Recently I’ve been seeing ‘an examination’ shall we say of the term Web Engagement Management and the acronym WEM. There is a suggestion that it’s a figment of the fervid imaginations of software vendor marketing departments possibly in collusion with certain analysts and that dreadful things should be done to it’s proponents.

In addition, this week I gave a presentation at GXConnect 2010 – ‘Web Engagement, Marketing Buzzword or Business Imperative’ – and whilst this isn’t a transcript of that presentation I wanted to air this debate. So, is this WEM thing the emperors new clothes, a sharp marketing suit or the boiler suit of the workers on the coal face of getting web stuff done?

I’ll attempt to keep it brief(ish) and I apologize if you are familiar with the subject and I stray into the area of stating the bleedin’ obvious – but bear with me, I wanted to get down the basics.

Let’s start on what I think is the safe ground with E – Engagement. As I have previously said on CMSWire in “Have the Buzzword Magpies Stolen our “Engagement” the word engagement is perfect to describe the the difference between a casual ‘bounce’ visitor and someone who’s listening and interacting with you. The difference between standing on the street corner, shouting random thoughts into a loud hailer and conversation.  If you have ever thought about your audience before tweeting, blogging or publishing content – you have thought about engaging them. Heck – you may even choose to rant against WEM, because that’s what you believe your audience need to hear to engage with you. Extending this to a business context, engagement describes an objective, the reason why you create a website, why you blog and tweet.

So, engagement is about being relevant and to be relevant you need to understand your audience. Understanding is where WEM departs from the mechanics of publishing. This idea of listening is something that is covered  by every contemporary marketing commentator from Seth Godin, David Meerman Scott, Chris Brogan etc etc. These are not snake oil salesman. The level of engagement is also measurable, that helps to make it a business practice. This isn’t new – I’ve also previously referred to the book “Web Engagement” authored by Bill Zoelick (with a forward by Frank Gilbane), published in 2000 and now sadly out of print (mine is a second hand copy). The tools have changed, but it talks about understanding as an essential element of engagement.

As Jeremiah Owyang stated in his blog post in 2007 “Defining “Engagement”:

My working definition:“Engagement indicates the level of authentic involvement, intensity, contribution, and ownership”

It’s possible for me to shorten it to: “Apparent Interest”

I say apparent because someone can be interested and never act on it, measuring that will be difficult. If they act on it, say it, or gesture, then we can measure. I say interest, as I really see engagement the verb of interest.

Engagement Formula:“Attention + Interaction + Velocity + Authority + Relevant Attributes (variable)”

By the way, I could have plucked plenty out of his article, to support this post – I suggest you read the entire thing

This understanding doesn’t necessarily (or maybe very rarely should) come just from a visitors experience with you on the web. Very few organizations communicate or transact with their audience solely over their  website. Therefore the feedback we need to listen to about our brand, product, service, our message (etc) comes via a variety of sources; the social web has gone mainstream and most of us have a story of dealing with an organization over the phone and feeling like what we told them during a web experience went unheard. Understanding our audience is a multi-channel discipline. In writing this I am using feedback from Twitter direct messages and conversations in the pub.

Do you agree so far that we can describe engagement as a measurable business practice and goal?

I’m saving web until last, so what about M for Management? Clearly if you are going to listen and speak, you need some thinking in-between. We need some orchestration that takes what we’ve heard and apply it to what we are going to say. For a multi-product, multi-national company this is complex. A large audience, lots of places to listen, lots of information to process, lots of segments, communities, lots of systems that hold some useful information and lots of places to converse. Like any complex business process or practice there is an opportunity to systemize it, to build processes, to make it repeatable, understood, measureable etc etc.

If we agree that this is true, then, like any complex business problem, we can apply computers. It is therefore perfectly feasible for vendors to claim that they do more than publish content, that their software has this kind of orchestration. That the software can apply insight from data on the audience and manage the way it is published to make it engaging.

So… Engagement Management. Does this sound real and reasonable? Would you agree that it’s something that real people would want to do and would want systems to help them do and not just a marketing hallucination brought on by a Kool Aid sugar rush?

Finally. The W. Web. I use the term Web Engagement as I talk about how we make our websites more engaging and whilst the data that feeds the insight might be multi-channel, the delivery is predominantly over the web.Not necessarily just the corporate website, but to any of the web properties where your audience might be hanging out and the devices they use to access them.

I am also personally wary of alternate terms, like referring to Customer Engagement, not because I consider this term invalid, but because I specialize in a  sub-set of customer engagement, I don’t know how to make a loyalty scheme work, how to do IP warming for an e-mail campaign, where to put a pop up stand in a store or that we should put nappies on a shelf near the beer (or something). But I do know that an engaging and satisfying web experience, is essential to customer service, satisfaction and retention. (I talk abit more about that in You say tomato, I say tomato, you say WEM, I say WEM..)

So far I’ve described WEM as bringing together a number of existing disciplines and technologies, not replacing them. If  WEM isn’t the right term, what do you think we should call this convergence?

From a Web Content perspective, I think we’ve long known that the dynamic delivery or a relevant, engaging web experiences places a special focus on the capabilities of your WCM system. For example you need lots of content, you need metadata, to get lots of content you need something your authors can use and integrate to other systems etc). I agree completely with Jarrod Gingras (of Real Story Group) that vendor claims of WEM capabilities should not dilute, distract or compromise an organizations requirements when selecting a WCM. (I recommend reading his article: Call me a Grinch, but Web CMS is not dead) to engage over the web, you need to get these basics right.

So, as I try and draw this long rambling post to some sort of conclusion – the question I asked at the top of this post was Is this WEM thing the emperors new clothes, a sharp marketing suit or the boiler suit of the workers on the coal face of getting web stuff done?

Emperors new clothes – I don’t think so. I agree that vendor marketing and analysts can whip up the perfect storm that becomes separated from the real needs of the market – there are lots of smart folks that put ECM in that bucket – but I talk to marketers that are facing the challenge that WEM aims to solve, to deliver an engaging experience for the visitor and to feedback valuable marketing data in the process.

A sharp marketing suit – Maybe. I say maybe, because I think it depends on whose wearing the suit. We need to define the business practices that WEM touches, develop a benchmark set of requirements that organizations need and then we can contrast the capabilities of software vendors, systems integrators and agencies against those. We’ll then be able to say for sure if someone is just wearing a new suit over some tired old software, or if they have the boiler suit that the marketer needs.

A boiler suit – I think so. People are living and breathing this stuff, some of them may not call it Web Engagement – but they sure as hell care about their audience, how to offer great customer service, how to differentiate from their competitors or maybe how to get you to spend a few extra dollars.

At the Gilbane group we are embarking on something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time and define the requirements and capabilities of web engagement. (To get a high level of what we are thinking, take a look at: Introducing the Web Engagement Capability model). As you will see in this research, this isn’t just about buying software products, but about organization preparedness, the integration of business processes, data and expertise.

In closing – as an industry we understand the requirements, scope and how to compare content management solutions, but I think today WEM is slightly nebulous and we need to work on that. We need to figure out what the requirements are for ‘the thing between our content and our visitor’, what the market has to offer to satisfy them, how we measure the success of these solutions and how software buyers should compare them. If we can’t do this, then I’ll concede that a bunch of us are wandering down the high street naked.

I have run long here as usual and if you’ve stuck around to read this far – thank you, I really appreciate it and would very much like to hear your comments.