I was asked over the weekend to comment on Jason Fall's post on measuring engagement and it got me thinking. The reason that engagement is so important to today's marketers, and why everyone, is trying to figure out how to measure it, is that engagement is essentially the first step in building a relationship between your customers and your brand. And in this era of drive by flaming and overwhelming inundation of data and messages, an organization's relationship are what will differentiate it from everyone else. Engagement is a way to determine whether you are having a dialog, or are you just yelling ever more loudly.
If I'm managing communications for the USO and my ultimate goal is to increase donations, I know that somehow I need to form a relationship with a potential donor if I'm ever going to have a prayer of getting him or her to give me money. So let's call our potential donor/stakeholder Veronica. The USO's relationship with Veronica starts when she sees a volunteer at the airport, or when a friend suggests she become a fan on Facebook, or when she watched Stephen Colbert's show in Bagdad. All those points of contact are potential points of engagement. However, as we know, just reaching Veronica's "eyeballs" is an opportunity not engagement. Engagement begins when Veronica takes some sort of action beyond lurking that indicates a desire to have further contact. So it may be subscribing to your blog, following you on Twitter, downloading your YouTube video or becoming a fan on Facebook. I call these actions "Level 1 engagement. "
For those of you familiar with Grunig's relationship theory, at this point the relationship is pretty much pure exchange. In an exchange relationship, one party gives benefits to the other only because the other has provided benefits in the past or is expected to do so in the future. In other words, it's not much of a relationship at all. Veronica registers, and the USO sends her content that she wants. Veronica become a fan, and as a result is entered into a contest. Both the USO and Veronica benefit, but there's not much loyalty involved.
Nonetheless, that action is a step up from lurking and therefore, to the USO or to Procter & Gamble or any organization participating in social media, it may move people closer to that donation or sale. Unfortunately, first level engagement is where most relationships end. The vast majority of fans, friends and followers never go past that initial point. So Engagement Metric #1 should be the ratio of lurkers to people taking any action at all.
But let's assume that Veronica has won the prize, or is interested in the content the USO is sending her. Maybe she's found a friend with similar interest on the Facebook page. Something happens that moves her to Level 2 engagement. That's where Veronica is now engaged enough to comment on the blog, respond to a thread on Facebook, and maybe rate a YouTube video. Now the relationship is more of a communal one. -- In a communal relationship, both parties provide benefits to the other because they are concerned for the welfare of the other -- even when they get nothing in return. For most public relations activities, developing communal relationships with key constituencies is much more important to achieve than would be developing exchange relationships. Because, when the relationship is communal, you will be forgiven for mistakes, you will get past a crisis faster, people will pay more for the product and they'll recommend it to their friends.
So your second key metric is the increase in level 2 engagement over time, which you can determine by the analytics that most sites provide. What you really need to know (and can find out by analyzing your web analytics data) is: What are you doing/writing/posting that has convinced all those lurkers and Level 1 folks to go to the next step? What is convincing them to care more about you/your organization/your cause. You need to examine your activities, post by post, tweet by tweet to see what is increasing the engagement level and bringing that stakeholder into a communal relationship.
At some point, some percentage of these partially engaged fan/follower/friend will either get bored or become just passive observers and the relationship stagnates. At this point your key metric is to determine if your relationships are progressing, therefore, you need to examine the ratio between new and repeat visitors, and between those that come once and those that return more than 4 times a month.
The good news is that Veronica hasn't gotten bored, and in fact, thanks to a combination of Colbert shows, compelling videos, and good word of mouth, is ready to move to the third level of engagement -- taking action on your behalf. Somehow from all that Veronica has read, or learned about the USO from all the PSAs, stories, videos, word of mouth and updates, she is now ready to take action, i.e. volunteer to stuff care packages, or share a message with the troops or better yet donate. What this means from a relationship standpoint is that you've been able to move her to a level 3 -- at which you have added the components of trust and commitment to the relationship. In Grunig's definition:
- Trust -- One party's level of confidence in and willingness to open oneself to the other party. There are three dimensions to trust: integrity: the belief that an organization is fair and just … dependability: the belief that an organization will do what it says it will do … and, competence: the belief that an organization has the ability to do what it says it will do.
