New Media Stumble Into “Engagement” Bash, Confront Elephant In Room


I polished up an old post about new-media guys and engagement, to become this week’s MediaPost OnlineSpin column. What do you think?


New Media Stumble Into "Engagement" Bash, Confront Elephant In Room

by Max Kalehoff, November 3, 2006

As the social-media and Web 2.0 revolution continues, I’ve been convinced the traditional advertising and media establishment was alone in the debate over engagement. The old institution is nothing less than frenzied over the eroding reach-and-frequency model. Well, I was dead wrong.

Scott Karp from Publishing 2.0 last week pointed out that some major Web 2.0 and new-media insiders–whose religion usually seems galaxies apart from the traditional sect–are facing similar challenges and stumbling into the same engagement conundrum. Among these new-media stars include rising video bloggers Ze Frank (of the show with zefrank) and Michael Barron (of Rocketboom). They simply can’t agree on the relative size and importance of their audiences.

Perhaps most notable is Robert Scoble, the influential blogger and former Microsoft staffer famed for building a friendlier, human face for his employer. Scoble, now working at a podcasting media company called, recently underscored how all media experiences are not equal and therefore result in different outcomes: “There’s another stat out there called ‘engagement.’ No one is measuring it that I know of. What do I mean? Well, I’ve compared notes with several bloggers and journalists and when the Register links to us we get almost no traffic. But they claim to have millions of readers. So, if millions of people are hanging out there but no one is willing to click a link, that means their audience has low engagement. The Register is among the lowest that I can see. Compare that to Digg. How many people hang out there every day? Maybe a million, but probably less. Yet if you get linked to from Digg you’ll see 30,000 to 60,000 people show up. And these people don’t just read. They get involved. I can tell when Digg links to me cause the comments for that post go up too.”

Scott Karp correctly noted how new-media people “may be ahead of the curve on formats and hip notions like ‘conversation,’ but they’re actually playing catch-up on the deep, intractable problems of media– like how to prove the value.” Scoble validated this, but, to my delight, he also tackled the monumental elephant in the room. Yes, the one that so many avoid: the connection among engagement, action and sales.

Scoble wrote: “So, why should engagement matter to an advertiser? Well, as an advertiser I want to talk to an audience who’ll actually DO something. Yeah, I’m hoping to get a sale. Yesterday Buzz Bruggeman, CEO of Active Words, was driving me around and told the story of when he was in USA Today. He got 32 downloads. When he got linked to by my blog? Got about 400. My audience was (and is) a lot smaller than USA Today[’s], but the engagement of the blog audience got his attention. How could we measure audience engagement?”

There is no be-all solution to measuring engagement; heck, the advertising and media industry is having a hard enough time agreeing on a definition! But the lack of action, sales or a defined business outcome in all the pondering is a problem. I’m not omitting the value of captivating media or brand experiences, nor am I suggesting a narrow world of direct response. But there’s got to be a closer link to the desired business result. That’s largely why Erwin Ephron, a media planning guru, has declared the debate nothing more than Abbot and Costello. For addressing this issue, and even representing the media-publisher side of the equation, I present Scoble with a platinum medal of honor.

So what’s next? The fact is that few understand the relationship among media content, the involvement of audiences with said media, and the business outcome that results when advertisers join the party. To make matters worse, that relationship is getting more complex in a world undergoing media-choice proliferation, attention aversion and trust erosion. And there are other emerging variables in the engagement quandary: brands are increasingly becoming media experiences themselves, without mediators, and audiences are playing a more prominent role in forming and becoming part of such experiences.

Looking ahead, measuring engagement will probably manifest in a hybrid approach, rooted in sophisticated data integration, and resembling something closer to direct-relationship marketing. It also will require closer collaboration among media, advertisers and especially customers, with methods unique to each circumstance (versus spending all our time trying to reach a broad-sweeping model). But however we get there, engagement must stay channeled toward business outcome. Without that focus, all this engagement could prove ephemeral.

Comment on the MediaPost blog here.

(Cross-post with Engagement By Engagement.) 


Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

Join the Conversation


  1. Amen brother. From my perch between the two universes, I am amazed that there is finally a bridge on which to discuss new ways of measuring engagement and relationship with your customer.

  2. Amen brother. From my perch between the two universes, I am amazed that there is finally a bridge on which to discuss new ways of measuring engagement and relationship with your customer.

Leave a comment