Measuring social media engagement

Facebook engagement rates fall as your fan base gets higher. At first sight that seems odd. But of course it isn’t.

Most people tend to engage with brands infrequently on social media. Seduced by a particular post they may “Like” it on a whim, but then stay away from your page. They have little motivation to comment on or share other posts unless they are real fans. And of course unless you are spending serious money, chances are they won’t see those other posts.

So most Facebook “engagements” come from people who have recently become fans. The larger your fan base, the longer your “average” fan has been with you; and because of that, larger fan bases have lower engagement rates.

This is a problem for people using a common metric for evaluating social media effectiveness: the formula “Likes + Share + Comments / Fans” as it can make it look as though your campaigns are getting worse over time.

So how can you evaluate effectiveness on Facebook and other social media platforms? There are a couple of ways.

First there are some comparative measures. For instance you might want to compare engagement rate of different types of posts or different campaign themes. This won’t solve the problem of lower engagement rates with larger fan bases but it will help you focus on improving your campaigns.

Second you can measure engagement of recent fans. By dividing the number of engagement actions (shares, likes, comments) in any one period by the number of new fans acquired in the same period you will get a useful measure of true engagement that should be comparable across time periods.

Purists might argue that the engagement actions in any one period may be coming from people who became fans in an earlier period. That’s true; but I am not sure it matters much. For a start it is probable (at least, if you are using a period of 1 month rather than 1 day) that the number of actions from “old” fans will be low; but also if you compare different months you will be comparing like with like.

Ultimately though, “engagement” on social media is a measure of limited value. So what if people have engaged with you? What matters is their behaviour. Measuring that by using your web analytics to track visits generated from social media together with dwell time, page depth, loyalty and conversions is a far better way of measuring the effectiveness of your social media campaigns.


Customer service in the age of big data (and indifferent service from Robert Dyas)

My wife bought a foot pump for £6.99 at Robert Dyas in Victoria. It broke first time it was used (it was very obviously flawed with a large hole in the tube).

So I took it back to my local branch in Putney and asked for an exchange thinking there would be no problem. Sadly – and this is in the age of big data – without a receipt (and who keeps receipts for small purchases!) I wasn’t able to get a replacement. Because it wasn’t a Robert Dyas own-brand product I can only exchange it in the Victoria store where it was bought (2 hours travel time, £5.00 on the tube.)

Apparently the Victoria store would be able to trace the purchase. But the Putney store couldn’t, and nor could the central Customer Services department.

This doesn’t seem to make sense from customer service prospective. Presumably their argument is that I might have brought it at a different store chain. But for a small purchase which they currently have on special offer it seems pointless to quibble with a customer who has an obviously faulty product.

And from a merchandising perspective wouldn’t it be sensible to be able to monitor sales of skus across all branches centrally in close-to-real time?

20 top tips for e-commerce product pages

Because you know you like lists … (and because we want to make sure you give your visitors a great customer experience). Remember, these are just guidelines; they won’t always be appropriate, or practical, to implement.

And remember to think about how best to implement them on mobile devices as well as PCs, otherwise you may be losing out on 10% of your online market.

1.    Product name
Use a short but descriptive product name that contains the most important information (e.g. “24 carat gold ring” not just “gold ring” which could mean “gold coloured ring”).

All product names should be different and ideally contain differences beyond a SKU or product number.
Think about the order of the information and the way people will read it. So for instance instead of “Acme ZXS1234 FM-Radio Ear Defenders with MP3-connection” you might want to have “Acme Ear Defenders: FM-Radio and MP3-connection” (brand, product type, product differentiators). Put the product reference number (which will sometime be important) at the end, in smaller text.

2.    Price
Make sure this is towards the top of the page and very easy to see – don’t make people search for it. Increasingly people are getting used to seeing it to the right of the product name, at the top of a page.

You don’t want to give people nasty surprises so include the cost of VAT upfront (it can be useful with B2B categories to give both including and excluding VAT costs). Any other extras like delivery should also be signalled as early as possible.

3.    “Add to basket” button
Don’t be shy – locate this near the top of the page (if you are interested in the details, then above the 768 px depth level) so as many people as possible can see it. Next to or underneath the price is a good place.

