Engagement = Return on Effort

Justin Talerico, CEO/CMO, ion interactive

Justin Talerico, CEO/CMO, ion interactive

I think we can all agree that an engaged audience is better than a disengaged one. And, every online marketer wants engagement in one form or another. But engagement isn’t pass/fail. Part of what makes measurement of interactive content engagement so enlightening is that there’s a continuum of participation. Where people fall on that continuum and how we look at it — like grading on a bell curve and then comparing the curves — helps evaluate the relative value of content and experience.

ion’s marketing team measures engagement in interactive content experiences as a percentage. We want to answer the question: What percentage of the content did the participant engage with? But, why? Aside from interesting happy hour banter, what’s the real value in knowing?

By looking at it as a percentage, we can more readily compare engagement among disparate types of interactive content experiences. Of course there is the question of scale — engaging in 20% of a large experience is potentially more valuable than engaging in 20% of a small experience. But, since you’re ultimately measuring your return on effort, 20% engagement is less successful than 40% engagement — regardless of scale. Here’s why…

Interactive experiences are designed to engage. You should expect return on effort that’s commensurate with the scale of the effort. We’re designing things for participation and 100% participation is the goal. If you invest $5,000 in a small interactive experience, you expect a return on that. And if you invest $75,000 in a large interactive experience, you expect a return that’s much greater than the one expected of the $5,000 investment. Just like any other budget, you have 100% in total — and 100% potential participation is the maximum return you can generate.

But, just like in college, 100% is rarely achieved. What happens with engagement is that a bell curve emerges. For any given experience, we quickly come to understand how the top, middle and bottom thirds participate. The top third may score above 70%, the middle third between 40-70%, and the bottom third of non-bouncers may score 20-40% — high and low outliers excluded.

An interactive experience that averages 45% engagement is flat-out more efficient than one that averages 30% engagement. Or if you're looking at bell curves, the experience that places 70% of its traffic in its top third is clearly more efficient than the one that places 30% of its traffic in its top third. Efficiency aside, you’d certainly prefer to drive more traffic to the more engaging experience.

ion measures interactive content engagement as an incrementing score. We simply add a point for every participatory action. We then calculate a particular respondent’s engagement percentage by dividing the respondent’s score by the total number of possible participatory actions. If we have particular points of engagement that are more valuable than others, we may give those 2 or 3 points. That’s at our discretion.


We surface the engagement percentage to our sales team in a Sell-Side experience so they can know how engaged a lead was with a specific topic. And we use that percentage in marketing to compare and improve our interactivity and content. For both sales and marketing, it’s nice to have a single, big bold number to focus on.

More engagement is better than less. Participation is our goal. And relative engagement comparisons between interactive experiences help us innovate, iterate and improve our return on effort.