Customer engagement (CE) is the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.

Customer engagement has been discussed widely online; hundreds of pages have been written, published, read and commented upon. Numerous high-profile conferences, seminars and roundtables have either had CE as a primary theme or included papers on the topic.

Customer engagement marketing places conversions into a longer term, more strategic context and is premised on the understanding that a simple focus on maximizing conversions can, in some circumstances, decrease the likelihood of repeat conversions (Customer engagement interview with Richard Sedley). CE aims at long-term engagement, encouraging customer loyalty and advocacy through word-of-mouth.

Online customer engagement is qualitatively different from offline engagement as the nature of the customer’s interactions with a brand, company and other customers differ on the internet. Discussion forums or blogs, for example, are spaces where people can communicate and socialize in ways that cannot be replicated by any offline interactive medium. Customer Engagement marketing efforts that aim to create, stimulate or influence customer behavior differ from the offline, one-way, marketing communications that marketers are familiar with. Although customer advocacy, for example, has always been a goal for marketers, the rise of online user generated content can take advocacy to another level.

The concept and practice of online customer engagement enables organizations to respond to the fundamental changes in customer behavior that the internet has brought about, as well as to the increasing ineffectiveness of the traditional ‘interrupt and repeat’, broadcast model of advertising. Due to the fragmentation and specialization of media and audiences, as well as the proliferation of community- and user generated content, businesses are increasingly losing the power to dictate the communications agenda. Simultaneously, lower switching costs, the geographical widening of the market and the vast choice of content, services and products available online have weakened customer loyalty. Enhancing customers’ firm- and market- related expertise has been shown to engage customers, strengthen their loyalty, and emotionally tie them more closely to a firm.
So today, leveraging customer contributions is an important source of competitive advantage – whether through advertising, user generated product reviews, customer service FAQs, forums where consumers can socialize with one another or contribute to product development.

Amazon recently re-branded into ‘serving the world’s largest engaged online community’, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has created a ‘Blueprint for Consumer-Centric Holistic Measurement’ and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), have put together the ‘Engagement Steering Committee’ to work on the customer engagement metric. Nielsen Media Research, IAG Research and Simmons Research are also all in the process of developing a CE definition and metric.

Online customer engagement refers to:

A social phenomenon enabled by the wide adoption of the internet in the late 1990s and taking off with the technical developments in connection speed (broadband) in the decade that followed. Online CE is qualitatively different from the engagement of consumers offline.
The behaviour of customers that engage in online communities revolving, directly or indirectly, around product categories (cycling, sailing) and other consumption topics. It details the process that leads to a customer’s positive engagement with the company or offering, as well as the behaviours associated with different degrees of customer engagement.

Marketing practices that aim to create, stimulate or influence CE beh