Consider having two buttons – one at the top of the page by the price and one at the bottom of the page after any product descriptions.

Make the button look like a clickable button (i.e. give it a 3-d effect). Don’t use a graphic though: there is plenty of choice within HTML and you don’t want an “Add to basket” graphic failing to load for some reason.

4.    Product pictures
Nothing sells better than good quality images, ideally with a zoom in feature; for a lot of products the ability to rotate in 3-d is helpful as well although of course this does add to production costs.

Ideally provide several images (although this won’t be necessary for all your products). With sets (e.g. table and chairs), provide a separate image for the set as a whole and for each individual item.

Product videos can work very well too – and if you have a product that isn’t video friendly (like a book or a hammer) you can always have someone demonstrating it or talking about it.

5.    Product descriptions
The more expensive/profitable the product the more time you should take in crafting short, succinct, easy to understand descriptions.

Keep descriptions short and use bullet points where appropriate (e.g. if you have lists) rather than long sentences.

Demonstrate benefits (rather than features – “sell the sizzle, not the sausage”); some benefits are more important than others so focus on half a dozen of the best; you can separate these from the more detailed product feature descriptions.

6.    Ensure rapid page loading
Ensure that your pages load quickly and slickly. If they take more than a couple of seconds on average you will start to lose sales rapidly. If you have to make a choice between more pictures (or bigger files) and page load speed then prioritise page load speed.

7.    FREE
Words like FREE really sell; so does demonstrating any savings the buyer might be making. So demonstrate any cost benefits such as discounts, free delivery, loyalty points etc.

Free returns can be a big draw as well as they take the risk out of purchasing something.

8.    Availability
Supplement the price with an indication of how many items you have in stock.

If product is out of stock the button should ideally be replaced with an “out of stock” message.

9.    Quantity
Allow people to select the number they want; use “1” as a default (unless that is inappropriate); place the quantity button near the “Add to basket” buttons.

Having a “Remove this item” option underneath quantity can add reassurance that the item won’t accidentally be added to a shopping basket.

10.    Product options
Rather than having separate screens for different product options (e.g. colour, size), include product options on the product page.

Where it is relevant, e.g. with colour, provide illustrations of these options if possible.

11.    Dimensions
Getting the dimensions right can be really important for certain items. Weight for things you carry around like cameras; depth for kitchen equipment; height for lamps. So when it is important, don’t hide this information under a “product details” tab.

And include the size of the package it will come in (so people know if it will go through the door/letterbox).

12.    Delivery time
Online retail isn’t just about cost. Convenience is important too. So do tell people if they are able to choose delivery time and dates (don’t leave it to the checkout process).

Indicate earliest possible delivery time e.g. “Available for delivery tomorrow by 9am with our Super Delivery option” to enhance the excitement of making a purchase.

13.    Tell people they can buy!
It’s a good idea to remind people that they are in a shop and can buy things! So don’t just say “available in six colours”; say “you can buy this in six colours”.

14.    Easy contact details
Sometimes people will be uncertain about whether to make a purchase without advice from a human. This is especially true for certain products like insurance, holidays and consumer electronics. So give them a visible telephone number; live chat can be helpful too (and takes the strain off the call centre).

15.    Alternative products
Give people a choice. They may not be 100% happy with the product they are looking at so offering advice along the lines of “people who bought this also bought this” and/or “similar products you may be interested in” can work really well.

16.    Search and navigation
People will have navigated to your product page in various ways, and they may have ended up in the wrong place. So include a site search box at the top of the page; a very clear breadcrumb trail will also help people find their way to where they would prefer to be.

17.    Customer reviews
Customer reviews (positive ones at least) really help to add desirability to a product. Including negative reviews will add credibility to your positive reviews overall. But o take some time to solicit reviews – in “thank you for buying” emails for instance.

18.    Add to wish list
An “Add to wish list” option is important for any retailer selling products that may be bought as gifts or personal treats; this button or link should be less prominent than the “Add to basket” button though.

19.    Social media links
It won’t do any harm, and may actually do some good, to provide “share” links to Twitter, Facebook etc. Note that this isn’t the same as asking visitors to “Follow” you on Twitter or Facebook.

