So, that new engagement metric you’ve come up with suddenly pulls the TV show you are marketing from #50 to #3, based on using a more comprehensive, multi-platform audience rating system. A sign of true success … or delusion?

Do you watch the TV Show Glee!? While it might seemcounter-intuitive given its “popularity” -- the answer it seems ismostly “no.” Earlier this year, Glee finished the 2010-2011 broadcasttelevision season in 43rd place. This puts it right smack dab in themiddle of the road for broadcast TV. Add in cable television, and Gleedrops to 55th place.

So, let’s say you’re the “marketing person”in charge of getting Glee renewed.And, you need to convinceadvertisers that somehow putting their money into Glee is better thanputting it into the 42+ options that rank higher.What would you do?Well, what if I told you that you could walk into the office of thepeople in charge of such things and claim that Glee is not only a top 20show -- but that it ranks #2 of all television shows -- and only lagsslightly behind the number one show -- American Idol?

How About We Measure “Engagement”?

That’swhat Optimedia showed with their Content Power Rankings (pdf). Theymeasure “engagement” of television programming. The research ranks TVshows based on what they determine to be levels of engagement with thebrand. They combine Facebook Fan Page “likes,” plus Nielsen BuzzMetricsand other data sources to come up with the “most comprehensivemulti-platform audience rating system” (note the quotes).And, usingthat metric a show like South Park, which ranks 211th in the Nielsenratings, jumps to #4 behind Glee and Dancing With the Stars in terms of“buzz” and “engagement.” And, our marketing job at Glee is now safe --because it jumps from a middling 43rd place to #2 of all shows.

Butwhat does that number really mean? Is the Glee brand really commanding amore “engaging” experience than The Office, or The Big Bang Theory? Isit really #2?But, more importantly, are we starting to use numbers tomake arguments to prove success -- and losing sight of the real value ofengagement? Are we really sure of who or what or why we’re trying toengage in the first place?

Of course, as marketers, we’re paid tosell consumers something. As David Ogilvy said, “When I write anadvertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative,’ Iwant you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”

To Fight For The Right, Without Question Or Pause…

I’mnoticing an eerily similar trend just starting to emerge with effortsaround content marketing, social media engagement and the buzz around“web engagement management.” As the pressures to provide ROI and somekind of analytics strategy around these efforts grow, the methodologiesare exploding in really odd ways. And it’s both confusing andconfounding managers to explain the efficacy of the strategy in general.

Inshort -- this overwhelming need we have to assign some kind of newnumerical value or score to the process, while we move in “real-time,”is not helping us to answer the real question: Who are we *really*trying to engage and to what end?

As I’m sure many of us whoadvocate the ideas of “engagement” expected, skeptics are starting toask smart questions. Over on Ad Age’s CMO Strategy blog,Jonathan SalemBaskin recently asked if the Lure of Social Media was dangerous andnothing really new. He struggled with the logic and became “moreconvinced that we’re misreading history and present circumstance.” Interestingly, the comments on this post mostly focused on one side orthe other (engagement is amazing vs. it’s all a bunch of bullshit)without ever wondering if it’s just okay to ask the question.

From WMD’s to IED’s

Soyou may or may not remember that I once said that some marketers use analytics as “WMD “-- or weapons of mass delusion. My point there wasthat when marketers use analytics to try and prove value, rather thangain insight and improve a process -- they quickly delude themselvesinto believing that they’re successful. They box themselves into acorner where if the graph doesn’t always move up and to the right --that they’re somehow failing as marketers.

Unfortunately, that’sthe trend I see developing with “engagement.” I’m seeing marketers andagencies literally change the definition of “engagement” from month tomonth to fit what they’re seeing across their content. They go throughthe process of developing personas, develop their content strategy,define their channels -- and then start to measure engagement successbased on whatever number starts to go up and to the right the fastest (aTwitter follower drive is a common one).In short, they startdeveloping what I’m going to start calling IED’s -- IntegratedEngagement Delusions.

What happens?Well, it’s not soon afterthat the metric fails for one reason or another (are we surprised thatthe Twitter followers are all multi-level marketers who can help youearn from home?). Then, the experiment collapses in on itself, thecontent marketing is called a failure -- and the whole idea ofengagement is blamed.

This is where the skeptics have every rightto doubt the efficacy of a social web program, content marketing orengagement strategy. Baskin is right when he says: “Social behaviorisn’t unique to technology; it’s just that we have partial visibilityinto some aspects of how people converse now.”

That’s the key.Yes, of course conversations about brands have been happening forever. Yes, of course we’ve been conversing with our customers and prospectsabout our products since the very beginning -- and helping them through abuying process.The difference now is that the social web makes thecreation and sharing of that content (conversation) so much morefrictionless. Our moms are using social media now; our nieces andnephews are using content and searching and sharing. They can bothengage, and be engaged like never before.And, yes, we now have theopportunity to manage it more fluidly than before.

Learning Opportunities

To Dream the Impossible Dream

Icertainly don’t believe that focusing on engagement is an imaginarychallenge. Regardless if our business is to make hubcap fasteners at thelocal level, manage a global Fortune 100 services brand or launch asingle marketing entrepreneur -- our businesses must embrace thechallenge of engaging our audiences more fully.

Even if our onlypurpose is utilize the Social Web or content marketing to betterunderstand what our consumers care about -- I think it holds thepotential for tremendous marketing value for any business.

Badmetrics, applied with poor methodologies, to unjustified efforts orglossed over goals will eventually unravel no matter how big, bright orshiny the new approach is.

I’m hopeful that, as digital marketers,we’re moving past the point where we think a business should beimmediately and blindly sold on having a Facebook page, a Twitteraccount and a thought leadership positioned blog tomorrow. Let’s face it-- any marketing strategy that doesn’t have “create a customer” at theend of its process is a distraction.

So, here’s some interestingstatistics. Glee actually dropped from #33 to #43 this year in terms ofall broadcast shows. Bad right? Well, the number of viewers is actuallyup from averaging 9 Million per episode -- to just over 10 million perepisode. So, good, right? But, this year’s “Super Bowl” episode rivaledany of the number one show ratings. So is Optimedia’s “engagement”metric an interesting leading indicator to actual viewers, or is it anindicator of an expanding brand which can be leveraged online?

Similarly,if we see our Web page visits going down -- but the level of engagement(pageviews per session, time on site, comments per post etc.) going up-- are we actually doing a better job?I don’t know -- how are sales?

See,none of those numbers prove anything really. The key is that takentogether -- they can help us gain greater insight, which helps us makemore creative and strategic decisions. The success or failure of SocialMedia Marketing, Content Marketing and “engagement” is still beingwritten.

At the end of Man of La Mancha, as the Inquisition entersthe prison to take Cervantes off to his trial, the prisoners havealready found him not guilty and they return his manuscript. It is, ofcourse, his unfinished novel. As Cervantes and his servant go to facethe judge -- they swell with courage, and their eyes gleam -- as theprisoners all together sing The Impossible Dream:

And the worldwill be better for this --That one man, scorned and covered withscars, -- Still strove, with his last ounce of courage, -- To reach …the unreachable star.

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