Don’t let the hype of using Web Engagement Management tools fool you. If you want to cultivate a truly engaged online community, it’s more important to home in on how your organization is practicing WEM, no matter how simplistic the tactics may be.

Web Engagement Management as a Practice

Much has been written about Web Engagement Management (WEM) as a solution. The WEM label is trendy, and vendors are eager to market their products under the WEM banner. Consequently, there is a lot of digital ink spent describing the features that comprise Web Engagement Management. However, I’ve seen less written about Web Engagement Management as a practice.

In the midst of the WEM hype, it’s easy to get the impression that WEM is something you “buy” as opposed to something you “do.” WEM simply describes any qualitative effort to cultivate a responsive and interested (engaged) online audience. This practice certainly isn’t anything new.

In fact, by using a simple WordPress blog, an author can define their intended audience and then measure the “engagement” of this audience based on the number of blog post comments. With these results, website content can be refined to cultivate better engagement.

This scenario might look painfully simplistic to sophisticated marketers, but two vitally important WEM practices are being followed:

  1. The intended audience (and their perspective) is used to refine the web experience.
  2. The audience’s reaction is watched and used to improve understanding and tactics.

These steps represent a perpetual cycle of listening, learning and adapting. This ongoing practice, more than the underlying tools, will ultimately cultivate better engagement among the online audience. As a result, it’s more important for an organization to regularly practice simplistic WEM than deploy a mature set of (seldom used) WEM tools.

Is Your WEM Solution Ruining Your WEM Practice?

As WEM is consistently practiced, the tactics naturally evolve and become more sophisticated. As this happens, organizations will naturally outgrow or supplement their tactics and metrics based on their refined capabilities. The WEM solutions promoted today were created in response to these sophisticated scenarios.

For example, many WEM solutions focus heavily on the following two areas:

  1. Personalization -- Web content delivery that is audience aware and customized accordingly.
  2. Metrics -- Going beyond traditional web analytics to deliver deeper insight into customer behavior.

The 5 pillars of WEM gives a more complete picture of WEM than illustrated above; however, these two features are predominately described as “WEM solutions” by vendors.

In practical terms, a good “WEM solution” will contain the feature(s) needed to take customer engagement to the next level. These features enable organizations to wield new tactics that previously might have been impossible.

If, as an example, an organization needs to personalize the web experience for each audience, then the WEM solution is personalization. Or, if an organization needs deep cross-referenced insight between sales data (CRM) and web analytics, then the WEM solution is CRM-integration. Alternately, the WEM solution might be the addition of Google Analytics.

Be aware, however, that these aren’t magic plug-n-play solutions. Each of these tactics require expertise to setup, administer and interpret. It’s counter-productive to the practice of WEM to pursue tactics the organization isn’t fully equipped to utilize.

Or put differently, if you’re having difficultly optimizing one website, then life becomes substantially more complicated managing 10 different personalized experiences for 10 different audiences across 10 different channels.

Looking for Low-Hanging WEM Fruit

WEM involves a lot of listening. The process of understanding your audience and watching their reactions is part of a never-ending cycle. There are a variety of listening techniques that do not require the deployment of WEM solutions. Below I’ve identified six online-listening techniques readily available and easily implemented.

  1. Use analytics already available to you -- Google Analytics, for example, has features (advanced segments) that can be used to create new views into your website’s activity. A lot of customers are completely unaware of these features. Fully research and utilize the capabilities already available before replacing these resources with more complicated solutions.
  2. Make it effortless to provide feedback -- This item shouldn’t need mentioning, but I’ve looked hard for “Feedback” links on many websites. Once clicked, I’m greeted with a login prompt, followed by 30 questions, with a “Timeout” error when I finally click “Submit.” Don’t make it difficult for customers to provide their insight.
  3. Validate your assumptions through surveys and conversations -- Use online surveys and customer conversations to validate assumptions about your audiences and their goals. Offer a nice prize (iPad) to entice their involvement. Modify the web experience accordingly.
  4. Let your audience help you prioritize -- I’m a big fan of User Voice or GetSatisfaction; these websites enable public suggestions, responses and voting. These tactics are great at generating engagement from the community. However, be prepared to engage back, otherwise customers will become frustrated by your neglect.
  5. Create a Facebook Fan Page and Twitter account -- Many organizations are using social media as another online channel for broadcasting messages. However, these resources can be equally effective at gathering input. It’s important to remember that (despite popular opinion) lots of people completely ignore Twitter. Social media remains a fairly specialized demographic. These conversations are important, but full access to the wider spectrum of community opinion will require a diversified strategy. In short, social media gets too much attention, while old fashioned conversations (that might exceed 140 characters) get too little attention.
  6. Widely circulate reporting internally -- Metrics and feedback is useless if kept secret. Circulate concise (green, yellow, red) reporting internally so the broader team can evaluate their individual contributions. Everyone involved should always know if engagement is improving or slipping.

How to Get Started with WEM

Throughout this article I’ve emphasized the steady ongoing practice of WEM over complicated WEM solutions. Many organizations are not consistently involved in WEM practices and, consequently, would not benefit from more complexity to manage.

Thankfully, it’s extremely easy to get started with WEM. It costs nothing and can be done today:

  1. Identify target audiences, their goals and their perspective.
  2. Refine the web experience based on this mental model.
  3. Identify a metric that gauges their interest.
  4. Watch, wait and learn.
  5. Go to step 1…

This process, when consistently pursued, will yield enormous benefits. However, as an organization becomes more sophisticated, it will outgrow (or even abandon) the original metrics and tools. The tactics will continually shift, but it’s the steady practice of WEM that equips an organization to utilize new tactics and enable them to reap the benefits.

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