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What We Know and What We Don’t: Defining Audience Engagement

Image by Mark Kaletka

The Trouble with Defining Audience Engagement

The answer to defining audience engagement, we’ve found, is stubbornly complex.

Sachin Kamdar, Parse.ly’s CEO pointed out that results of a survey indicated 54% of digital media professionals do not have a common definition of audience engagement at their organization. He listed this problem under “What we don’t know” about audience engagement in a recent webinar on the topic. However, he added that there are clear themes that emerged from how people discuss the term.

“Almost every single response was a little bit different,” said Kamdar. “However, across these different answers, there were six different themes we saw repeat.”

How to define audience engagement

Six themes that emerged from a survey questions asking respondents to define audience engagement.

  1. Engagement was almost exclusively described as a combination of existing metrics. No response listed a single “golden” metric as the definition of engagement. Commonly mentioned metric combos were “page views per visitor”, or “shares plus comments.”
  2. Some answers simply defined audience engagement by what it was not. For these people, while they could not define engagement, they knew it was more complicated than a single metric, such as page views or click-through-rate.
  3. The description of an “ideal” user overlapped with many descriptions of engagement. For example, many websites wanted to encourage return visits, multiple articles per visit and subscribers. These types of visitors also usually are good for media companies’ revenue streams.
  4. A number of people differentiated engagement on their own site versus engagement off-site – specifically on social media. Should these two places have different baselines for audience engagement?
  5. Defining engagement through impact measures, such as actions taken offline or “things that made the reader think” were easily the hardest to match to any metrics or data.
  6. “Engagement is when readers are engaged,” said more than a few people. This response is another example of how people know they want “engagement” but cannot provide clarity about why or how it might be achieved.

Connecting Engagement with Goals

All three panelists on the webinar added one theme not mentioned by our survey respondents: how goals of the organization need to be integrated into any definition of audience engagement. Julia Haslanger from Hearken stated that it is a challenge she sees often in newsrooms: “You need to have your goals and you need to know what you want to see as success in order to measure it.”

Jason Alcorn, Metrics Editor at MediaShift, added that you know that you can put numbers behind your work, but that there’s more to it.

“There are numbers that you can find to measure or quantify what you’re doing. That’s great. But context plus data, to me, equals measurement. Context matters. Something can be a total success with low numbers.” Tweet this

Find out what else we know and don’t know about audience engagement by watching the full webinar, available here.