Engagement Is Meaningless Without Sales

Scott Karp from Publishing 2.0 observes a number of Web 2.0, new media and blogger insiders getting sucked into the engagement conundrum (including: Robert Scoble, the super blogger famous for bringing face and personality to Microsoft, and now an exec at a podcast media startup; video blogger Ze Frank; and Rocketboom video blogger Michael Barron). He writes:

What’s more amusing? Scoble and New Media folks discover “engagement,” a term that the old advertising establishment has been “engaged” with for quite some time. Or, that hot and utterly hip video blogging has been caught up in a he said, he said spat over audience measurement. Welcome to media! These guys sound like a bunch of stuffy old TV networks.

It’s so entertaining to watch technology-driven New Media stumble over the same problems that have long been a struggle for Old Media. Technology has empowered people to create media, but it hasn’t really made them all that innovative on the business side. Ze Frank and Rocketboom are like the Mini Mes of Television, squabbling over ratings…

Scoble is right that we DESPERATELY need some new media metrics. New Media folks 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, noted above, cites an interesting and intense example of engagement:

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, but the engagement of the blog audience got his attention.

How could we measure audience engagement?

Is this something that Steve Gillmor’s GestureLab could do? If he could, that’d be a valuable company that advertisers would die to buy stuff from.

These examples above underscore the massive silos separating New Media from the Old. Why don’t they talk when there’s so much commonality? Just like the Old, New Media people want ad revenues. Second, the New now realize that some media experiences cause more impact versus others. In other words, all impressions are not created equal.

But if Scoble is at all representative, here’s where the New and Old digress: Scoble underscores the connection among engagement, action and sales. The absence of this connection in most engagement discussions is precisely why Erwin Ephron, one of the godfathers of media planning, has declared the engagement debate nothing more than Abbot and Costello.

What makes Scoble’s connection to a sale so unique is that he represents the media side of the equation. You almost never hear media people talk about engagement and sales in the same sentence – rarely, if ever! The reality is that few of them have any understanding of the relationship between their media content, their advertisers and the sale of goods to their audiences. Surely, in an increasingly ad-averse world, they must be scared it’s low, lowering and sometimes near nonexistent.

Conversely, Scoble and others in New Media, with far less to lose and much to gain, are beginning to ask those same questions because they are dependent on the same limited pool of advertising dollars. They also recognize their inherent competitive advantage in the engagement-to-action realm.

So how do we measure engagement? Whatever the solution, and it should depend on the unique circumstance, the connection to sales is imperative. That’s why, as a media company, Google is doing so well. But in most cases, especially Old Media, that’s the elephant in the room that so many are content to dance around.

(This is a cross-post with Engagement By Engagement.)


Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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