What Is Engagement And How Do We Measure It?
What Is Engagement And How Do We Measure It?
by

One of the most powerful business objectives social media can deliver is consumer engagement. At least that’s what all the social media advocates tell you, right. But what exactly is “engagement,” how do you measure it and why is it all of a sudden the holy grail of marketing?

Frankly, engagement is just a bullshit term made up to apply to making people do something in the online (or offline) space. Sixty years ago engaging a customer meant you said, “Hi. Wanna buy some stuff?” They said, “Sure, whatya got?” Then they bought something.

Successful engagement.

group hug
Image by massdistraction via Flickr

But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century. We invented specialized professions based around skill sets that most people didn’t want to spend time figuring out. Namely public relations. You could throw today’s umbrella term of “marketing,” customer service and now social media on the list, too. Sans the Internet, all of these “soft” marketing disciplines fell under “sales” in 1950.

Now, the people in charge of these specialties are smart. They had to find ways to justify their existence. So they invented measures and indicators of how successful they were being relating to the public and such. As a result, we have several generations of decision-makers who think things like “impressions” “advertising equivalency” “mind share” and now “engagement” are important indicators of … wait for it … how much stuff you’ll sell.

It’s always about the bottom line to the people who sign the checks.

(I know, I sound like I’m ridiculing PR for throwing out BS to justify its existence. I’m really not. Or at least, as a PR guy by trade, I’m not going to say that I believe the measures do not have merit. They do, but largely only to us. The CEOs have PR because they don’t know who will deal with those annoying journalists if they cut the department. That and PR folks are good at spinning … even many CEOs think impressions are meaningful.)

But … digressing a bit … engagement is being sold left and right as the benefit-du-jour of the social media set. As we saw last week, Business.com’s Social Media Best Practices report on question and answer forums reported that 57 percent of companies involved with social media judge success of their programs based on, “Engagement with prospects.” Another 50 percent determine success based on, “Engagement with customers.”

Amber Naslund, a friend and Radian6‘s defacto engagement director in her role of Director of Community, tossed this in the comments over the weekend:

“It’s one thing to talk about social media driving engagement with prospects. Or to say that it has a positive impact on lead quality. We can probably have a good discussion about how and why these things are true, theoretically.

“The tactical trouble I see is that companies don’t know how to measure engagement with prospects. In other words, what are the indicators that you can tangibly, regularly track that point to increased or decreased engagement? How do you establish criteria for a “quality lead”, baseline that, and continue measuring it moving forward?

“It’s a discussion that’s going to keep coming up, I think, because companies aren’t operationally equipped to do the actual measurement required to show movement and performance, one way or the other, toward these metrics. Time to start diving into the details?”

Why yes … yes it is. Thanks for the thought-starter, Amber.

So, what, pray tell, is engagement?

Avinash Kaushik, Google’s analytics evangelist, has a rather mathematical view of the world and websites. He (nicely) stuck it do the PR folks way back in October of 2007 saying:

Engagement is not a metric that anyone understands and even when used it rarely drives the action / improvement on the website.

Why?

Because it is not really a metric, it is an excuse.

That’s a hard metric advocate’s view of engagement.

Lee Odden, CEO of Top Rank Online Marketing and perhaps the finest SEO-centric public relations professional on the planet had this to say:

“Linking, bookmarking, blogging, referring, clicking, friending, connecting, subscribing, submitting inquiry forms and buying are all engagement measures at various points in the customer relationship.”

Mark Story, digital media guru for the Securities and Exchange Commission and veteran public relations and social media pro offered that engagement depends on your target audience and can equate to time spent on site (for website engagement), active conversations in comments sections (for blog engagement), successful point-of-view covered in the media or on a blog (for PR outreach engagement) and more.

Katie Paine, perhaps the authority on social media and public relations measurement, responded with this pithy tome:

As always it depends on the audience and the goals. If the audience is employees and you want employees to be engaged — we measure it by the percentage of employees that contribute to Yammer, the degree to which people read and comment on our internal blog, the increase in internal referrals, reduced turnover rate, etc.

If you are Georgia Pacific and you want people to be engaged in the Quilted Nortern brand, its both the percentage of items/tweets etc., that recommend the brand — as in “wiping your butt with Quilted Northern is like wiping your butt with a cloud”– and the number of times consumers defend it — as in “I don’t care if its made out of the foreskin of an endangered species, I want the best for my baby.”

The common thread in the responses from those and others I asked was that engagement depends. Whether or not an audience is engaged depends on who they are, who you are in relation to them, what medium or tool the communication is occurring in or on and a whole bunch of other factors that would make this post infinitely more lengthy than it already is.

What successful engagement means to me is this:

Did you get something from your audience that can make your business better?

That can mean profits. You sold stuff = Successful engagement.

That can mean ideas. You got feedback on your product or service you can use = Successful engagement.

That can mean referrals and recommendations. You got customers to tell other people you’re cool = Successful engagement.

That can mean digital merit badges. You got people to link to you, follow you, Re-Tweet you = Successful engagement.

How do you define and measure engagement for your brand? Prescribe that definition in your goals and objectives when planning what you want to achieve with your social media programs. If you don’t do it there, you’ll be spitting and shitting all the same drivel the echo chamber does … “we have 10,000 Facebook Fans … we had 120 comments on the last blog post …”

Good for you. But do those 10,000 Facebook fans do anything or seldom even look at your brand page like most “fans?” Do the 120 comments give you valuable insights on a potential new product feature or did four people get caught up in a flame war over who has the best collection of your refrigerator magnets? That’s what matters.

Do you need to keep stats like a coach’s kid on all that other stuff? Sure. Someone will ask at some point. But the stat sheet only gives you a glimpse of the team. The fans see the all-star point guard scores 25 points per game. The coach sees he favors his right side and is confused by the match-up zone.

Are you looking at the game or the stat sheet?

With that in mind, how do you define engagement? Is there more merit to the specifics than I portray? The comments, as always, are yours.

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
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  • Engagement is important to gain customers for a business or another great online marketing strategy to gather more people. I can produce great online PR for a certain site.

