Measuring the Return on Engagement of Community Commitment

I’ve been talking and thinking a lot about measuring social media engagement with colleagues, nonprofits, and social media activists. Two years ago, those of us participating in social media engagement and strategy were trying to come up with “the” metric to define social media tactical success. We argued and conversed, exchanged thoughts, and thought about why it’s so hard to pin this down. And then social media practice evolved, as did the thinking about measurement. In fact, it’s crystal clear to me now:

Measuring Return on Engagement (ROE) is actually two measures: SMART goal Return on Engagement, and the ROE of Community Commitment

Using these two metrics, an organization can get a pretty good sense of whether or not its online activities and strategies are working, and whether or not it is building a community of committed stakeholders.


SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. If you begin your online engagement by defining SMART goals, you can measure the outcomes. This metric looks at the following:

  • Are you reaching SMART goals using social media?
  • How effective is your strategy at meeting SMART goals?
  • How effective are your tactics?

One organization I’ve worked with launched several online campaigns to generate organizational awareness, but didn’t frame the campaigns with SMART goals. The didn’t know how to determine whether or not their campaigns created more awareness, because they didn’t have a good measurement framework. In addition, the campaign itself wasn’t designed to move people towards a measurable activity, which also would have been resolved if they had had predetermined campaign SMART goals.

The ROE of Community Commitment: Using Engagement Metrics

How committed is the entire community you’ve built, both on each platform, and across platforms? Are you creating a sustainable base of fans and stakeholders?

While status metrics are simply the number of fans, followers, and views of video, the real number is the engagement metric. (I don’t want to dismiss status metrics out of hand, as they can illustrate the opportunity that may exist for engagement.) The engagement metric represents numbers that are in the context of social media conversations, and often reflect the impact of social network conversations. These are the community members that

  • Proactively talk about your organization and its work
  • Create something for the organization
  • Interact with your organization (such as posting to the wall, sending a twitter message to you)
  • Share your content
  • Interact with other members of the community

= the number within your online community who care deeply about what you are talking about. When you divide the engagement metric by the total number of fans/followers in a social media channel, that’s the ROE of community commitment.

Your ROE of community commitment is relative. It’s about measuring how engaged your community members are, versus those waiting to be activated. More importantly, it’s a metric to aspire to grow. Most Facebook Pages that I’ve worked with or seen have a “Talking About This” metric (which is Facebook’s community commitment metric) of 1 to 3%. The Twitter community engagement metrics that I’ve tracked are closer to 1%. This isn’t alarming; most people don’t take actions online, and they’d rather lurk, listen, and wait.

If you know and track the ROE of community engagement, the return for the organization is:

  • Identifying committed fans
  • Identifying levels of commitment online, and looking at moving them up the ladder of engagement, or into a back channel of leaders for community planning
  • Understanding whether or not your online community is engaged (see The Case of the 4,000 Twitter Followers Who Don’t Care)
  • Comparing community commitment between social media channels
  • Knowing what is, and is not working within your community
  • Where to invest resources, and how, to build your online community

I’ve put together a spreadsheet template for measuring return on engagement which you may view here. It is divided into three parts: top-level engagement and website stats, community commitment metrics, and specific metrics related to meeting your defined SMART goal(s).

SMART Goal and Community Commitment Metrics Template

Amy Sample Ward also has a great metric tracking template to view, and this template owes a lot to hers.

The most important metric to consider is whether or not you are building a committed and engaged online community. Once you have built that, you can begin to measure whether or not that community is taking actions you’d like them to take.

For a deeper look at Return on Engagement, here is a recent presentation that I gave through Darim Online, and also at the annual meeting of the Nonprofit Consultant’s Network.

Further reading:

It’s All About Return on Engagement: Design and Measure It

The Value of Facebook Likes (Allison Fine)

Measuring Online Engagement: A Beginning

DIY Community Engagement Metrics (Amy Sample Ward)

Thinking About Return on Engagement: To Mama With Love

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.