Unique views versus active users

Unique viewsThe fastest area of growth in my business at the moment is in customer engagement and social media performance measurement. Clearly this is indicative of three things:

1. Most companies at least have a social media presence, even if it has developed on an ad hoc basis and there’s no clear sense of what impact social media are having on the company at large.

2. Companies that are deploying social strategies are sensible enough to realise that they probably don’t have the resource and expertise for engagement with customers in conversations online, facilitated by social media.

3. The corporate sector have grasped page views and bounce rates for website content but are not yet clear about the difference between the value of web surfers versus active participants online.

Each of these findings are worthy of exploration in a more detailed post, but I am going to focus on the last of these findings as I think it’s actually the most crucial.

Key to the difference between surfers versus active participants in social conversations is the rule that unique views are not engaged customers.

The point may be obvious, but just because someone happens to have landed on your website or social media presence online doesn’t mean that they are immediately an engaged customer, nor indeed that they are even within your target market. So measuring unique views might be useful in calculating advertising revenue to be drawn from a site visit, but that’s almost the extent of its value as a metric. Bounce rate (the number of people who land on your page and then go to another website, without exploring other pages of your site) and time spent on pages are more useful in determining the interest a visitor has in exploring your content.

But even these measures should be considered in context. If, for instance, you have a high bounce rate on pages of a site that are blog posts, this is perfectly reasonable. While you might want visitors to access more than one blog post, the more committed and loyal your readership, the more likely it is that they have already read your other posts, and this will mean that visitors access a post through one of their feeds, consume and then move on. That produces a high bounce rate.

Of course the temptation is to measure engaged customers by people ‘Liking’ (using the Facebook tool) a product, post or page, and by the number of comments to a post. But again, not everyone has a facebook account, and there are many users who resist ‘Liking’ everything that comes their way for fear that they will fill up the newsfeeds of their friends with so much trivia. And when it comes to comments, the style of writing can either encourage or discourage interaction. Where simple observations or facts are presented, there is less incentive for interaction with ideas, unless a reader violently disagrees with points made. But where content is questioning the experiences of their readership, and seeking stories and advice on ideas, there is more of an invitation for readers to engage.

Finally, an active, partcipatory user is one who feels genuinely valued. This is something that requires a lot more effort and understanding from businesses that want to engage customers effectively with their social content online. Simply being positive and thanking users for their contributions is a start, but if the style of response is generic and overly enthusiastic, the active user will do a quick calculation as to the relative value of responding to ideas presented, and then choose not to participate if they feel their contributions will only be superficially valued. Customers need to feel as if their contributions are received and understood, and that businesses (or content creators) are listening properly to their ideas. Valuing customers isn’t just a matter of thanking them. You need to follow their advice, or explain why you haven’t. And because people are more likely to complain than praise in commentary, a large number of site visits and comments can have as much to do with organisational failure as success.

All this means that the resource a business needs to invest in customer engagement (internally or outsourced) is likely to grow as businesses attract active participants online. This doesn’t mean that investment needs to start slowly and build up; rather it needs to have strong initial capital investment, then reduced investment for a while until online engagement grows in power and influence, where the investment should grow again. BSI have a slide in their recent presentation on why European social media strategies fail showing that social media budgets are normally allocated the wrong way, but I’d suggest that a social media budget should start with a reasonable capital investment, then dip perhaps for a while, until a social strategy gains momentum, and then gradually incline again as customer engagement begins to expand.

So when a company or organisation is considering measurement and strategic review of their social media assets, it’s important that they don’t assume that pure views, likes or comments are indicative of a successful social strategy. The actively engaged customer is a very hot lead, regardless of whether a company is selling widgets or ideas. Treating them as a mere number is not just disrespectful, it’s going to turn them against you. And an actively engaged enemy is not something any company can afford.

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