    I’ve go over the article, I can see it great and very informative.

  • Structured

    To take full advantage of the capabilities of social media, marketers must measure not just mass numbers of customers and frequency of mentions online, but the quality of conversations with and among customers

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  • Google just added Social Engagement Tracking to Analytics. And there’s also a nice (+1) addition to GWT: http://www.marketingsutra.com/blog/google-social-analytics/

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  • enlightening.
    When it comes to social media, how do I even begin to understand the interaction process then measurement, you summarized and drill it to what's really important – sales.
    Yes, it's all at the end of the day is still sales ( though it's like going back to the 50s)

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  • I loved Katie's comment. She is a joy and a delight. (I must be engaged with Katie! :) )

    Sally Falkow
    PRESSfeed: the social media newsroom

  • I loved Katie's comment. She is a joy and a delight. (I must be engaged with Katie! :) )

    Sally Falkow
    PRESSfeed: the social media newsroom

  • Engagements = relationships. That is, for me. In the online world, people compete and regardless of that mere fact, engagements are built. It's a persons personal choice whether or not to give importance or ignore the engagements. All I can say is that we should value engagements so others will value it as well and everyone will have a friendly, helpful and productive online profit earning. Thanks for the great post!

  • VSOliveira

    The discussion about “engagement” nowadays is a repetition for the one recent past, related to the ether “CRM”. As valued to CRM and now “engagement”, any business needs translate the concept for your strategy and positioning, evaluating if it apply and contribute to your objective and, based on that, build its own metrics. To complete the picture, there are millions of “specialists” that loves sell stuff that no one knows exactly what it means but, since the business pressure are huge, Marketing people needs embark on the waves, to appear updated with the trends. In fact no one on the today discussion about Social Media comments about Cluetrain, which on 1999 described exactly what’s happen today. If we return to Cluetrain, this discussion about “engagement” will become more interesting….

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  • jj27

    Lee Odden was right on the money. In general, I think businesses discount the intangibles such as engagement because it's hard to measure. Let's get back to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs – successful business is not rocket science.

    • Thanks for the input JJ! Appreciate the comment.

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  • rajatrocks

    Great post Jason. My company Bunchball is all about online engagement so I've been thinking about this for a bit.

    First – here's a recent white paper on Measuring Engagement from the good folks at Maritz: http://www.maritz.com/White-Papers/Loyalty/Meas

    And second, here's a poem I wrote on the topic :) Would love to hear everyone's thoughts on the concepts. Not so much the poetry…

    Engagement is the buzzword.
    It means nothing because it means everything.
    But lets try to define it: <your definition here>
    As you can see, it's abstract.
    So there's no way to agree on its value, or how to measure it.
    So why do people even want to measure engagement?
    Because they think it tells them how valuable their customers are.
    Because while their revenue numbers tell them about the health of their business today.
    The value of their customers tells them about the health of their business tomorrow.
    It tells them about their future.
    And it tells them which of their customers are more valuable than others.
    And which customers are growing in value, and which are declining.
    All of which are ACTIONABLE.
    So what they really want to measure is Customer Value.
    Engagement = Customer Value.
    But they don't know that.
    And they don't know how to measure it.
    So they take the metrics that they already have, and try to make them work.
    Like clicks
    And time on site
    And page depth
    And 7 variable differential equations
    All of which are shoving square pegs in round holes
    All of which are bad proxies for Customer Value.
    All of which are bad proxies for Engagement.
    Do you see the problem?

    So let's start at the beginning.
    You want to measure Customer Value.
    So what do your customers do that bring you value?
    They view ads, buy things, subscribe to your content, etc.
    These things generate you direct $
    So they're clearly valuable.
    They also do things like inviting their friends, sharing content, writing reviews, etc.
    These things don't generate $ directly
    But they attract more users and lead to more of the activities that do generate $
    So they're also valuable
    These are the things that you should be tracking.
    Not clicks
    Or time on site
    Or page depth
    Or 7 variable differential equations.
    ACTIONS
    The things that your customers are doing on your site that bring you value
    And corresponding to every action, you should have a SCORE
    And that score should be a measure of how valuable that action is to you
    Actions that generate you direct $ should have high scores
    Actions that provide indirect value should have lower scores
    Actions that cost you $, like customer service requests, should have negative scores
    And any time one of your customers does an action on your site
    You add the score for that action to their customer score
    And at the end of the day, every single one of your customers has a score
    That tells you how valuable they are to you.
    And you can measure the overall value of your customer base
    And the future health of your business.
    You can tell who your high value customers are, and who your low value customers are
    So you can spend your marketing dollars appropriately
    You can see customers who are about to defect
    And try to retain them
    You can see what Actions on your site generate the most customer value
    And focus your development efforts there.
    And you can do all this because you've eliminated all the bad proxies
    And you're measuring the things that matter
    And because now you have ACTIONABLE data.

    Next time: Now that I know my Customer Value, how do I increase it? (aka Measure <> Motivate)

    • Wow! That is definitely the first time I've ever gotten a poem in
      response to a post. Outstanding!

  • I've started to think we can use the same community management techniques for open communications (Chuck Tanowitz) blogs, twitter etc. that we use for closed communities you might find in a forum. There is a framework for engagement, though the term is community management within web 1.0 communities. It is just that while it is easy to understand that supporting a community in a closed forum will help lower costs, create ideas, and support your advocates, we don't always think of managing a community in the same way in open communications. (Even here I hesitate to say manage the community, rather we should say manage your own company's interactions with the community.)

    Chat to Scott Wilder at Intuit or Amy Jo Kim (author of building community on the web 2000) I think they and the private or closed community leaders have a good handle on what it takes to build a successful community, the efforts needed, and possible ROI. By the way I've seen many people state you need 40 or 42! people who are really active on a community before its self sustaining. And I've discovered that rough rule of thumb for communities like the Get Connected community for Boston American Marketing Association Ning site.

