community management, engagement, metrics, presentations

Measuring Online Engagement: A beginning

8 Comments 20 May 2011

Image courtesy of Jeff the Trojan, CC license

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.

  • Afine

    This is very interesting, Debra. Curious, what are the range of activities that constitute “engagement” in #1 above. I think we also need to emphasize the need to measure these levels over time and react too definitively to any one data point, say response to a survey, that can be affected by so many other things – noise in the network, other events, time of day or even year, etc.
    Thanks for continuing to move this conversation forward!


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    I haven’t (yet) defined the range of activities that constitute engagement, but I could say that they are any activity where the online stakeholder interacts with the social media space, such as in the examples above. It’s a good question, but I think that this list would constantly iterate as the social media tools and platforms iterate. For example, a year ago one couldn’t “Like” a Linkedin post, and Quora looked entirely differently. However, a running list and some thoughts around levels of ROE is probably a good direction to go in next.

    I couldn’t agree with you more in terms of the need to measure these levels of engagement over time. Great point. 


  • Thank you for sharing this, Debra – I look forward to the full version in July! I like the way you’ve segmented different types of measurement into a system that’s pretty easy to wrap one’s head around.

    I find the “90-9-1 rule” challenging to measure around ( – the idea that a vast majority of people are lurkers.  I like that you’ve included offline action as a measurement of Activism; it’s an ongoing challenge to measure the overall “goodwill” that any online campaign can generate.

    I look forward to learning with you as you define/refine this ROE concept! Thanks again for sharing your ideas.


  • The interesting thing about lurkers is that they are often interested, but perhaps not interested enough for some reason or other. I think lurkers present an opportunity to design engagement to increase activism. What would be fascinating is to measure the percentage of lurkers who take offline activism.

    Thanks for your comments, Amy. I’m still figuring it out, and I’m glad to think about it with you. I’ll look forward to having you on the webinar in July!


  • Beth Kanter

    Love the ROE, but think of caviar.  Check out KD Paine’s pioneering work on this:

    Been noodling with ROI for a while – and now can start to converge the
    ROI approaches for nonprofit technology investments with the ROI of
    social media –
    I created a framework “Four I’s of ROI” – and use the phrase “Return on Interaction”    – the return or value is an intangible – sentiment and loyalty.  It is a precursor to the investment part – or people getting their wallets out.   They don’t that until you’ve built the relationship and that happens through engagement.     Peter Campbell also has the “Return on Flexibility”  which is another way of looking opportunity costs – lost when you don’t invest.    

    I’m thinking that I want to stay away from the ROI concept all together … though because it is too narrow and if you research


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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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