True online engagement is not the same as action

The problem of the 33 miners trapped 700m below ground in Chile is both dreadful and fascinating. Many of us are fully engaged with this story because it taps into several emotions. Yet those of us who are engaged with the story have not commented on it, we have taken no action on it. We haven’t tweeted about it, nor recommended it to a friend. We haven’t listed it on Digg, written about it in Facebook or bookmarked a page in our browser. So how come we are engaged?

When you look online for information about increasing the engagement with your website or your blog you will find loads of advice which talks about measures of engagement which are nothing of the sort. Your readers do NOT have to take any kind of action to be engaged. After all, you may come out of the cinema elated or crying depending on the film. During the two hours you were there you were fully engaged, transported away by the movie from your world to their world. But were you tweeting, commenting, writing about it? Or were you actually engaged. Did you need to take any action to be engaged? Or did you just have to connect your mind to the movie?

Taking action is not the same as engagement. You can get people to take action on your website by being controversial, stupid, or by making errors. The pedants, for instance, will comment to “correct you”. But are they actually engaged? Probably not. You can also get people to tweet you, to link to you and to put a recommendation on Digg, but will they remember your business for more than a few moments? Probably not. They took action – which many people say is a measure of engagement – but is it?

In other words, much of what we say is online engagement is nothing of the sort. True engagement comes when you trigger an emotional connection between your website or blog and your readers. You engage people when you make them think, when they laugh, when they cry. But getting them to push a button, make a comment or forward to a friend is not actual engagement; instead it is action.

Of course, you want people to take action too – but far too often we appear to confuse these two issues. Measuring actions taken with your website does not tell you if you are truly engaging your audience. Measuring the emotional content of your website will.

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