    I also go back to my early research in '04 and '05 for the corporate blogging surveys of those years. In chatting with product managers and bloggers at Macromedia and Microsoft, especially Macromedia product managers, I discovered conversation about ideas, news, and customer service, helped generate links, which in turn boosted search rankings and produced more direct sales leads. I believe it is possible to benchmark the progress of search results, sales results from calls to action, or use a social CRM tool to track the influence of engagement and resulting sales.

    Here's a link to a number of interviews and case studies from those surveys.
    http://pr.typepad.com/pr_communications/2005/06

    The Macromedia case studies were always the most interesting to me, and helped to convince me in '04 and '05 that blogging was worth the effort to business for revenue.

    • Interesting ideas, John. Thanks for sharing. Off to read up!

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  • I totally enjoyed this post and I've enjoyed reading the comments just as much. I shared it with my marketing director, too. And I included it on our Week In Review post: http://blog.upspringbaby.com/2010/01/08/week-in

  • Karimacatherine

    Really liked your point and your references. it all comes down to knowing your target and tying success metrics to the brand's objectives. this provided, the brand has clear objectives.

    • Thanks Karima. Appreciate the comment.

  • Good post! I have written along these lines some weeks ago: Engagement – Buzzword 2.0? (Sorry in German only…) And, I came along this thought when I held a panel on social media ROI. One panelist managed to get 25.000 followers (Bacardi, Razz campaign) and I wondered what they were doing with it when you look at the communication which is (not) taking place. Still waiting for an answer. One reason why I wrote my post: The Evolution of the Engagement Economy… http://www.thestrategyweb.com/the-evolution-of-

    • Thanks Martin,

      Will check out the post ASAP.

  • Great post Jason! We're thinking a lot about this question in the association/nonprofit space and here's what I thought could be a good framework a couple of months ago – the 5 C's of Engagement (based on Postrank's framework for blog metrics) – http://www.socialfish.org/2009/10/the-5-cs-of-e…. I think keeping it simple and actionable is pretty important; part of the problem wit measuring anything to do with social media is that there's so many bullshit metrics out there which don't actually mean anything. Finding a simple framework to measure engagement so you can translate that to actionable business insight is the key, IMHO.

    • Can't argue with that thinking, Maddie. Thanks for the link to
      SocialFish. I think I saw that, but will review to make sure!

  • Jason,

    A great article! You bring up some great points that cannot be ignored! However, I feel that something that is important about engagement, that has not necessarily been discussed in detail here, is exposure. Exposure is the first overall goal of businesses starting out in social media marketing. Yes, the quality of engagement and the ways it contributes to your business' success is important, but only relevant after your company receives the amount of exposure necessary to merit such engagement!

    Thanks for some thought-provoking points!

    Alyssa Udall (on behalf of Marketecture, Inc) @puzzlepieced

    • Thanks Alyssa. Exposure is only the overall goal if branding and
      awareness is what you're using social media for. While you can
      certainly argue that exposure has to be present for any transaction to
      happen, I think of exposure as a given. If you participate in any way,
      you're exposing your brand/product/company to someone … even if just
      one person. And keep in mind, too, that many companies don't need
      exposure to accomplish social media goals. If you're only real use is
      customer service, the engagement comes when the customer proactively
      reaches you, not after you've announced you're there. Make sense?

  • Jason,

    Marketers have long talked about engagement in many of the terms you've discussed.

    To me engagement in today's world engagement is the process of outreach to your community. Call it blogger relations, social participation, conversation marketing and all the above.

    But really engagement is a process for listening, and conducting outreach to help improve product, price, place and promotion. Rather than the term content marketing, engagement marketing covers all of marketing, and I think takes marketing to its biggest opportunity, learning from your customers to sell more stuff.

    I think many people use engagement to describe how many the customer is engaged with you. But I think of the term more as how much is the company engaged with the customer.

    • Thanks John. Good points, for sure. I just have a hard time coming up
      with a quantitative way to say, “Yes, you're engaged. Here's how much.
      Here's how much more you could be. And here's what it's producing for
      your company in terms of profits, revenues, etc.” I don't know there
      is an answer to all that, but I know that's what CEOs want answered.
      Thoughts?

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  • Great post, Jason. You hit on a good point that we try to get across to our clients–it's the quality not the quantity of your fans/followers… Milly Diaz-tamar.com

    • Thanks Milly. Good that you're telling your clients that.

  • andyvincent

    Just a brief post as I'm a little busy and don't have the time to draft a full response.

    I think this is a great post – engagement is not a thing that can be applied across all campaigns – it is utterly dependent on what you and the company want to achieve from your consumers and in turn what media you are using to reach out to them.

    Obviously the bottom line is that you assist Sales and in turn profitability – without this then all this “engaging” that you're doing is utterly pointless and just an endeavour in conversation.

    I think one of the key methods of measurement is in proving that engagement has been successful is setting pre-designated factors of success – whether that be through a voucher or through a special discount code or perhaps a number of downloads – a tangible success rate is always useful not only as a PRs justification for existence but for a company to show internally what their project has done for the company.

    A huge amount of emphasis is put on brand evangelists – and the base awareness of a brand is obviously still just as important. Engagement will always be a difficult nut to crack as with all things conversation based, you never know what's going in and staying there (and genuinely affecting someones purchasing habits) and what is going in one side and out the other.

    I think one key factor which distances social media from sales is the fact that (as has been said below) it gives the consumer the opportunity to talk back to companies and brands – giving them up to the minute feed back on their products and services – an invaluable service not only for customer retention but (here's the link) promoting future sales.

    There is one key point though, the traditional model for AVE/ROI/General comparison to advertising is in many ways invalid in terms of evaluation.

    Andy

    (I will endeavour to write a real response later and give some further thoughts as opposed to a series of reiterations)

    • Excellent thoughts, all, Andy. Much appreciated. I certainly agree
      that evaluating under advertising terms is not responsible. It's
      obvious that we have a lot more to discuss and dissect in this
      conversation, but I'm glad you've joined in. Thanks for stopping by.

  • brentongieser

    Incredible post Jason..

    I deal with brand everyday looking to carve out their very own definition of ROI. The problem is many of them feel like their should be one specific benchmark for social media marketing as if the social media channel is a campaign itself. I typically say it depends of the goal of the campaign.

