Measuring Online Engagement: A Beginning

I’ve been thinking about the concept of Return on Engagement (ROE). Instead of focusing on number of followers, we need to focus on the number of engaged followers. Just measuring the number people who follow your organization online tells an incomplete story. How many of those followers are likely to actually care about your campaigns? We need to focus on engagement strategies, and design engagement. While we are learning every day more about how to design social media engagement, it is trickier to measure it. The next step is thinking about measuring engagement.

Measuring engagement is critical. If we don’t know how engaged people are in our social spaces, we won’t have a clue about whether or not our social media campaigns will work. I know that there must be a strong relationship between online engagement and online activism, similar to the extremely high propensity of volunteers to donate. There has to be a standard rule of “this many active people in our social media spaces translates into approximately this many people who will take action.” I’d like to figure out an engagement to activism rule-of-thumb, but we need case studies and a lot of people willing to measure engagement and activism.

In an attempt to formalize my thinking around measuring engagement, I’ve defined three different kinds of measurements: status, engagement, and activism measurements. We need all three measurements to understand the strength of a company’s online presence, stakeholder engagement with a cause or organization, and what percentage of them are moved to action by the organization.

Status measurements are those social media numbers everyone quotes: followers, tweets, friends, connections, group members, views, tags, etc. Status measurements are non-contextual, in that they are separated from all context of the online community or conversations. Status measurements don’t tell the right story, or the whole story.

Status measurements lead to ROE, but cannot be used to measure ROE.

Engagement measurements capture how often individual members engage with the organization within the organization’s social media spaces. Engagement activities include a person commenting on a blog post, Liking a Facebook or Linkedin update, sharing a blog post, favouriting a video or re-tweeting messages. The activism measurement looks at the number of people who are affirmatively taking the action that your organization wants them to take, such as sharing a link or donating money. By its nature, the activism percentage is a comment on the influence an organization has to move its online followers and friends to action. Both the engagement and activism measurements are contextual, and can only be understand within the context of the online community.

Engagement and activism measurements are used to gauge the strength of the community,
and its potential for ROE

I’ll take a stab at measuring engagement:

1. Online Engagement percentage

Total number who engage in some way with your organization’s social media spaces or within them / Total number of people in the same social media spaces

For example: 1200 people from the Facebook Page and Linkedin Group engage with those sites monthly / 6,700 people who follow us on those spaces = 18% are actually engaged with the organization online

2. Online Activism percentage

Total number who took action that you asked them to take, from your social media spaces / Total number of people within your social media spaces

For example: 280 people from the Facebook Page and Linkedin Group completed a survey on your site / 6,700 people who follow us on those spaces = 4% are willing to take action for your organization

To glean information, compare the engagement percentage with the activism percentage. Are they similar? How far apart are they? Look back at the social media activities that your organization encourages its stakeholders to take. Think about what activities you can build into your social media communities that will positively affect the activist percentage, and change those activities.

Ultimately, I’d like to know: what is the maximum online engagement percentage to expect? What is average? Does it vary by industry or cause? What affects the online activism percentage? Is there a rule that links the activism percentage to the engagement percentage? What moves each of these percentages upwards or downwards?

I created a slide presentation (below) about this subject that I was supposed to present with May 18. However, due to technical difficulties, it has been postponed until July 13. The slide deck has a lot more information about measuring engagement, and includes a review of two online communities that are highly engaged. If you are interested in attending the free webinar on July 13, sign up here.

Debra Askanase has 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations, from Community Organizer to Executive Director. She is the founder and lead consultant at Community Organizer 2.0, a social media strategy firm for non-profit organizations and businesses. She blogs about the intersection of social media, nonprofits, and technology at and regularly provides advice and commentary to our eJewish Philanthropy community.

image courtesy Jeff the Trojan, CC license