Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Measures of engagement - convincing the disconnected

Ever been asked for the ROI on social media by someone who actually uses it?

Just a thought, but I'm making a wild guess that those that use it understand its value in spades - and don't require the numbers. It's those that don't, who fret over each micro response - failing to see the bigger picture.

So your best strategy for getting someone to buy social media is to get them to buy-in to social media with a little DIY. I often recommend that everyone should blog, join a social network and build their own widget, for precisely that reason. Don't just witness the network. Be part of it. (image by burnblue via flickr)

Traditional media people and investors, for example, are happy to spend cash on TV ads, or interruptive online ads, or print ads. Because they get them. They understand that they are to be broadcast and consumed by audiences. And they are part of the audiences that do the consuming.

The other stuff - the clever, engaging (and we'll come back to that word in a bit) stuff is co-created within communities. And those that you want to part with their cash are not part of those communities.

Is it any surprise that Fred Wilson's outfit (Union Square Ventures) invests in socially engaging projects from twitter to disqus,, etsy, feedburner, tumblr and beyond. He lives in the social digital realm. He is therefore at an advantaged position to see the value. And Fred is famous for his hit rate. Maybe others could learn?

If you can't actually convince your would-be meal-ticket that they should blog, widgetise and generally get themselves connected before you pitch them, you face a tough gig. You'll have to play by their rules.

Luckily, we're finding a way to meet them halfway.

I tweeted yesterday: "Consumers value brands. Engaged people are valuable to brands".

ROI can't come down to increased traffic. Traffic is just eyeballs - it's just the page impression number. ROI has to get closer to and be more comfortable with the smaller, but more important numbers, of engagement.

For me, engagement with a community means you contribute something to it. Youtube's audience is valuable in a page impresssion sense. Youtube's contributors (particularly those forming groups, commenting and uploading video) have a much higher per capita value for youtube. (Total communities are ones in which to take part you must create part).

Enagagement should be measured by actions. All the rest is passive consumption.

Both have value of course. But what is the relative value? We feel engagement has higher value. Fred Wilson feels it well enough.

But where are the spreadsheets to convince the disconnected? colleague Matthew Brazil is working on exactly this with Radion6. I'm hoping to help him along the journey as is Dan and the organisers of Measurement Camp are striving for similar.

Matt is carefully testing the impact of using social media on actual business done for his consultancy.

That's exactly the kind of clincher the disconnected needs. And filling this hole may be just the blue touch paper required for more companies to get and use social media.

And as they do, they will become better - more fit for the networked world. More human. And that will be great for all of us - and for them..

So, if you have thoughts, any methodologies... post away!

And to try to get this rolling along and even more brains set workign on it, let's try it as a meme: Measures of Engagement.

John Carson has added his take.

I'll tag a first five to join in please: Alan, Dan, Joseph, Matt and Will


  1. numbers are nearly impossible to come by in this space, as @amandachapel is fond of pointing out. (s)he coined the phrase r.o.p, return on prayer, i believe.

    we are moving into a time where the qualitative is gaining parity with the quantifiable, and though this relies on anecdotal "evidence", and we do not yet use the word qualitifiable, the examples of the visionaries that you quote is one of the better arguments.

    the best, get an account and try it at home for free. if you don't see the value, at least you will be able to participate in the conversations when your subordinates clamor to introduce it.

    you see, quality is everything now. social media adds to that. and quality is not proved, it is an experience.

    enjoy, gregory lent

  2. I am not in the first 5 but hope I can add something to this..

    I see what Gregory is saying but assuming that the advertising industry moves toward becoming an engagement industry then there must at some stage be a logic for valuing this thing.

    In my opinion, I see valuation calculation in two parts:

    1. What is the value of the result of engagement? (i.e. when engagement happens, what is the trackable benefit and the value therein?)

    2. What is the value of the cause of engagement? (i.e. for engagement to have happened, what took place and to what value is this?)

    I believe there is a 3rd lever to this, and that it is the value that the participant places on the engagement.

    This is the triumvirate I am mulling over presently and DC, I would LOVE IT if this conversation coud be added to the Rules Of Engagement chapter of The Communication Ideal.