    As you alluded to…the goal of your campaign may be to build up a email database, get feedback on a product, sell movie tickets…whatever…each goal will be met by a unique form of engagement meaning you need to measure each social media campaign results differently.

    I hope to hear more from you and your community on this topic soon!

    • Appreciate the comments Brent. I have a feeling we're going to keep
      talking about this for a while.

  • Jason

    I agree with you on your assessment of engagement. Did you gain something to make your business better. I think it is impossible to do everything right for every customer or prospect. This does not mean that they will not buy from you, they still do, but what are they telling you on how to improve their experience. Another factor that I consider when measuring or thinking engagement is where are they in their acceptance of you in social media. Have they never been exposed to you, have they been but have not bought yet or are they repeat offenders/loyalists.

    The post itself is fabulous but the dialogue between you and Amber is incredible. Anyone new to social media needs to take a look at this post and the comments. The thinking with many companies is the traditional advertising model where everything is measurable and if it is not working (ie generating the numbers expected) it is pulled. Social media employs a different model of measurement and is not as black and white. As you and Amber point out, nothing is perfect and as we all try and wrap our arms around the social media measurement and engagement and how it can be summed up for clients in a manner that they can understand, they need to understand that nothing is perfect.

    Thanks so much for always answering your comments and the info contained in the comments is excellent.

    • Thanks, Suzanne. I like your thought of knowing where the customers
      are in acceptance of you in social media but think that's probably a
      secondary or even tertiary measure. It gets more positive with time
      and proof that you're not just in it for a campaign, then gone. But
      it's still important to know since you're ultimately trying to prove
      to the powers that be that spending on social media is worthwhile. If
      you've built a credibility and reputation out there, that means
      something and would be detrimental to your company if you suddenly
      pulled out.

      And I appreciate the comments on my conversation with Amber. She and I
      have been known to peel the paint off the walls debating and
      discussing parts of the social world when we're together. I'm just
      flattered she took some extra time to come hang out with us here.
      Appreciate you noticing.

  • Jason,

    Excellent post, and quite the 'engaging' discussion as well. Coming from the CRM side of the house, I have a different take on the conversation. More on that in a moment – back to my tongue and cheek first few words – This is engagement – taking the time to talk to people through this blog, even if it is just to say 'thanks for stopping by'. Your responses, dialog with Amber and others add to your ability to express emotion – at least from my perspective.

    It is engaging because the people on both sides of the conversation find value in the exchange. I am willing to come back to your blog, a-because you have good insights, b-because it is likely that you will at least respond to my comments. Engaging is different according to channel – face-to-face it is active listening, body language, tone, eye contact – all things that just do not make it to the online world, at least not easily. All we can do is to attempt to mimic real world with the online version.

    Coming from the CRM side of the house, there is another whole set of 'issues' – Engage may simply mean 'I have your attention' – measurement is looked at differently as well (there is a lot there to figure out). My challenge for 2010 is to figure out how to make true engagement scale.

    Cheers – Mitch

    • Thanks Mitch. I appreciate the recognition of the engagement here at
      SME. But let's push the discussion a bit. How does this engagement
      lead to business for me? Frankly, other than adding to some notion
      that I'm a knowledgeable person in the social media world it may not
      be easy to draw that line. Now, if I wanted to be a metric geek for a
      moment, I could say that the engagement (number and depth of comments)
      contributes to my Postrank scores which contribute to the AdAge Power
      150 ranking and, when you're on top of that particular list you get a
      fair amount of attention and credibility which leads to some inbound
      marketing payoffs. But that's an awful lot of leaps to jump to get to
      a lead. However, I do know that I've received inbound marketing leads
      from people who say, “I saw you were ranked highly on the AdAge list,”
      or “I saw a quote from you in X publication,” which resulted directly
      from that reporter calling me based on a ranking on the AdAge list. So
      I can say that an engaging blog has an effect, but how solid can I
      draw that line?

      Somewhat rhetorical question, of course.

      I do love your challenge to yourself of making engagement scale. From
      a CRM standpoint, I'm sure that' a huge challenge. Please do let me
      know if we can enlighten others based on what you explore and find!

      Thanks for the comment.

      • What an engaging post, Jason! This is doing wonders for your PostRank Engagement (http://bit.ly/7fqDGf) :) The value you should or shouldn't ascribe to that seems to be the crux of the issue.

        It seems to me that trying to fit an outbound marketing model to an inbound marketing world might be part of the problem? To me engagement is the best indicator we have to measure the arrows pointing in your direction online. The more of those you have the more you will be found and being found is how we fill funnels today.

        Maybe trying to parameterize our direct marketing/performance mentality with inbound marketing measures isn't the point?

  • Great conversation, and I will read it thoroughly and carefully later today when I stop tweeting and skim reading :)

    A few quick thoughts though from stuff I see all the time.. and on a very simple level :
    – Clients continually want to see direct ROI from every new initiative and dollar spent.
    – The same people at the same time want to see you help them with getting more and more into Social Media.. because they have to.
    – Contradictory, huh ?

    Put simply, not everyone who makes the decisions to spend money on this stuff live and breathe it like yourself (Jason) or those of us commenting on it.

    How do I then try to deal with this with clients ? Just as I sometimes have to remind people in Caribbean tourism that “it's the beach, stoopid!” when they get too deep into analysis paralyis of their marketing initiatives… when it comes to online marketing.. and in particular social media… “it's all marketing, stoopid!”.. not that I'd say that in quite such a way !

    I do agree with the comment that if you are not driving business, you just have a hobby… but also agree with the comments noting that there are many ways to measure success in engagement.

    My own preferred way to work with clients on “online engagement” goes something like this :
    – First, ask them about their business, listen to them, then ask them more question, then listen some more. Note I say their business.. not how they market it.
    – Once you understand their underlying business, then ask them what they wish to achieve from their marketing. Note, not their online marketing or even just social media, but their overall marketing plan.
    – Only once you reach that point can you truly effectively advise them on areas as specific as online engagement, as you need to know what they are trying to achieve on an overall level, and BEFORE you start looking at metrics.
    – Having established that background, then you can look at how they will measure success, including some pretty specific data and stats, but as has already been commented, if you know what your goals are, there are likely some very different ways to measure success (the marketing funnel is more like some crazy water park maze these days!).