20.    Visual hierarchy
Make sure that the visual layout of your product page leads people easily to the Buy button.

e-Privacy Directive

At the Intellect Future of Entertainment conference last week, Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey commented on the UK government’s flexible approach to implementing the EU e-Privacy directive (the “cookie law”).

Well certainly the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) did provide a year-long grace period for organisations to ensure they comply with the Directive. Now that grace period is at an end; and British business needs to comply with the less flexible parts of the government’s requirement as outlined by the ICO.

It is worth saying that, while perhaps the Government’s hands are tied in respect to this Directive, this is far from a useful regulation.

If you don’t know about the Directive, then you should be aware that it outlaws the use of cookies unless active opt-in permission has been given. It is not sufficient to tell people that cookies are being used and to explain their use.

For a start, the Directive is totally unnecessary. It specifically outlaws most cookies in order to protect privacy. But as the UK Goverment’s own website DirectGov states “cookies aren’t used to identify you personally” . And this is true on most sites. Without a registration or log in feature, it is impossible for cookies to identify anyone as an individual.

In addition, the Directive wouldn’t protect everyone’s privacy IF cookies really did threaten privacy. Why is this? Because the Directive states that the only person who needs to give permission to accept cookies is the person (the “subscriber” or “user”) who pays the bill for accessing the internet. In other words I can give my permission but my wife and children can’t. Why is their privacy somehow less important than mine?

Thirdly, this Directive is bad for business. It makes it more difficult for organisations to provide customised information (including adverts) based on their visitors’ previous behaviour. This is bad for advertising, bad for retail, bad for media owners. (If you don’t care about advertisers, then you will need to be prepared to pay for all that news and entertainment you consume for free online.) In fact any website that is using cookies to track visitor is now supposed to ask for permission to do this.

Fourthly, it’s bad for consumers who will in theory have to make a decision about whether or not to accept cookies every time they visit a new website (and every time they use a new computer, a new browser or wipe their cookies – even if they have given permission).

Common sense might suggest that users who are not worried by cookies could give permission in their browser settings. And, all credit to the EU law makers, this option does seem to be written into the Directive. Cue the Article 29 Working Party who in effect say that consumers can’t be trusted to understand the effect of giving permission via heir browser.

All in all this is a bad law that does no one any good (except perhaps those residents of Tunbridge Wells who fulminate against the use of behavioural targeting). And perhaps because it is a bad law many British Government websites are ignoring it. Perhaps the time for British business to take this Directive seriously is when British Government sites implement their own rules. 

10 Cs of paid content

What is it about the letter C?

A few weeks ago I discovered that the letter “C” seemed to have a strange significance for DAB. And now I find the same for paid content!

Talking to a friend who has the unenviable task of doubling (non-subscription) content revenues for a large media owner, we got to thinking about how media owners would be able to charge for content in the future.

Paid content – the holy grail of online media owners!

And for run of the mill (i.e. non-specialist) media owners like consumer magazines and newspapers, it’s an elusive goal.

Just look at The Times. Last month Beehive City reported that The Times received fewer than 1.5 million uniques in August. 

And while this is a good deal better than some people predicted, initial paid subscription rates were reported to be low, despite a 30 day trial for only £1.

So what are the key issues for media owners to address when delivering their paid for content services?

That’s where the letter “C” comes in!

Collation – collecting content that is right for the target, which is I suppose pretty self evident.

Curation – organising, maintaining and controlling the quality of content; a harder one, this. The task of maintaining (including keeping content up to date) is potentially a big task, while organising content needs more than a good search algorithm, especially if media owners want to increase satisfaction through the serendiptous discovery of content people are not searching for.
Contextualisation – giving relevance to content and making sense of it is also important. A story like Rooney’s reported spat with Man U could make for much more entertaining reading if some of the surrounding issues concerning the long term success and viability of the club are made available.

Culling – it’s important to get rid of apparently related but in fact irrelevant content that gets in the way of a good story.

Customisation – making it right for the individual reading the story. NOthing new about that as a concept of course.

Connection – enabling the user to interact with the content in imaginative ways that go beyond opinion surveys: a key differentiator and a way of engaging them and developing their loyalty.

