Saturday, July 19, 2008

On Digital: Getting Stuck on Stickiness

I came across the following article on The Standard that referenced a Neilsen report on time spent on various websites.

What sites are the "stickiest" at holding users' attention?
A website's "stickiness" is a measure of how much time each user spends on it. The latest Nielsen Online data logs the average Google user as spending 1 hour and 50 minutes on Google sites. Microsoft sites come in at 2 hours and 12 minutes. Yahoo, with its very broad selection of topics -- and perennial favorite Yahoo! Games -- holds users for more than 3 hours.

But what category of website holds users' attention for much, much longer? In one case, more than 10.5 hours per user per month -- on average?

Online poker! Although their unique audience is significantly smaller than the big boys,, FullTiltPoker and PartyPoker all average more than 4.5 hours of play per user per month -- with logging an astounding 10 hours and 37 minutes.

This is a chart from that report from Click Z: Top U.S. Parent Companies and Stickiest Brands on the Web, June 2008

Problems of "context" have always bothered me when it comes to the consumer research done in the area of online behavior.

In general, I've never been convinced that "time spent" is a valuable goal or metric, for a brand and believe this to be particularly irrelevant when it comes to interactive, digital experiences. Is the length of time that someone spends engaged with a brand as important as the depth of engagement or the power of the brand experience?

Without a context for behavior and insight into mindset, "time spent" is meaningless, or worse a dangerous, misinforming stat. Take any task-based or problem solving activity online (bill pay, finding the best mortgage rate, getting a restaurant's address, finding fresh sources of your favorite niche porn... whatever) and you are more likely to have a measurement of ineffectiveness if you're tracking time spend. For many sites that exist, finding engaging ways to pass time simply isn't the point, getting things done is.

It often seems to me that the big reason many types of stats are reported is that they just hapen to be the things that can be reported. It's easy to track visits, hits, time spent, keyword searches and mentions so companies do. They gather these data points, make reports and sell them despite the fact that without context and insight into user process is extremely limited in its value. These kinds of reports are golden calves made of play-doh, reassuring toys that can be reshaped to fit any misguided belief.

Successful completion of task, effectiveness and satisfaction are incredibly difficult things to measure. If you've ever been involved in hard-core usability studies for a task-based interactive experience, you know what I'm taking about. Gathering this type of information about a single web experience, gleaning insight for that data and feeding it back into the design process is painstaking and expensive. That's why it doesn't get done as often as it should. Making generalizations that are broadly applicable across the digital channel is a joke.

Designing for human behaviors that interact with technology is far more complex than the passive absorption of read-only media. There are several tricks and frameworks I use to model consumer behavior and mindset.

This is one for thinking about browsing behaviors that I still refer to constantly.

1. Prequalified Browsers
Knows what they want and that the site they are at has it.

2. Surgical Browsers
Knows what they want but are not sure if the site they are at has it.

3. Functional Browsers
Have a need but are unsure what will fulfil their need or solve their problem

4. Recreational Browsers
Looking for new ideas, information gathering or just engaging content that interests them.

As technology enables interactions to be more like conversations and as the behviors and task it enables become increasing complex and narrowly focused the need to get as close as possible to the target audience is crucial. There are a few ways for people (or agencies) doing digital and mobile work to do this.

1. You have to live it like your target does (or hire people that do)

2. You need to understand behavior and mindset. In one of his books, David Ogilvy talks about going to filling stations and speaking with consumers to understand their perspective. Take that approach and multiply it by how complex today's technology is, how splintered demographics are and how difficult targeting is given channels numbers and complexities. This should give you a sense of how deeply you need to be willing to dive.

3. Here's the Holy Grail on social media but you might not want to drink from it. Social media is about communities of people. If you want to "get it" or work within it you MUST be a part of these kinds of communities. It's that simple and difficult a the same time. Knuckle up and get ready for the time investment.

Real stickiness is about impact, memorability, and repeatability. I just finished reading Made to Stick.

One of my big takeaways after reading this book, a reminder really, was that beyond all the challenges complicating the media industries, the black magic of technology and the mind-clouding, 3-ring binders of research it all still boils down to people, human connection and storytelling.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Nicely written. If you want to know why MS has so much "stickiness" try using their website. Does stickiness count when it means you're stuck and can't find what you need?

Community has always been the basis of the internet, it's only marketeers that are just figuring that out. Communities of scientists, students, then everyone else. People looking for information about whatever ails or thrills them, and other people with the same experiences. Internet, Bitnet, bulletin boards, chat rooms, online dating services, porn, or shopping. It's not about the companies and never has been.