    Now, I don't always get the opportunity to go through each of these steps from start to finish with each new client, but when I do that is where things tend to work best. All too often in the realm of the marketing professional, we are dealing with other marketers within the client organisation, other agencies etc… and we fire away at specific project targets without that overall view as to what success will mean.

    Marketing remains as much art as science (speaking as a Chartered Accountant / Economist turned Marketer!).. end of ramble !

    • Great thoughts, Tom. I not only love your methodology on working with
      clients, I follow a similar path myself. Now if it weren't for the
      fact that sometimes the clients want to move faster than allows you to
      investigate more, etc., we'd all be more successful, right? Thank you
      for your ramble. I look forward to more thoughts should you have them.

  • Thanks for this great post Jason. I think we marketers spend far too much time working toward the “soft ROI” that we don't recognize the opportunity cost of not focusing on the hard ROI metrics (leads, sales). If you have a 10 people out there who think you're “cool” is that worth as much as 1 person who thinks you're worthy of his/her business?

    • Great way to put it Brandon. Thanks for that illustration! Kudos.

  • gcjmarkets

    Thanks Jason. This post came at an excellent time because my Mother(Boss) asked me a question last night about how her facebook profile is going to increase business at the firm? My response was “At this point we are not sure that it will because we have not yet set up any way to measure the amount of new clients we get through Facebook, but just having a Facebook profile is not enough you have to “engage” and converse with your friends”. Her question got me thinking about the difficulties in measuring our businesses ROI from Social Media Activities because as you know (Since you are our “Defcato”:) ) Social Media Consultant there are strict rules concerning how we engage clients.

    So in our situation The Social Media Marketing we do today could result in a new client in a year or two from now and one really big client resulting from Social Media efforts could potentially be worth millions of dollars to our business.

    • Thanks, Gary. I think there is truth to Chris Heuer's notion that
      participation is marketing but your mother/boss (and my client in case
      the crowd here didn't get that in your response) is right to ask that
      question. I would argue that her participation in Facebook and
      engaging with people there, formally and informally, can and probably
      will lead to new business opportunities for the firm. But until we (in
      this case me and you, pal!) can accurately measure what that
      participation means in terms of leads, traffic, etc., we don't have a
      good justification for her.

      That's our challenge ahead. Hopefully, we'll both be successful in
      answering it! Thanks for commenting, too. Nice to have the clients
      chiming in for others to see.

      • gcjmarkets

        I do agree with Chris that participation is marketing, but explaining it to a woman that is excellent at her job, but, and I say this with love “completely ignorant when it comes to technology” is a trying task.

        We definitely have a challenge ahead of us and personally I am looking forward too it. Maybe in answering her question by proving that it works will help her in moving away from the “push marketing” mindset.

        Now I hope you don't get a big head, but as a client of yours I can honestly say that you know what you are talking about and it continues to be an honor to learn from you.

        • Don't worry. I have lots of people ready and willing to deflate any
          ego that might evolve. Heh. See you soon.

  • i still wonder why people (companies) struggle with the ROI question? This is web marketing right? Slightly different channel, but still very easily measures as Jason says. “What do people do?, and does that drive the business forward?”

    There can be a few 'soft' Roi things associate with social media, but primarily it's still demand generation…new people who find you and convert.

    • Thanks, Chris. Can't wait to see the “soft” ROI folks responding to
      all this. Yet another opportunity for them to call me a sell out. Heh.

  • Just realized that I've never really thought about what “engagement” really means. I really your points about engagement making the business better. The end result that is desired is always increased sales, but there are many other intermediate points along the way. Many of these points include customer feedback and referrals.

    I think in many cases using social media and measuring the engagement is most effective for listening purposes. By this I mean getting a lot of feedback about how to improve your product or service and innovate for the next product or service. I think people are too quick to think of engagement as just moving people down the sales pipeline.

    • Thanks, Carl. You're right. Social media facilitates listening much
      better than many other channels, and for some listening is all they'll
      use it for. But for some, they need to find ways (and there are
      plenty) to drive the bottom line. We just need to figure out how for
      each business and how to measure the effectiveness once we start.
      Thanks for the thoughts!

  • Jason,

    First, great post as usual. Second, thank you for adding the link to my post using Zemanta. I actually just posted this on Twitter last night for all bloggers to start looking at Zemanta as a serious add-on to their Blogs to drive links and SEO.

    One word here… CONVERSION. We talk about this, you and I, as well as Charlene Li, Radian6's Craig Comeau, Simon Mainwaring, Candace at Crimoson Hexagon and others (not name dropping, just saying) about what Social really needs to be measured by, what metrics really matter and at the end of the day what it actually means in Revenue and Profits.

    For those who have not yet seen or read Charlene Li's http://engagementdb.com report on the 100 BrandWeek analysis they did, please do. They have a free report for download as well, that really takes a solid look at this.

    All of us need to stay focused on less of the fluff and more of the work to prove out what really matters-Revenue. If we cant move the needle there, Social will become as irrelevant as measuring the effects of TV Campaigns. The work we are doing focuses solely on the measurement of IMPACT, which is a formula of Revenue and Margin increases over a period of time, as it relates to this channel we call Social.

    By measuring, as best we can, these metrics. Fun, no doubt, but at the end of the day a ton of hard work. Engagement is only as good as the Revenue we drive, nothing else. CEO's will become very tired of seeing the reports from us that state “look at us, we had 3,000 conversations” without sharing the traffic drivers we had affected to the website, that resulted in a download of a Lead Magnet (White Paper, etc…) that drove a lead to sales that resulted in pipeline fill and then onto an actual sale.

    Jason, great stuff as usual, keep it coming – we all are learning together and I believe they call that Social right?

    • Thanks Dean. Excellent additions to the conversation. I think Eric
      Brown of Urbane Apartments said it best, (paraphrasing, I'm sure): “If
      you're not driving business with social media then it's just a hobby.”

