For the past couple of years, the rise of the social Web has been shaking up approaches to measuring the results of marketing and public relations efforts. But even as we begin to get comfortable gauging levels of activity around our brands on Twitter and Facebook, old paradigms are quickly creeping back in new forms.
In 2010, many community managers ran contests and promotions to try to increase their number of fans on Facebook, or followers on Twitter. Largely, these actions are proving to be worthwhile in broadening a brand's reach. However, counting fans and followers as key performance indicators amounts to little more than a rough attempt to define the size of the potential audience on social sites.
Although fans and followers receive messages from the brands they connect with via social media, they don't necessarily see all of those messages amid the torrent of discussions.
What we are left with, then, is the age-old problem of trying to estimate what percentage of the intended audience was reached. It's akin to being interviewed for The New York Times in a story that lands on page 12, and wondering how many of the paper's 740,000 weekday readers actually saw it.
The Case for Engagement-Focused Measurement
Fortunately, the social Web now presents us with far better options than simply replicating old approaches to measurement. That's because a new breed of engagement-focused metrics is available for use as an unprecedented feedback system on each individual mention of a person, product, or organization. Better yet, you can use this feedback system to accurately measure levels of interest in mentions of a given topic wherever they occur on the Web, whether in a tweet sent two minutes ago or a "brochure-ware" site last updated during the Clinton administration.
Engagement-focused metrics fall into two categories: those specific to social sites and those that can be gathered from the Web at large. The former category includes any attempt to share content or point other users to it within a particular social platform, including retweets, Facebook Likes, or votes on a social bookmarking site, such as Digg.com. The latter category includes indicators like inbound links and blog comments. Marketers with an eye toward search engine optimization have long sought to attract links from other sites to point users to their messages, leveraging the network of linked pages that has for years been used by search engines to deliver relevant search results.
The great advantage of these engagement-focused metrics lies in their specificity to a piece of content on an individual Web page. There's no need to guess how many of a site's visitors or page views might have seen a particular article or blog post when you know how many people chose to share it.
The challenge in shifting your approach to trace levels of engagement lies in re-education. Engagement is far more precious than impressions. It takes more effort to share something than to simply view it, and that means engagement-focused measurement is done in smaller numbers than reach-focused measurement. Still, through measuring engagement, you can collect more precise data that hone in on the behavior of people who cared enough about a piece of content—whether text, photo, or video—to pass it along. You can also begin to spot geographic and demographic trends in that sharing activity, adding another layer of insight.
Whether you aggregate this information manually through free tools or with a premium dashboard, a goldmine of business intelligence awaits.
How to Measure Engagement: A Case Study
Second chances make for compelling stories. Though Michael Vick remains a controversial figure, his remarkable turnaround over the past two years from prison inmate to leading candidate for the NFL's Most Valuable Player award definitely qualifies as a compelling story.
But do articles and posts that discuss this transformation generate more engagement than those that focus on Vick's on-field prowess alone? To find out, I used the CisionPoint and Cision Social Media Dashboard applications to analyze more than 104,000 mentions of Vick across the social Web and more than 6,000 mentions of him from traditional print and broadcast sources in the 30 days leading up to November 19.
To make the analysis more manageable, I broke out the roughly 18,000 blog posts I found discussing Vick, and removed those that generated no engagement. Then, I totaled all of the traces of engagement I could find on those posts—inbound links, comments, tweets, bookmarks, votes, and Facebook Likes—into a single metric I'll call "engagement activity." Some measurement professionals choose to give weight to each of these metric types with a points system that emphasizes one or more types, but I treated them as equal.
Then, I created a set of search criteria intended to capture posts that focused on Vick as a football player, which included terms such as "MVP," "touchdowns," "yards," etc. Posts that matched those criteria generated about 13 engagement activities per post. I created another search intended to capture discussion of Vick's conviction on dogfighting charges. That search attracted about 10 activities per post.
In other words, the social-Web public found mentions of Vick that focused on his on-field performance roughly 30% more engaging than the renewed discussion—brought on by his recent successes—of his legal troubles.
Does that metric prove conclusively that people have decided to forgive and forget Vick's past? No, but it provides some guidance to anyone looking to write an article or blog post discussing his turnaround: People sharing news about his comeback don't seem very interested in a detailed rehashing of his trial.
It's easy to see how these insights can help a brand mold its messaging to generate the highest level of engagement. Gradually, marketers and public relations professionals are beginning to recognize the power of engagement-focused measurement.