Social web and involvement

Enrique Dans. Professor. IE Business School

9 February 2011

One of the key factors driving the boom in so-called social media is customer involvement, now the subject of extensive study.

One of the main drivers of the boom of the so-called social media is so-called customer involvement. This represents a measure of how far the customer gets involved with the sender of the message, and is now the subject of extensive study.

Have you ever considered the general effect your messaging has on your target public? In a world full of media that is technologically limited to being unidirectional, the answer to this question was very inexact: we could only find out by using panels or surveys, which were always approximate, and we were unable to associate the answer with specific subjects or try to measure it in purely binary terms: one, buys the product or service, or zero, doesn´t buy it. This absence of information means that communication via the net can be measured or evaluated in a large number of ways that businesses are starting to discover.

On the social web, users´ reactions are gauged by that fundamental variable: involvement. The minimum involvement of a user in terms of content is to simply "watch it go by"; the content appears and the user simply moves on to something else without interacting with it. Display advertising, for example, is a clear case of this: we can´t even be sure of whether or not the user has actually seen it or stopped to look at it. In fact, display advertising is a luxury in comparison with other media: we can at least know whether or not a specific user has received the impact and then act accordingly. In the press, we can only know the number of newspapers that have been sold and, on television, we have to trust a frugal scattering of audience meters that provide measurements that are poor and few and far between, but which everyone decides to believe since there is nothing better.

What else can the user do besides just watching content go by? If the level of involvement grows, the next step could be to click on it. Clicking is easy to do and it indicates positive action, something that is much more important than it might seem. However, the number of possible options is far greater and increases even more as the web becomes ever more intricate: for example, a user can value content. Giving content value implies critical judgement, a mental action that leads to a level of involvement that is clearly higher: a user may not remember content seen or clicked on, but will almost definitely remember content that was valued.

Subsequent stages of involvement may include, for example, forwarding content to another or sharing it with a network: this type of action implies a higher level of interest, involvement that is much more decisive. That small "I like it" button on Facebook, for example, is an absolute demonstration of involvement: reading content (or simply supposing that someone has read it because they have accessed the page on which it is located) is not at all the same as clicking on the "I like it" button and sending it to your noticeboard, where it is on show to the rest of your network and opens up the possibility of others seeing it. It is also important to realize that others who see it on your noticeboard (or if you forward it or share it in any other way) do not simply access the content, but rather the content and your express recommendation of it, which gives it a slight advantage and occasionally leads to the phenomenon of viral marketing.

The best example of involvement is direct collaboration, co-creation. For example, users can provide content, comments, videos… Collaboration can take many forms, each one as inspiring as the next, and they imply a very high level of involvement that brings together individual and brand and can lead to the creation of important bonds. Think about it and think about your company´s communication in terms of involvement. There is no doubt that we still have a lot to learn in this area.

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