Why Engagement Matters

Engagement is a word I am hearing more and more these days. We used to
say interact (as in interactive media or advertising). Now we say
engage.

It all semantics. These words are a recognition that two way is different than one way.

I have a friend who is one of the best technology journalists around.
He took me to task recently for my non stop ranting about paid news
content (wsj.com and times select in particular). He pointed out that all forms of media
have free and paid models and archives are almost always paid.

I told him I have nothing against the business model per se, I am
against the result. I cannot engage with content behind a wall. And I
need to engage with content. I need to link to it, I need to
screenshot/grab it, I need to bookmark it, tag it, comment on it,
forward it, quote from it, blog about it, rate it, digg it, mash it up, embed videos, and supercharge it into the ether.

This is what two way media is all about. One way business models don’t work in a two way medium.

That is why people are trying to measure and use engagement. A good
examples is flickr’s ‘interestingness’ algorithms that almost always
deliver amazing photos when I search by keyword/tag. It’s not clear what goes into that algorithm but it clearly uses commenting, favoriting, and probably a few other factors which are all measures of engagement.

Robert Scoble has been talking about this lately, particularly as it relates to measuring audiences around videoblogs and podcasts.

My friend Mark has built a service called Infofilter that measures the
engagement level for entertainment products (bands, films, tv shows,
even politicians). Enter a name and see the trends on flickr, myspace,
youtube, delicious, blogs, etc. He’s written a good thought piece on measuring engagement which he posted to his blog today. I like this quote:

In an initiative conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation, the
need for a measurement of engagement is described as the "search for
the 21st Century gross rating points.

If you are in the audience business, you must focus on engagement in the two way medium and adopt business models that facilitate audience engagement. To do otherwise is like showing up to a Nascar race in an old VW bug.