Collaboration – enabling users to contribute to and comment on stories won’t be the future of media, but it is (and has been for a long time) an important part of most media experiences. After all The Times letters page is one of the more popular parts of the newspaper.

Communication – enabling the user to share with others, in a way that people increasingly expect based on their use of social media sites.

Convergence – ensuring the journey works across different devices; and that doesn’t mean delivering the same content in a way that is merely usable on different devices; it means delivering an experience that is appropriate for different devices – perhaps with more location based information added to mobile delivery and more interactive content added to content for PC basd delivery.

Credibility – ensuring the source is trusted, and the brand isn’t damaged by the loosening of editorial control that some of the Cs may imply.

That’s a lot of Cs! It won’t be easy…

Apple pi?

It’s not often that Apple is out of the news. But recently a couple of quite negative stories about their mobile strategies have been circulating.

First publishing, and Apple are facing accusations of censorship. Apple, in pious pursuit of a moral web, have been upsetting some major and perfectly respectable German publishers. The story goes that not only have Apple refused to allow certain mobile apps they disapprove of to be sold via their apps store, they have also demanded a zero nipple count on content accessible via iPhones.

This, some say, leaves them open to the accusation of trying to censor printed material!

Well maybe. But remember, Apple is an independent corporation and is, surely, quite entitled to sell whatever it likes in its own shops. And if publishers don’t like that, then they need to get their publications distributed elsewhere.

The second story is about advertising. According to Addictive’s excellent weekly Mobile Fix email, Apple have effectively banned Google and Microsoft from serving ads with any iPhone apps. This means that advertisers will need to serve ads via Apple’s own iAds system. 

That is likely to be a pain for advertisers. A new system to design ad formats for; new media and ad serving processes to understand; and perhaps worst of all the danger of yet another stream of data which doesn’t use quite the same assumptions and measurement methods as other data streams.

Not ideal!

And yet does it all really matter? To many Apple is synonymous with mobile apps. But the truth is subtly different. There are other mobile platforms out there. And they are already delivering substantial numbers of apps to mobile users.

After all, while i-phones may have 25% of the Smartphone market, they don’t have 75% of it!

So if other platforms are more flexible than Apple then they have an opportunity to outflank them and attract publishers and advertisers frustrated by the restrictions imposed by Apple. And that could well lead to a mobile content market that is larger and more competitive than it would be if a single retailer has a quasi monopoly. And that would be to everyone’s benefits. Even Apple’s.

Protecting freedom of speech in the UK

Simon Singh recently won his libel battle with the BCA. It was an important victory for freedom of speeech but there is still much to do to protect freedom of speech in the UK.

To explain what it is all about, and why it is important, I am reproducing the content of an email he sent me.

If you care about freedom, please sign his petition!

Simon’s email follows:

BCA v Singh
April Fool’s Day 2010 was a day to remember. The Court of Appeal gave a ruling in my libel case with the British Chiropractic Association. The ruling strongly backs my arguments and puts me in a much stronger position when my trial eventually takes place. At last, after two years of defending my article and my right to free speech, I seem to have the upper hand and can breathe a small sigh of relief.

Moreover, the judges made it clear that they did not want to see scientists and science journalists being hauled through the High Court. In particular, they endorsed the view that a so-called comment defence should be adequate for scientific and other articles on matters of public interest. As well as the legal technicalities, the three wise, charming and handsome judges quoted Milton on the persecution of Galileo and directed that the High Court should not become an “Orwellian Ministry of Truth”.

Libel Reform Campaign
This is a small step forward for libel reform, but there is still a huge battle to be fought over the issues of costs, libel tourism, public interest defence, balancing the burden of proof, restricting the ability of powerful corporations to bully individuals (e.g., bloggers, journalists, scientists) and so on.

The General Election was called yesterday and the manifestos will be published in the next week, so we need one last push to persuade the major parties to commit to libel reform. Although we have already achieved a huge amount (from editorials in all last week’s broadsheets to the Commons Select Committee recommending libel reform), we must keep up the pressure!

Both the Labour and Conservative parties have made encouraging sounds about libel reform, but now is the time for them to make commitments in their manifestos.