- Commitment -- The extent to which each party believes and feels that the relationship is worth spending energy to maintain and promote. Two dimensions of commitment are continuance commitment, which refers to a certain line of action, and affective commitment, which is an emotional orientation.
So your key metric for Level 3 engagement is the number of new volunteers, number of new contributors and the number of visitors to those pages on www.uso.org that encourage a visitor to take action. Again, what you should be measuring is the increase over time, not just the raw numbers.
By now Veronica is fully engaged, actively participating in Facebook threads, retweeting news updates from the USO and sending out YouTube videos to all of her friends. – and presumably convincing her friends to do the same. But measurement can't end there. You still need to make sure that she is satisfied with the relationship. According to Grunig Satisfaction is the extent to which each party feels favorably toward the other because positive expectations about the relationship are reinforced. A satisfying relationship is one in which the benefits outweigh the costs. So to measure this the fourth and final level of engagement you need to look at Veronica's loyalty to the cause. How often does she contribute or volunteer? Is she bringing other volunteers with her, and is she expressing satisfaction with the relationship to her friends? You can track her comments thru Social Mention, Google News or any number of monitoring tools like Sysomos and Radian 6. But ultimately at some point you will probably want to survey all the Veronica's (and Archie's) out there and really find out how they're feeling about your organization. This is where the Grunig relationship instrument comes in.
For each of the components of relationships there are a series of statements (listed below) that you can pose to your audience and ask them to agree or disagree with each one. You can do this via phone (very expensive) or mail or email, but ideally you would administer the survey prior to starting a social media campaign and then six months into it to see how you're doing on each score.
So back to Jason's post – it there one simple way to measure engagement? No, there are lots, but if you follow this path, you'll know a lot more than "are they engaged" you'll know what is increasing engagement, what is turning people off, and how likely are they to act on your behalf.
And if you're wondering, here are Grunig's relationship statements.
Questions to measure trust, including the dimensions of integrity, competence, dependability
This organization treats people like me fairly and justly. (Integrity)
Whenever this organization makes an important decision, I know it will be concerned about people like me. (Integrity; original dimension: faith).
This organization can be relied on to keep its promises. (Dependability)
I believe that this organization takes the opinions of people like me into account when making decisions. (Dependability)
I feel very confident about this organization's skills. (Competence)
This organization has the ability to accomplish what it says it will do. (Competence)
Sound principles seem to guide this organization's behavior. (Integrity)
This organization does not mislead people like me. (Integrity)
I am very willing to let this organization make decisions for people like me. (Dependability)
I think it is important to watch this organization closely so that it does not take advantage of people like me. (Dependability) (Reversed)
This organization is known to be successful at the things it tries to do. (Competence)
I feel that this organization is trying to maintain a long-term commitment to people like me.
I can see that this organization wants to maintain a relationship with people like me.
There is a long-lasting bond between this organization and people like me.
Compared to other organizations, I value my relationship with this organization more.
I would rather work together with this organization than not.
I have no desire to have a relationship with this organization. (Reversed)
I feel a sense of loyalty to this organization.
I could not care less about this organization. (Reversed)
I am happy with this organization.
Both the organization and people like me benefit from the relationship.
Most people like me are happy in their interactions with this organization.
Generally speaking, I am pleased with the relationship this organization has established with people like me.
Most people enjoy dealing with this organization.
The organization fails to satisfy the needs of people like me. (Reversed)
I feel people like me are important to this organization.
In general, I believe that nothing of value has been accomplished between this organization and people like me. (Reversed)
This organization does not especially enjoy giving others aid. (Reversed)
This organization is very concerned about the welfare of people like me.
I feel that this organization takes advantage of people who are vulnerable. (Reversed)
I think that this organization succeeds by stepping on other people. (Reversed)
This organization helps people like me without expecting anything in return.
I don't consider this to be a particularly helpful organization. (Reversed)
I feel that this organization tries to get the upper hand. (Reversed)
Whenever this organization gives or offers something to people like me, it generally expects something in return.
Even though people like me have had a relationship with this organization for a long time, it still expects something in return whenever it offers us a favor.
This organization will compromise with people like me when it knows that it will gain something.
This organization takes care of people who are likely to reward the organization.