits are still valuable, and underpin much of the industry today, but they still represent an era of metrics that was locked into an older generation of web publishing. The landscape has shifted again, and in a world of AJAX, social networking and Web 2.0, metrics like the page impression are looking dated somewhat. Web Analytics 2.0 needs new vocabulary and new structures. That was the thrust of my lectures at the European Emetrics Summit this year (see http://analytics.digitalstrategyconsulting.com for some of the videos).

Page views will matter less as the technical architecture of the web moves on. The model of the page view can’t deal with the environments of chat, technologies, toolkits and virtual worlds that people increasingly use on the web. Add in the way that web pages now might include layers of applications (rather than static content) and you have a completely new set of rules to measure.

Time is one of the keys
Ebay is a case in point. The page impression figures for this retail giant have always been staggering, but new insights from NetRatings show that 100m hours was spent by Europeans on Ebay. Even more extreme are the new virtual reality communities: what comes through is that if you look at the amount of time people spend on a site like Second Life, you’ll discover that it tops seven minutes per person, but ask for the page impression numbers and it barely features on the radar.

Next step? Active focus
As for the future, it’s clear there’s a long way to go. The desktop is increasingly cluttered, multitasking has become the norm, the screen is a gateway to myriad services, and the relations between locally run software applications like Word or Excel, and what lies at the end of a Firefox browser is getting increasingly blurred.

There’s no answer to this yet, but NetRatings are doing some smart stuff with their desktop meter, and by downloading a software tracker onto their panel members’ computers, they’re able to learn exactly what is getting the attention. This could help cut through the chaos that’s coming to measurement and unbundled the mass of activity mashed-up on the user’s desktop into meaningful threads of data that can be read, analysed and interpreted.

Whatever happens in the future of web enabled computing, it’s clear that the metric of ‘time’ will be key, and within that the idea of ‘active focus’ will be one of the most powerful levers.

Need more? Contact Alex and the NetRatings team, www.IABeurope.ws, or your national IAB for more.

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