engagement, Getting Started, social media strategy

Thinking about Return on Engagement

6 Comments 11 May 2011

Image courtesy of Anssi Koskinen, Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of social media ROI, and how to measure it. However, the more I think about it, the more it comes down to this: can we measure effective engagement with stakeholders, and how we move them to action?

Within social media, the ROI is actually Return on Engagement (ROE).

All other activities are those leading to ROE.

The ROI discussion needs to focus on defining meaningful engagement, how that happens, and comparing the return on engagement from campaign to campaign or from ask to ask. Amy Sample Ward writes, “is ROI limiting our community impact?” I think it is. Understanding and defining ROE is a much better measurement of the health of your online community and the long-term the success of your online strategy.

Recently, I participated in the To Mama With Love Mother’s Day fundraising campaign for Epic Change. This campaign raised over $30,000 in just five days. almost doubling last year’s success. Stacey Monk, Epic Change’s founder, asked why this year’s campaign was so much more successful than last year’s. ROE provides an easy answer: there was a much larger core group of highly engaged stakeholders who felt ownership planning and executing the campaign.

The planning group was inclusionary, transparent, stakeholder-owned, and accessible. Stacey formed a private planning group and invited anyone willing to commit to helping To Mama With Love raise funds and awareness, and she asked those people to extend the invitation to their friends. I was a member of the group and we were given a lot of opportunities to own the campaign. Ultimately, this was the group that acted: we blogged about it, personally asked friends to give, tweeted it, and propelled it forward. I suspect that Stacey Monk invested a lot of her time over the past year creating a “tribe” of Epic Change stakeholders, which paid off during this campaign. In this case, you can measure the outcome: $30,627.

Brandon Murphy, of 22Squared, a digital agency, created an incredibly interesting case study documenting the real value of social media, which is…Return on Engagement. 22Squared contends that really social digital media should focuses on objectives such as advocacy, trust, loyalty, and influence instead of reach, awareness, and simple engagement.

22Squared analyzed the social media activities of 100 popular corporate brand, and those effects on consumers. They defined four types of online consumer activities: engage, contribute, participate, and create. Comparing the impact of the actions of consumers from each of the four action categories with each other, they found: Those who participated and created generated 2.5 times more conversations than the lower-involvement “engage” group. They also influenced four times as many purchases as those brands using social media without higher-involvement participatory engagement.

Thinking back to To Mama With Love: the planning group involved all four types of action: we engaged, contributed, participated, and created. We blogged about it, tweeted it, and created heartspaces. Also, any website visitor who wanted to make a donation to To Mama With Love had to, at the very minimum, engage by making a donation, and then create by making a heartspace. TMWL set itself up to create real return on engagement. Those who participated most likely tweeted and posted updates to their social spaces about the event, too.

Thinking about Return on Engagement, instead of Return on Investment, changes the approach to social media. Instead of focusing on followers, think about how to create an engaged group of stakeholders, and what online activities will create that engagement. When designing your next social media strategy or campaign, integrate and encourage high ROE activities to yield more successful outcomes.

I’m presenting a free online webinar entitled, “What’s the ROI? Measuring the ROI of Social Media” on May 18 at 3pm EST. These are some of the things I’ll be talking about, along with another case study and information about what to measure. In the meanwhile, I’ll continue to think about ROE, and look forward to your thoughts on it as well.


Amy Sample Ward’s social media metrics template is a great engagement metrics tracking starting point, and her blog post on DIY Community Engagement Metrics.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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