Engagement in the Digital Age – Part 1

Engagement is a word that’s tossed around a lot these days. In marketing, engagement is often used as the key performance indicator (KPI) of a particular ad campaign or initiative. At its core, engagement measures how your audience reacts to your messaging.

Over the past decade, engagement has changed dramatically along with media consumption habits. Only 20 years ago, if you needed a certain piece of information you had to go hunting across libraries and publications in order to find out whatever it is you needed to know. This could take hours or even days. In 2017, all you have to do is pull a little black box out of your pocket and it communicates all of the information ever conceived.

Unsurprisingly, this has changed engagement habits.

It’s important to understand the different types of media consumption habits and how they relate to your content strategy. For the purposes of this article, and giving a very high-level overview as to how people typically engage with content, we’ll create two categories that all content can fit inside

Where digital platforms shine the most is when it comes to your members seeking immediate information. When your members need to know something right away, they simply google their question and read the first free source that they can. If their question still isn’t answered, then they may move on to the second source. We’ll call this active content for the sake of this article.

Because of the change that digital has brought and the advent of “on demand” content, printed products are now consumed on demand as well. Most people now consider these printed products to be a leisurely, luxury experience. That’s the reason physical books still exist despite the prevalence of digital screens. There’s just something missing without the feel of paper between your fingertips. This category can be called passive content.

These are your two most typical types of media consumption and now would be a good time to stop and think hard about where all of your content falls in these two options. Are you servicing the leisurely, read-at-your-own-pace type of content or are you servicing the “I need information now” type?

Many organizations, both public and private, have a hard time classifying their communications into these two broad categories. Most associations that we encounter have content delivered exclusively in the passive category even though both they and their media partners believe that they’re targeting both categories equally.

Let me explain.

If you write an article discussing the current most important problem facing your industry, and deliver that across Facebook and Twitter with a mention in one of your newsletters, which category does that fall under?

You might be tempted to say the second category of immediate information because this is the most important topic in your industry and you’ve distributed the content digitally. This is one of the most common errors in content distribution. Your content is actually in category #1 of passive content because you’re interrupting your membership’s day in order to propose that they read your article, which may or may not be important to them at that minute. It may be important two weeks from now, but most people don’t gather information for future problems.

This is the strategy of most associations that we encounter and because of this, their member engagement struggles and ultimately hurts their advertising sales later on down the road.


How can you create a strategy with both content types?


The best rule of thumb is that any content that is being sought after in order to solve an immediate problem right now would be considered your active content. The only major source of traffic for these articles will be search engines because most people simply google how to fix their problem rather than look through the articles of a professional organization they trust. After all, they have a problem and need to find an answer while the problem still holds their attention.

All content that isn’t utterly life saving and sought after in the heat of the moment is passive content.

There are gray areas here as well to further confuse the matter. For example, if the article you wrote as active content is available in your website’s archive page and one of your members is reading passive content on your website, they may read the active content in a passive way. The alternative is possible as well if your content structure and website are particularly optimized for search engines.


“So why does my association need both types of content?”


That’s a great question and we’re glad you asked. This has to do mostly with the mental association that your members will create with your organization. If your members are constantly engaged with your content every time they have a problem or need information in addition to leisurely content consumption, you’ll build a strong expert voice within your industry and engagement will rise extremely quickly.

If another content provider is writing the active content that should be coming from your association, then it’s inevitable that they’ll become the dominant voice of your industry and over time your association will become indistinguishable from any other professional organization within your industry. In a noisy marketplace, it’s important to be the site your members always go to whenever they’re in a pickle.


This article is part one of a series.