      Thanks for the conversion and impact ideas here.

  • mdeboard

    In addition, “empowering the consumer” is an ideological thing for us PR people. It has no “measurable ROI” outside the context of what our schema is doing for the business. Consumer empowerment is an approach to engagement, not a measurement of that engagement.

    Jason, I love this article so very much. I appreciate a good, cynical view of our oftentimes too touchy-feely line of work that can easily become this navel-gazing mutual admiration society. PR people more than maybe any other group have to work very hard to keep their eyes on the prize.

  • AmberNaslund

    Hi, sorry I didn't get over here sooner.

    Much, of course, depends on what you want engagement to indicate. If engagement is to indicate awareness (an interaction between you and the customer outside of a transaction), then proper metrics might be things like:
    – number of times your ebook was downloaded, or sent around via something like ShareThis
    – comments on your blog, and the #/% of those that are new vs. repeat visitors and commenters
    – registrations for your online community, or the amount of threads/discussions that person participates in on average
    – Number of referrals or recommendations for your company or product on social networks that reference a piece of content (I consider this different than just saying “you should check them out” because then your social channels are just the mechanism, not the impetus for the recommendation)

    If engagement for you is about driving to sales, then you might look at:
    – Content downloads overlaid with your lead pipeline, and find the overlaps for both lead generation AND conversion
    – Blog commenters that are also customers, and the ratio of their comments to the size and/or frequency of their transactions (i.e. how many comments or content touchpoints does it take to initiate a sale)
    – Twitter followers that click your shortened links or otherwise get to your site, and convert into the prospect pipeline.

    With all of these, you can compare those lead generation mechanisms through socially-classified mechanisms and compare them to your exclusive traditional/direct marketing efforts and compare (understanding that the very existence of the two in tandem may influence each other).

    If engagement success for you is more about encouraging people to use your social customer support channels, then perhaps its:
    – length of issue resolution via social customer support channels as compared to telephone or email support
    – Trends of sentiment/satisfaction scores over time
    – Volume of access to call or web support mechanisms vs. social channels like Twitter, or a help/peer information forum

    Just running these off the top of my head. As Katie points out, you have to first start defining “engagement” for your company in terms of whether it's your customers or prospects you want to engage (or just enthusiasts at large), and articulate what goal or result that engagement is meant to drive toward and draw a LINE from that engagement metric to the desired action. Otherwise, it's just an empty term, and measuring it will do nothing but frustrate you.

    • Well said. Love the examples, too. I would wonder aloud, for the
      crowd, if Radian6 draws definitive lines between the social goings on
      you, Lauren, David and others participate in and sales. Is it we do
      this much and also have that much in sales or are there lines drawn
      and efficiencies optimized. Curious if you could/would share. And
      thanks for kicking off this idea.

      • AmberNaslund

        We do. For example, we're all pretty active on Twitter. We know, exactly, which solid leads come from Twitter, or when they email us because we left a comment on their blog (i.e. someone saying they want a demo, getting it, and whether or not they buy). We also track who finds our blog through Twitter, what content people read and download, and what content of ours is shared on the web (and where). And we're refining that analysis all the time.

        Offline, we know what leads come from our presence at events. We can see if existing leads convert within a certain timeframe of having seen them again at an event. We can track if someone visits our blog, pokes around the content, signs up for a demo, then buys. It's all trackable. We do track it, and it's never perfect. We have long discussions about how to better refine the tracking so that we can get more specific about which actions led to which.

        And yes, we do know that all of this participation also has what I call a gravy factor. Being out there, communicating, talking, being accessible all has an incremental impact on the likelihood of someone reaching out to us first when they need what we sell, or even when they need to tap the knowledge of social media professionals. Being conversational and personable is just good business. But when it comes to measurement, there are plenty of touchpoints on the way that lend themselves to precise, hard-line pathing, and many others that also lend themselves to more correlative measurement (i.e. we created 25% more content and our sales went up by X percent so we can correlate the content at least as a FACTOR in that sales increase, even if it isn't the sole cause).

        • Awesome. Reading your response I was reminded of a college recruiter
          who once told me he could definitively track every prospective
          student, dollars spent recruiting them and the cost per student for
          his department. I called bullshit right away because Morehead State
          University spend zero dollars recruiting me and I went there. I chose
          them as a potential college based on attending a sporting event on
          their campus when I was 10. They had no way of knowing that, don't
          factor in their athletic budget into recruiting costs, etc.

          Why I thought of that was when you wrote, “It's never perfect.” It's
          not. But we can get pretty damn close these days. Here's hoping we
          continue to do so.

          Thanks!

          • AmberNaslund

            See, that's where so many businesses go deadly wrong with measurement. They feel like they have to (and can) track every factor that influences someone's decision. But that's impossible until they start implanting microchips in people's brains.

            I may have clicked your Twitter link and read your blog then bought your stuff. But those things didn't CAUSE my purchase decision. They influenced it. So, too, maybe did a comment a friend made about your stuff. Or an article I read about your company. Or a picture I saw that reminded me I was in need of a whizbang.

            The marketing “funnel” is a gross oversimplification at best. But measurement doesn't have to cover EVERY eventuality. It needs to gather you enough empirical evidence and pathpoints to say with a high degree of likelihood that X activity had a positive impact on Y goal. That's it. It's about probability more than anything, and looking at the ecosystem of different metrics – how marketing and customer service initiatives combine to impact things like sales and customer satisfaction – is where the real goldmine of intelligence is. But it takes work and dedicated effort to do those things consistently, and many companies simply aren't up to making the investment.

          • Perhaps then our problem is that too many C-level folks are
            analytical, right brain folks who think in terms of absolutes? (Not
            really joking on that one, so no “heh.”)

  • Thanks Jason. How about this. Verizon ran an ad aimed at creating attention, brand awareness and revenue (results). Instead their ad created a law suit from AT&T and embarrassment in the marketplace for misleading consumers. Their intent was apparent and the market saw that.

