Gone are the days when the number of unique visitors to your website was the most important metric to follow.

One of the most common words that you’ll hear today from your marketing agency is “engagement.” But what exactly is engagement, and how do you know if you’re getting any?

Just like almost everything in the world of digital marketing, the definition of engagement seems to be a moving target with different people defining the term in different ways. Digiday ran an article a while back asking marketing leaders how they define their strategy to engage their customers. Of the five different executives that were asked, five different definitions of what engagement means were given.

The challenge with this lack of a clear definition is that until you define something, it’s impossible to measure it. And, if you can’t measure it, how will you ever know if the money that you’re spending to get your customers to engage with you is giving you what you want?

Our Attempt At Definition

The first step that we want to go through in this post is to offer a solid definition. Our definition may not be an all-encompassing, world-view of what customer engagement is. Still, we feel that it is a solid definition that you’ll be able to use, consistently, to measure the results of your marketing investments.

Essentially, engagement is capturing your audience’s attention and holding it, getting some type of interaction among your audience, or getting your audience to understand what your brand represents. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the term engagement began to be confused with awareness. Engagement has been used to “show marketing results” for nearly every marketing tactic from content marketing to display ads. Engagement has become the new unique visitor vanity metric.

The problem with the broad and undefined use of the term engagement is that it really doesn’t tell you anything, and more importantly, it becomes a quasi-vanity metric that is easily manipulated. Think about how you could be misled in a marketing report if the term engagement is too broad or not defined.

Let’s say that you receive a report from your digital ad people, and they are showing an ad campaign’s engagement, and they’re attributing an engagement rate of 30% on a social media campaign. That’d be huge, right! What if you found out later that rather than engagement (getting some type of interaction), they were actually referencing impressions. That’d be a totally different conversation because an impression simply means that your ad showed up in a feed. Impressions don’t mean that they “engaged” with your ad; it just means that it was “possibly” seen.

Definitions matter! How much would you pay to have an ad just show up in a social feed? Would it be as much as you would pay for an ad that someone clicked on and visited your website? Or, an ad that caused someone to call your office to inquire about your products or services? My guess is that you would not pay as much for an impression as you would a true engagement.

This is not to say that impressions are a bad metric. But, impressions are not engagements. It’s essential to know the difference, measure them differently, and certainly base your marketing investment accordingly.