Engagement v Numbers

Just before Christmas, Instagram announced that it had hit the milestone of 300 million monthly active users. Not bad for a 4-year old company and, as many commentators were quick to point out, one that now moved in front of Twitter in terms of users (‘languishing’ with ‘only’ 284 MAU’s towards the end of the year).

There was a robust response from Evan Williams however who rejected the importance of such numbers. He quickly pointed out one very valid point in response – lining up a photography site as a competitor to a real-time breaking news network is hardly credible. When viewed subjectively about their impact on the modern world, the two are in fact entirely different and incomparable.

However, he then published an essay on his site Medium which sets out a crucial point for anyone who has is running some kind of web-based business. As he points out, the web took a wrong turn back in the 1990’s and pursued an advertising-driven model. Even the inventor of the pop-up ad Ethan Zuckerman has come out against what has developed as the norm. The reality is that the usual aim of websites is to do anything that will help them in their fight for eyeballs that can be delivered to the advertisers.

On this basis, if you’re looking to maximise the number of visitors, page views would tend be a key metric. However, building your diagnosis around a system that rewards a visitor who simply flicks through a number of pages successively without spending any time to digest the information on the page has many flaws.

Williams suggests that instead Total Time Reading (TTR) is a far more accurate indicator of success when it comes to his site Medium. He makes the great point that the most valuable resource in today’s over-crowded digital arena is that of time. Therefore, we should be ignoring the Click Web model and pursuing an Attention Web instead. TTR is not perfect but, as others have pointed out, there’s no God metric when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of online content.

In short, don’t just focus on the hits. Measure the depth of engagement rather than the breadth and ultimately your advertisers – and much more importantly your users – will thank you for it.