The Content Imperative
The latest on content marketing strategy, insights and trends

Alex Barfield
Senior Planner

Alex is Senior Planner at Headstream. He ensures that all work takes a long-term view and is optimised based on business and client requirements. His work comprises research and insight, content strategy, data analytics and paid social.

Alex works across all Headstream clients on national and global accounts including BBC, GSK, National Trust, FatFace and Schuh.

Before joining, Alex worked at Universal Music.

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Image source: Martijn van Exe

How engagement can lead you astray

| 21 August 2015

Source: Facebook

At first glance this could appear a little disturbing.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were falling over each other to back the value and virtues of page likes, clicks and the paramount importance of these metrics to a brand’s content marketing efforts in social. 

Then came a host of different engagement rates, some of which could bamboozle even the most dedicated of analysts with their multitude of seemingly forensic formulae.

And now, in the face of increasingly passive behaviour on some of the larger social networks, we’re heading back to the cold comfort of reach and frequency. 

The more cynical might think this is simply another ploy to liberate cash from the pockets of brands made vulnerable by their commitment to staying relevant in an always on, always changing digital environment. 

Maybe. After all, Mark has got to eat right? 

But really, this latest evolution in measurement hints at a disconnect more fundamental in the world of advertising - the enduring entente not-so-cordiale between the creative purists and the data dilettantes.

In the awesome ‘The Anatomy of Humbug’, Paul Feldwick highlights that the debate over the respective merits of obsessive measurement versus unyielding, unrepentant creative control has been alive and well for more than a hundred years. And it’s yet to be resolved, which maybe tells us something. 

If there was a perfect way to measure success and effectiveness, wouldn’t we have worked it out by now? Wouldn’t these old adversaries have united in a utopia of flawless campaigns of breath-taking beauty and guaranteed, demonstrable results?

The fact is it’s more complicated. The way people make decisions is complicated and it’s perhaps unrealistic even with current technology to think we can accurately map each individual’s thought process to unlock a truly 1:1, tailored approach and understand the corresponding performance measures to exploit.

So we’re back to reach, frequency, followers, engagement and a whole lot of doubt about whether any of them offer any real value. But it’s not necessarily the metrics themselves that are at fault (at least not all of them), it’s the way they are sometimes used. 

Tracking reach and frequency for a video campaign designed to raise awareness among a new audience sounds sensible. Monitoring interactions and viewer retention to gain an indication of the content’s relevance to the audience? Again, pretty sound logic. Delivering a call-to-action to viewers of the video to visit the brand site for more information? Let’s do this - these measures all provide useful indicators about the health of our content. 

But what’s missing? If we optimise based on these factors alone, will our brand profit in any way? 

One way to help answer that question is to start trying to bridge the gap between the much feted digital metrics of the moment and the measurements that demonstrate real growth and business value. 

Facebook’s conversion lift studies are a great example. The IPA Effectiveness Awards another. 

Brand studies, conversion attribution models and research into effectiveness are not without their caveats, but if we want to move towards a more useful way of measuring content marketing then we need to respect the limitations of the ‘click’.

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