    Sub-way ran an ad whose intent was to simply communicate value. The ad was created by a store manager and originally rejected by the marketing department and agency. The store manager ran it locally and had overwhelming response. Corporate then adopted it and created $3.6 billion is new sales.

    Both ads had an intent (Verizon & Sub-way). Measuring intent is critical to producing results but results don't come without the right intent.

    • I like where you're going with intent, but am having trouble seeing
      the connection to the examples and the intent vs. the results. Intent
      in social media should be genuine and provable because of the brand's
      transparency. We want to engage with consumers to get feedback we'll
      use in product R&D, for example. But you aren't measured on intent.
      You're measured on results. How many new product features did we
      concept and produce as a result of the interactions?

      Stating an intent is fine. Measuring is about results. Make sense?

      • Love this exchange.

        Results come from actions, processes each each has an intent for a result. But measuring the result doesn't tell you which action, process or whether your intent was wrong. At the end of a football game you have the results, game over. The game is executed based on strategy and tactics to out perform the opponent. It is the strategy, the intelligence, the subsequent actions and related intent of the actions aimed at reaching an “score” result WIN.

        Zappo's focused on their intent to provide the best service anywhere. They sold shoes but really they sold service. Customer satisfaction was the #1 measure….subsequently the result came from focusing on the right things. They sold for $1.2 billion to Amazon as “a result” of their strategic intent which they continue to accomplish and measure, satisfaction.

        Measuring on the wrong result doesn't tell you what actions, processes and intents are broken all it tells you is output of what you did in the past. If the concept, intent, of engagement is wrong then the results will not be optimized. Ask not what your audience can do for you rather what can you do for the audience…..serving the audience and fulfing their intent, not yours, is how to create lasting results.

        Make sense?

        • Getting there. I follow you, but would argue that Zappos's focus on
          customer satisfaction was a strategy used to engender more purchase/
          customer loyalty. Thus the measure is/was purchase. Sure, I see where
          you're going. But if the overall intent isn't to sell more stuff, then
          the effort doesn't support the business. Maybe I'm being a bit too
          bottom-line focused in this argument … lots of marketing efforts,
          and even company efforts not spearheaded by marketing, don't seem to
          have the bottom line in mind (charitable involvement, for instance),
          but rest assured if a connection can't be made to purchase, intentions
          of the effort aside, it's not a cause that will last long in most
          businesses. At least in what I've experienced. Thoughts?

          • Your baiting me and I am taking the hook :)

            Results is the “intent” of any business. However the issues that produce the results is more important than measuring the result. Zappo's wanted to sell shoes and the market of “shoe salesmen” was and currently is very crowed. So to produce results better than anyone else what did Zappo's need to focus on? They became the most talked about retailer all be cause service was unconditional, no questions asked, no barriers to have buyers more than satiosfied. Their intent was to become the #1 “engager” based on their intent to provide the best service that customers would talk about (free marketing) and the customer became their marketing arm. The bottomline was more than they expected and the service to the buyer was more than expected. I've talked with Tony and asked “what are the overriding measures you focus on?”. His response, customer satisfaction. I asked what about the results. He said the results come from our service and our willingness to share.

            Now Tony is selling how and why his culture is what drove his results. see BW article http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10

            Thus Zappo's results were focused on the culture to provide the service better than any other shoe retailer and his measures were on customer satisfaction and cultural issues that drove that intent (upstream processes).

            Measuring social media results the wrong way ignores the very issues that produce results. Social media is just another communications channel. “What and how” you and your employees communicate to buyers is what produces results. How would you measure what and how you communicate vs. the results of what and how you communicate?

            Let it rip :)

          • I don't know that results is the intent. By that argument (and maybe
            we're now meddling in semantics) your Verizon example would imply they
            intended to be embarrassed, etc. I don't propose we don't analyze and
            fine tune our intentions, goals, etc., and have the customer in mind
            when producing our efforts for products, marketing, research and the
            like. Rather, I just think the measure of our success must provide
            some indication that we moved the needle for our company's bottom
            line. Did we sell more things? Did we recruit more ambassadors (which
            helps us sell more things)? Did we gain more insight into our product
            development (which makes better products which sells more things)? And
            so on. Our intent, it is my argument, can, on the surface — and
            provable if we are genuine and honest in our approach — be consumer-
            focused. But our results always end up being judged as product or
            company-focused. If they aren't, then we're just making people happy.
            (Which in and of itself does not equal good business. I'll think of a
            good example at some point.)

            Awesome back and forth, though. Lovin' it.

          • More back at yeah :)

            Verizon's intent was to create a marketing message. The message was the wrong message. They didn't intent on creating a problem but because they didn't think they did, side effects of not thinking about the marketing message. We are talking about the same thing from different vantage points.

            Being vs. using social is two different things. Zappos result came from the culture of the organizations being social. Not from using social media. It is much harder to create an organization that is social than it is to use social media. Being social is an organizational intent. Using social media is the intent of marketers. See the difference?

          • Okay, now you're starting to make more sense to me. I'd rephrase your
            “organizational intent” to “organizational culture.” That clears it up
            for me a bit better. Intent, even in a Zappos culture, can still be to
            sell more stuff. Now I see what you're saying more clearly. I would
            only respond now with the fact that even though an organization is
            being social, their use of social media still must be measured and
            proven to drive some form of business metric. Because if it doesn't
            then you've got a social organization spending money to market through
            a channel that isn't proving itself effective. Culturally, you're
            awesome. But you can't pay the bills. That model won't last.

            You can argue that being social in and of itself drives business, but
            even Zappos tracks, measures and counts.

            Now someone else help me think of an example of a customer-friendly,
            fun organization that didn't move the needle and failed. I'm sure
            there's examples out there.

            Thanks Jay.

  • Yeah, Jeremy — no flame wars. Don't want to crank up Jason's comment count!

