Why Interaction Is Not The Same As Engagement

If there’s one thing that the social media sector has in spades, it’s statistics. We’ve all seen the videos, most, it seems, with a Fatboy Slim soundtrack, that list the mind-bending figures about the continued growth of social platforms and devices.

  • Facebook has over 750 million active monthly users
  • Those users share over 4 billion pieces of content a day
  • More than 24 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every day
  • Someone joins LinkedIn every second
  • If Wikipedia were a book, it would be over 2 million pages long*

It’s not just numbers, many of those writing about social media love to claim that it’s responsible for creating, or at least setting the news. Whether it’s the tragic death of a troubled, but hugely talented singer, an horrific massacre or even a revolution, these days, it seems that nothing happens that can’t be pinned to interactions on Facebook or Twitter.

But are these relatively new channels actually shaping these events, or merely channelling them? And what does this mean for brands?

To try to understand the true impact of social, let’s take a look at a rather wonderful project that’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, which is itself one of many poster children for the radical effect of the social web.

110 Stories is the name of an, as yet unbuilt, app that will commemorate the events of 911. In the words of the creator:

Activate the app on your iPhone and you’ll be guided towards the World Trade Center. Once properly oriented, augmented reality kicks in and renders their silhouette — in a pencil-like outline during the day and in shimmering light at night. Snap a picture, fine tune the image, add a personal story, and submit it to www.110stories.com.

Looking at the stats on the Facebook plug-in that is built-in to Kickstarter, nearly 1,200 people have liked 110 Stories. Which should mean, it would be reasonable to think, that it would be well on its way to meeting its target of raising $25,000.

And it is – as of July 29th, it had raised nearly $20,000. But that money had come from just 305 backers**. So, whilst, at first glance, the interaction rate with the project seems great, the number of people who actually engaged to the point that they were willing to part with cash, is really rather low.

So what can brands, and anyone involved in social take from this?

The most important thing to understand is that you should never mistake numbers for insight – as the saying goes, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Just because your brand has thousands of fans, that doesn’t mean that thousands of new customers will start buying your products.

Rather than obsess on the size of their fan-bases, it’s essential that brands map how those fans are truly engaging with the brand, and track how that engagement relates to sales.

Many people in the online world like to claim that TV is dead, and scoff at the suggestion that TV is a well researched medium with the power to drive real action. Yet, as the CMO of any major FMCG company will tell you, when ads go on air, product flies off the shelves. And there’s over half a century’s worth of data to back this up.

If social networks, particularly Facebook, hope to prove that interaction and engagement have a true value, it’s essential that they start turning stats and data into insights and proof.

The BrandLift product is certainly a large step in the right direction, and it is to be hoped that this will soon be rolled into Nielsen’s wider product portfolio, particularly their consumer panels, which track actual retail purchases.

There has undoubtedly been an improvement in the types of things that companies and agencies running social media campaigns are using as success metrics, but there’s still a lot more that can be done. Because as long as people are being bombarded with impressive, but meaningless stats, such as the fact that Facebook would be the 3rd biggest country in the world, it won’t matter a jot if we can’t prove that any of those inhabitants buy our clients’ products.

*So almost as long as a George R. Martin novel then.

**I am the 305th – I didn’t think it would be fair to criticise lack of engagement if I wasn’t engaged myself.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Search & Social


About The Author: is the Head of Digital for Mindshare Ireland, as well as holding a global role for the media agency as Director, Emerging Media. At Mindshare he works with both local & multinational clients, helping them to integrate on & offline, and to utilise search, social, mobile & video in their broader marketing mix.

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  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow

    Hi Ciaran-

    Count me as #306, then. Interaction does NOT mean engagement. Additionally, there are negative interactions that people confuse with a positive user experience.

    For example, if a person can’t find something on your website, they might click on a number of links before he/she gives up. And then never comes back. But “statistics” or “data” indicates that the increased page views is a positive user experience.

    Also, in terms of eye-tracking, a person might look at something on a page because it’s annoying, not due to a “positive engagement.”

    Numbers reveal the whats and the hows. Not the whys. Kudos for writing about this topic.


  • http://www.facebook.com/brianaugust Brian August

    Thank you for the article and also for backing the project. I agree that it is tough to maximize engagement. My project has a lot of elements coming together — its at once an art project, a tech project and a history project. And its use (at least initially) is truly location specific — within actual viewing distance of the towers. I’ve tried to make the app as engaging as possible. It makes you move around, forces you to pay attention as the towers are rendered and then strongly urges you you to add a comment. I’m not sure I would measure engagement based on how many people actually backed the project. I actually consider it more important that people share the story with others than actually back the project. One last thing. You described the app as one that commemorates the events of 911. That may be true for some people, but for me, the app was created to enable users to reflect on experiences that they had from 1971- September 10, 2001. The app is a celebration of the buildings’ lives and on the subtle effect they had on everyone who lived among them. To me its an uplifting feeling and its one that most people who come in contact with 110 Stories tend to share. Can’t do much better than that.

  • http://www.ContentEqualsMoney.com Emma

    To be honest, I really never thought about the fact that interaction and engagement could be two separate entities until encountering this post. In English, the words are synonyms, but social media sometimes proudly marches to its own drum beat. And thus, regular rules (grammatical, linguistic, societal) are incorporated but not always adhered to traditionally.

  • http://itsmyurls.com/BeckyCortino BeckyCortino

    …and this is why “impressions” should *also* be viewed as ‘different’ from “actions taken.” Running an ad on social media?! (Any where, actually!) Something to keep in mind…

    As one who has dealt with numbers throughout my career as a marketing-communications consultant, I understand numbers and their implications. Most of us have probably heard the accusation that “you can do (justify, etc) anything with numbers.” While it appears numbers abound, meaningful numbers, viewed with clear vision for accurate understanding, and precise application is required. Some sifting through them first is definitely advisable.

  • http://www.annholman.co.uk Ann Holman

    Great post and invaluable insight. You are right the numbers do not mean engagement to the point of product being downloaded or sold. As social media advisers we must extol the virtues of an engaged and participating community rather than one that is merely followed or liked!

  • http://www.mindshareworld.com Ciarán Norris

    Thanks for all the comments – glad that you found it engaging (sorry!)

    Brian – thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I totally understand that for you donations is not the main KPI, but I guess I just thought it was a perfect example for those people working with brands, where, at the end of the day, separating people from their money, in the form of purchases, is absolutely the most important thing to do.

    I think the app will be incredibly engaging (I loved the Museum of London app which shares some of its characteristics) and can’t wait to see the real thing.

  • AndyHoleman

    I totally agree with the premise of your post. However, I have to say your example is a poor one – a 25% conversion rate from interaction to sale is HUGE!!! Huge in a way that regular delivery of a 25% sell through rate would be marketer of the year territory (maybe the decade).

  • http://www.mindshareworld.com Ciarán Norris

    Andy – I take your point, it is a good percentage when put like that. But I stand by my point that it’s so much easier for people to ‘Like’ something that it is to actually get off their backsides and do something. I was also going to use the recent example from the Irish elections where one candidate secured more votes than he did Facebook likes: http://www.thejournal.ie/dylan-haskins-secures-fewer-votes-than-facebook-friends-2011-02/

    I was not trying to say that 110 Stories was, or is a failure (it’s anything but), rather that judging something by interactions alone is a poor way of measuring success (again, not that I was suggesting that Brian was doing this). I’m actually very glad that they did end up making their target, and the app will now be getting built.


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