    I notice you haven't had a chance to get engaged with that yet ;)

  3. i'm mulling some idea of engagement as 'intention'. to keep your ring analogy going (ie intention to get hitched). I guess there is a 'follow-through' (pardon the expression!) which becomes measurable as intention turns into action...or something.
    Like i said, i haven't thought it through properly.

  4. Jmac will be digging deeper into the communication ideal very soon. been a little too hectic of late but I am THERE dude.

    eaon, yes I like the places that ring on the finger takes us: intention, courtship, ongoing relationship, we're not up the aisle yet etc etc

  5. Rebecca Caroe9/18/2008 3:31 pm

    I am working mainly with businesses who have virtually NO customers active in social media.
    Very happy to offer my clients as a 'sandbox' to experiment with.
    Currently I have got two onto Twitter, about three onto blogs / Facebook groups.
    But going back to my old history with Don Peppers - if you can map *behaviours* and log desirable attributes from customers at each step of the engagement process, then measurement HAS to be possible.
    Proxy variables and subjective measures will have to part of that equation.

  6. Peter Cunningham9/19/2008 9:51 am

    We are looking at ROI for a brand as opposed to an ordinary user of social media - for whom the ROI is often clear, making business contacts, getting information, viewing articles and videos often for free.

    I think each social network relies on three main categories of user: 1. Stars or animators - that is people who write blogs and start forums, get discussions going and have the gravitas to get people to respond 2. Participants - those who mostly respond to threads that interest them but posting replies or adding comments 3. Readers - often called Lurkers - who read the posts and may even bookmark the page or sign up for an RSS but do not manifest themselves on the face of the network (these users often use anonymous voting).

    A healthy network needs all three and individuals can move between categories as a lurker gets comfortable enough to start posting or well known enough to start becoming a star. Likewise movement can happen in the other direction as a star or poster loses interest, has too much work, is ill, has a child or finds another activity that takes more of their time.

    To me all are engaged and you can only see the value of that engagement over a longer period. When you think that ad networks argue that there is value in your banner impressions from a branding perspective even though 99.9% of users don't bother to click - then there is definitely some value from the user who signs up to an email or RSS feed to your blog but doesn't read the feeds most of the time - because one day their behaviour may change. They are getting a reminder of your brand each day in their RSS feed. They are giving you permission to do so as it is easy to unsubcribe.

    I think social media adapts to our lifetime needs - I am not a fan of invasive technologies like Twitter but I prefer to participate when I want to. When you run a social network it is interesting to meet some of the stars on the network - many begin to get involved when they have been unemployed for a lengthy period or are freelancers that have down periods with time on their hands.

    This means that engagement patterns change - the key is critical mass so that there are enough active users to keep the social media alive if, for example, a few stars reduce their commitment.

    Brands can get a lot of value from low level commitment - I saw a good presentation from Lovefilm that explained how anonymous users rating others film reviews added value to the network and helped the best reviews rise to the top.

    A user has disconnected when he/she clicks the unsubscribe button or his/her contact info no longer works and is not updated.

    Value can come from:
    - Customer feedback
    - Better targeted marketing/segmentation due to customer engagement
    - Customer involvement in product launch/beta tests
    - C2C support - reducing the burden on call centres

    None of these are easily quantifiable - but branding and marketing agencies have been selling 'fluff' for years without hard core proven ROI in Dollar terms. How many ad agencies claim to prove a million dollar campaign is a success because a few surveys show better brand recall and more favourable views towards a brand after an ad campaign. Now if you can get that through your purchasing department social media should be a no brainer!

    On 9/18/08 2:42 AM, Peter Cunningham added the following clarification:
    To add a couple of points on ROI -

    When you consider the cost of acquisition of a customer email - when that email goes out of date rapidly as users change jobs or abandon a hotmail account swamped with spam. An engaged network like Linked'in enourages users to update their contact information because there is something in it for them. You could model an ROI based on lifetime customer value and upselling/repeat selling simply based on your contact database remaining valid longer. As well as having more information about a user (demographics, interests etc) it is more likely to be uptodate and more valuable.