  • Jason,

    Here at Visible Tech, we are working with a variety of clients who are evaluating social media “engagement” in two different ways:

    1) addressing consumer interactions and needs within the context of their existing corporate systems (regardless of where they work in the company). An example of this might be when a company reaches out to someone online and channels them into their secure customer channel where they can be helped and classified as someone who was reached through a social media relationship and,

    2) creation of a new set of metrics that support their existing systems while enhancing understanding of how this new form of communications impacts business operations. Examples of this new type of measurement might include things like, what was the time difference to resolving customer issues on Twitter vs. the customer call center for the previous 30-day period? Or how many story leads did PR generate from online relationships vs. traditional media databases, etc.

    There is a lot more work going on in this area than many people know and this promises to be a big year for improving the analytics around online consumer interaction as much as just brand listening measurement.

    Mike Spataro
    Client Strategy
    Visible Technologies

    • Excellent examples, Mike. Thanks for the thought starters on what and
      how to measure. Interested to hear more examples at some point, but
      thanks for chiming in.

  • While I don't disagree with Jay Deragon's point about social intentions, I do believe that social media in 2010 will be all about defining what “engagement” means; or, in other words, the “social media ROI” question. As you say, “It’s always about the bottom line to the people who sign the checks.”

    Amber's comment about companies lacking operational ability to measure is a valid observation (and no doubt she has seen this up close in her position with Radian6.) I would add that we must not overlook the businesses and organizations that are even now just starting to explore the use of social media.

    It is easy forget that there are many people, every day, who heave a sigh of recognition that social media is not a fad and sit down to try to understand how on earth it relates to their business objectives. Posts like yours are helpful and advance the discussion and understanding.

    Your post is helpful because it provides clear examples of what successful engagement in social media can look like. And, Katie Paine says it brilliantly. Thanks for including her observation (although I almost choked on my coffee during the giggle that collided with the sip as I read her last line).

    Enjoyed reading this and reading the ensuing comments. Thanks, Jason.

    • Thanks Allen. I appreciate the props and the giggle at Katie's
      example. Good to mix in a chuckle in all the discourse.

    • AmberNaslund

      Hi Allen,

      I see what you're saying, but it's time for a little tough love from Amber here. (Not for you directly, for businesses in general)

      Being new to social media has nothing to do with whether or not you can measure what you're doing. NOTHING. If you plan properly and illustrate goals and objectives like you would with any other business objectives, the metrics become readily visible through that plan. Want to increase your reach? You start simple by measuring fans/friends/followers and how many times they mention you in a given period. Want to get people to buy your stuff? Give them ways to do that, then see how they react.

      The trouble is that many companies using the “but we're new at this” crutch are the ones that aren't measuring much of anything else in their companies, either. And then they want to claim that it's social media that's flawed for not giving them proper metrics, when it's their business operations that are flawed in general.

      I hope more people are doing just what you say, sighing a heave of recognition, and buckling down to figure out what indicators to watch. The Devil, as they say, is in the details. And it's time to quit griping about measurement being so hard, and just realize that it takes elbow grease and some brainpower.

      Amber

  • It's like the (deep breath) RoI question. I regularly get asked how to measure the RoI of social media, the implication being that there's a secret formula that can be applied to any programme or situation. There isn't and trying to find one is missing the point. The approaches needed to measure RoI and work out what engagement means need to be tailored to suit your organisation and the situation you're in.

    • Yes. But let's dive deeper and explore ways to measure ROI by better
      defining engagement and how you count it. Even if we're just throwing
      out examples, it's more useful than just saying “it depends” and
      ending the conversation, don't you think?

  • I would flip your statement “Did you get something from your audience that can make your business better?” to Do you give something to your audience that helps them achieve their intent” Social “Intentions” are transparent and intentions need to match what an audience is looking for.

    You can see my persepctive in today's post here http://www.relationship-economy.com/?p=8374 and you can also see a short video about “The Intention Economy” here

    • Good thoughts, Jay. I'm just convinced that while a company's intent
      should show their genuine participation and social intentions, the
      internal measures of a social media or public relations effort's
      success throw social intentions out the window and look at what the
      company got out of it. Social intentions are a way to proactively
      cultivate relationships and trust, but you measure your success on
      what you do with that trust and those relationships. So I agree with
      you, but don't think a company can measure its success on that alone.

      • mdeboard

        In addition, “empowering the consumer” is an ideological thing for us PR people. It has no “measurable ROI” outside the context of what our schema is doing for the business. Consumer empowerment is an approach to engagement, not a measurement of that engagement.

        Jason, I love this article so very much. I appreciate a good, cynical view of our oftentimes too touchy-feely line of work that can easily become this navel-gazing mutual admiration society. PR people more than maybe any other group have to work very hard to keep their eyes on the prize.

        • Thanks, Matt. Appreciate the additional thoughts and any PR folk that
          uses “navel gazing” is alright with me. Heh.

  • Um, what?

    Amber Naslund, a friend and Radian6’s defacto engagement director in her role of Director of Community

    Don't care if she's a friend – it's not germane to the post. And, as the Director of Community, it's not de facto engagement director, that's pretty much ALL her job.

    • Ah … late night crankiness from my man Pepp. Okay, I'll push back a
      little:

      Referring to Amber as a friend provides context and exposes any bias
      or favoritism. I don't do it often and it may not have been germane to
      the post, sure, but I throw it in from time to time so the audience
      knows where I am and who these people are. Jeremy Pepper, a friend,
      likes to pick apart my posts. That's good context because the readers
      may think you're a troll. Heh.

      And if you define engagement as sales, it's not her job. The director
      of community certainly is the engagement person for most companies,
      but if they define engagement in different ways, then maybe not.

      Now, if you don't mind (and assuming you've had some sleep), I'm quite
      certain I'm not the only person who would love to hear your thoughts
      on engagement and how to measure it. You know, a comment a bit more
      germane to the post. ;-) (Love ya, big guy.)

      • Yeah, Jeremy — no flame wars. Don't want to crank up Jason's comment count!

        • Ha! I crank it up enough with my responses. But thanks for another, Dan!

          (BTW and not connected to Dan's specific comment – Comment counts are
          irrelevant. I respond to most comments to at least thank people for
          the gesture of taking the time to participate here. If that's
          astroturfing my count, fine. I don't do it for stats. I do it because
          it's polite and I'm thankful for the interactions.)