“Why do people like something on Facebook without looking at it?” a chief marketing officer asked the other day. “We’re getting great social likes and shares for our content, but we’re not seeing the same numbers of people clicking through to our site to see it.”
The answer lies in the psychology of social sharing and the developing field of attention analytics.
Traditionally, digital activity has been measured by volume, whether social interactions or web metrics like page views, visits or unique visitors. But they don’t reveal if a user has consumed all, some or practically none of the content.
Time-on-page measures offer some additional insight; but is the user even looking at the screen before they click to do something else? Understanding the shortcomings of traditional metrics, some media sites are looking for activity signals that go beyond a click or view, such as a mouse move or scroll position on a page.
Upworthy has pioneered the idea of the ‘attention minute‘ to create a “fine-grained and unforgiving metric that tells us whether people are really engaged with our content or whether they’ve moved on to the next thing.” Likewise, Medium has adopted a new primary measure, total time reading.
The change is what Tony Haile, chief executive of new generation media analytics firm Chartbeat, has described as a “second-by-second, pixel-by-pixel” view of user behaviour to inform content production.
A Chartbeat study of more than 10,000 socially-shared articles found “there is no relationship whatsoever between the amount a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention an average reader will give that content.”
The danger is that if you assume that every click represents 100% consumption and commitment, there’s a risk that truly engaging content is overlooked. But if on-site content performance measurement is improving, what about the impact of digital content that has been published off-site?
“Earned media on sites that brands don’t own will continue to be more art than science,” said Haile. “Brands will be stuck with either public data sources such as social shares, which are an inadequate proxy of attention or looking at overarching impact of campaigns through tracking studies but cannot isolate the impact of an individual piece of content.
“If it makes brands feel any better, they have similar difficulties isolating the impact of a similar ad on TV as well.”
Neil Morgan, chief marketing officer of social analytics firm Socialbakers, suggested judging social channels by different yard stick: the depth of context about who the user is.
“If I go and read something or see something and choose to share it or like it, I am making a positive decision to be associated with that content,” he said. “It might be a negative comment. But I am revealing that I am following that brand or publication or journalist or influencer. Psychologically, it makes it a more meaningful measure than an eyeball.”
So what was my answer to the CMO’s question about social shares and traffic?
Firstly, to ask what call-to-action was being used – were users being asked to comment, share or simply like? Secondly, an essential question for any content marketer is “What happens next?”
Understand what you want users to do once they’ve consumed the content you’ve created. Set your content measurable goals and don’t create a content cul-de-sac that leaves the user nothing to do next.
So, what happens if the next step is offline? Now that’s another debate …
Paul Hill is content director of digital marketing agency, Further