    Another feature of social media that is valuable but hard to model is virality - your users can invite friends, send your video or offer to contacts, add your widget to their facebook page or blog. All this free publicity - the easiest way to get an ROI for this is comparing the cost of getting this exposure by paying for email lists, banners etc. Any valuation should include a healthy discount factor due to the unforseeable nature of viral communications.

    My initial point is that engagement is permission based - users engage how and when it suits them. In my opinion, lurkers are engaged with your brand - and provide a future pool of stars and participants.

    Also posted on linkedin Q&A

  7. Justin Kirby9/19/2008 9:53 am

    Aren't you confusing means with ends here. Obviously the awareness paradigm for brands was flawed because you can be aware of something and not want it or even consider wanting it, e.g. flu. Replacing awareness with buzz (conversations), or even engagement, only makes sense if some economic value can actually be quantified - otherwise your measurement becomes a means in itself. You also need to start with a definition of engagement that everyone agrees because engagement as understood by the ad industry would be better termed entertainment, whereas others use the term to mean some kind of involvement/participation. Personally, I think those in social media that think they will find some ROI around engagement are barking up the wrong tree, and seriously need to consider whether Web 2.0 has already commoditised conversations by creating an overabundance of opinion.

    As also posted on linkedin Q&A

  8. Dan Thornton9/19/2008 10:19 am

    Is it just me that shudders when someone quotes a fake profile as proof numbers are impossible to get? It's like basing your business decisions on the input of Stadler and Waldorf.

    You can get hundreds of numbers for social media if you try, from the basics of uniques, page impressions etc to viewing times of videos, comments on content which remixes your original content etc.

    The difficult part is explaining the two main challenges of social media:

    1. 10 engaged people can be better than 100 consumers being broadcasted at.


    2. How an engaged person goes from Facebook, Twitter, a blog, a forum etc to spending money with a business....and how you show that with the right numbers...

    I've got a few ideas about this, and my response should be done shortly...basically, as I briefly blogged last night, I think we might be looking at how we pick metrics and measure the wrong way round...

  9. @justin kirby, for sale: opinion filters, gauge of your choice, hardware, software, brainware, mindware, all makes and models ...

    this discussion seems to be about how to turn on a turned-off attention switch, another word for interruption, and that does include interrupting the opinion-flow going on in the hoped-for audience ...

    if being smarter always worked, being clever would not be necessary ...

    same spin, new model, social media used for making money rather than opinion sharing is what leads to terms such as ROI ...

    can you fool your target is still the game ...

  10. I have been working on an understanding of "engagement" that is based on both enjoyment but also risk. If you look at it in this way, you can begin to look at engagement as a process of risk management on both an individual and brand level.

  11. Dave,

    Thanks for the post, and you've attracted some well-reasoned comments.

    I don't think all brands benefit from engagement. Brand equity is not always conversational. Some brands are image-based, and their branding ROI is really a Return on Impression. Luxury brands, for example, benefit from the distance between them and their customers, as they benefit also from being out of the reach of most. Desire for the brand is then socialized by means of the success and myth attributed to those who can afford luxuries. (Branding occurs through the desire for those who have -- call it mimetic desire, or covetousness, it's the same).

    But conversational brands can benefit from social media engagement. One aspect then would be socialized -- again through the influencers who first establish the value, articulate the want, and make the brand socially visible. Another aspect would be direct customer engagement -- the social media recuperation of old school one-to-one marketing. But between influener metrics, conversation metrics, social graph metrics, and standard measures of impressions, action, and acquisition, we've not sorted out the math for ROI. Consider the complexity of assessing sentiment change among customers of a brand that does engage with social media: how would one measure an increase in latent or tacit trust and respect for the brand? And for advertisers tasked with performance gains, how would we show the value of attention (mindshare) and trust?

    I think there's a lot to be gained from monitoring the conversation space -- from socnets to conversation tools (blogs to micro-blogging). Feed-based advertising does have a future, when we work out where the privacy line should be drawn. But that will also require advertisers and marketing campaign managers, as well as brand managers, to relinquish some control over message composition as well as distribution.

    thanks for the discussion!



The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?