What you can do today to pressure politicians
I have spent over a million minutes and £100,000 defending my article and my right to free speech, so I am asking you to spend just one minute and no money at all persuading others to sign the petition for libel reform at

The last time I made this request, we doubled the number of signatories from 17,000 to 35,000. Can we now double the number from almost 50,000 to 100,000?!

You could ask parents, siblings, colleagues or friends to sign up. You could email everyone in your address book. You could blog about it, mention it to your Facebook friends and Twitter about it. In fact, I have pasted some possible tweets at the end of this email – it would be great if you could twitter one, some or all of them.

You could forward all or part of this email to people or just steer them to Or you could persuade people that English libel law needs radical reform by using some of the reasons listed at the end of this email.

Remember, we welcome signatories from around the world because English libel law has a damaging impact globally.

Please, please, please apply maximum pressure to the politicians by encouraging as many new signatories as possible. Please do not take my victory last week as a sign that the battle is over. My case is still ongoing and the campaign for libel reform is only just starting.

Thanks for all your support – it has been incredibly important for the campaign and a real morale booster personally over the last two years.

Simon Singh

Ps. Please spread the word by sending out one, some or all of the following tweets

Pls RT English libel law silences debate, says UN Human Rights Committee. Sign up at & back #libelreform
Pls RT English libel costs 140x more than Europe. We can’t afford to defend our words. Sign up at & back #libelreform

Pls RT Two ongoing libel cases involving health. The law should not crush scientific debate. Sign up at & back #libelreform

Pls RT London is notorious for attracting libel tourists who come to UK to silence critics. Sign up at & back #libelreform

PPs. Reasons why we need radical libel reform:

(a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee.

(b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to discuss matters of genuine public interest (including public health!).

(c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (Again, it is exactly because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome signatories to the petition from around the world.)

(d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically runs to over £1 million.

(e) Two separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and Peter Wilmshurst, and we are both raising concerns about medical treatments. We face losing £1 million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar concerns when our libel laws are so brutal and expensive? Our libel laws mean that serious health matters are not necessarily reported, which means that the public is put at risk.

PPPs. I know that I will leave people out of this list, but I owe a huge thanks to:

The 10,000 people who joined the Facebook group “For Simon Singh and Free Speech – Against the BCA Libel Claim”, particularly those who joined when the rest of the world ignored the issue of libel.

The 300 people who packed Penderel’s Oak in May 2009 and who helped launch the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science campaign, particularly the speakers: Nick Cohen, Dave Gorman, Evan Harris MP, Professor Brian Cox, Chris French, Tracey Brown (Sense About Science), Robert Dougans (Bryan Cave) and David Allen Green.

The 20,000 people who then joined the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science campaign.

Jack of Kent and every other blogger who ranted and raved about libel reform when the mainstream media was turning a blind eye.

Everyone in the mainstream media who is now covering the various libel cases and the issue of libel reform.

Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN, who formed the Coalition for Libel Reform. And thanks to everyone who has contributed pro bono to the campaign in terms of design, technical support, chivvying support for the EDM and more.

The 46,000 people (i.e. you) who have signed the petition for libel reform, particularly those who have cajoled others to sign up at

All the big names who have spoken out in favour of libel reform, from Professor Richard Dawkins to Derren Brown, from the Astronomer Royal to the Poet Laureate, from the Amazing Randi to Ricky Gervais. Particular thanks go to Dara O Briain, Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin and Robin Ince, who have gone out of their way to step up to the plate when the campaign has needed them. Immense thanks also to the 100+ big names who were the first to sign the petition to keep libel out of science and highlighted the need for libel reform.

Everyone who has emailed and twittered and told me in person that I am not going crazy, and who reassured me that I am doing the right thing by defending my article.

Thanks to Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, for promising to put libel reform in his manifesto. And thanks in advance to Jack Straw (Justice Secretary) and Dominic Grieve (Shadow Justice Secretary), because I know that the Labour and Conservative parties are going to commit to libel law reform. I cannot believe that they will allow more scientists, serious journalists, bloggers, biographers, human rights activists and others to go through the same hell that I have had to endure for last two years.