engagement, metrics, presentations

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

14 Comments 10 August 2011

Image courtesy of escuchoelecodetuvoz, Creative Commons license


Last week I spoke at the NYC Social Media for Nonprofits conference on creating and measuring return on engagement. In fact, social media engagement should have been the untitled conference theme. Almost every speaker presented a case study or spoke about his/her use of social media for successful engagement, from how to use video to engage (Charity:Water’s September Birthday campaign) to how to create multi-channel fundraising engagement (Big Duck). And you know what? They’re right. Without engagement, social media ultimately fails. However, you can design your social media activities to create online engagement, which is the focus on my presentation. My conference presentation covered five core concepts about how to design real online engagement for the highest return on engagement:

  • Numbers do not equal return on engagement (see this post on the Case of the 4,000 Twitter Followers Who Don’t Care)
  • You can design social media activities for real engagement
  • How to leverage relationship ties organizationally to convert fans to superfans (and increase ROE)
  • Align SMART goals with social media design
  • Three approaches to measuring return on Engagement (ROE): community commitment, fan trust, and SMART goal achievement

When researching data and gathering ideas for the presentation, what really struck me were two related ideas:

1. A co-creation strategy resonates with your fans and encourages the highest levels of real engagement.

This study on the true value of social media clearly demonstrates that a user-generated content strategy and co-creation strategy moves more fans to influence a purchase and talk about brands than any other type of social media action.

2. A successful co-creation strategy relies on two of the four elements of social tie strength: trust and reciprocity.

Organizations can easily leverage trust and reciprocity, two of the four elements (the other two being time and intensity) to create stronger ties with online stakeholders. Examples of trust and reciprocity include: online authenticity and transparency, real sharing of organizational thinking and decisions, fans helping each other within a shared group, organizations asking fans for their opinions. All of these are real engagement activities that strengthen relationships because they demonstrate an organization’s ability to offer reciprocity and extend trust.

Combine trust and reciprocity with co-creation. What do you have? Engagement.

The last part of my presentation is an approach to social media measurement.  I see three important measurements:

1. Did you meet your SMART goals? Is the online community taking the intended actions that you want them to take? Defining the goals that your organization wants to achieve is critical – it’s how you will ultimately know whether or not your social media strategy and activities are working.

2. The ROE of fan commitment and trust. There are three levels of fan commitment: Making a simple, non-intensive action (Liking your page, joining your group, following), active engagement (RTing, conversation, uploading content, sharing your content), and making a deeper commitment (taking a pledge, joining a planning group, donating money, volunteering). The deeper commitment usually relates the action you want them to take (see “Did you meet your SMART goals?” above). Track the numbers of fans at each level, and how successful you are at increasing these numbers.

3. The ROE of community commitment. This measurement is trying to get at how committed the community as a whole is. As social media measurement expert Lauren Vargas told me, “give management a number that they can hang their hat on.” It makes perfect sense. Instead of reviewing a spreadsheet of many different trends and statistics, combine them into a number that represents the totality of your measurements. Slide 32 of the slide deck talks about defining the discreet metrics that capture fan engagement, assigning weights to them (they have to add up to 100, but you can’t have them all weigh the same), and creating an overall weighted community commitment score. How this score changes weekly is the community commitment benchmark.

(Credit to Lauren Vargas with inspiring this measurement approach.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on designing and measuring online engagement.


  • Co-creation content strategy, trust and reciprocity: three vital elements for achieving user engagement. Debra, I couldn’t have said it better myself! It’s hard for org to put the megaphone down and interact with their consumers. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t know what to say (are they out of touch?) or it just feels so unnatural to have a conversation after following the one-way model for years. Anyway, great piece to get everyone thinking. Thanks for sharing it!


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Ifdy – yes, it is hard to get folks to put down the megaphone. I see so many Facebook Pages and Twitter streams that are just broadcast streams. Along the lines of what you wrote, perhaps it is the communication method they are used to: I think the organizations do this because they feel that it is a more authoritative way of interacting. And it would be, if it were still 1997.


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  • Always excited to see the SMART goals make an appearance.  It always surprises folks when you ask if they have goals and they say yes, then you bring out the “are they SMART” question and the eye go wide as they realize their goals are not actually anything they could measure.

    I also greatly enjoyed your application of commitment. It really helps clarify what the cost of using social media for nonprofits, its being committed to entering relationships online.

    As usual fantastic post.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Thanks, Ash, for the comment. I love SMART goals, too. When I was a community organizer, and we would launch a campaign, we used to tape up a big sheet of newsprint to a wall with the SMART acronym on it and brainstorm campaign goals. Many a time we’d point back to the chart and ask if the goal being discussed was SMART. It was the equivalent of what you write, above, about the wide eyes. I wish I could bring that newsprint with me everywhere – it just doesn’t have the same effect as emailing it, does it?


  • Debra, I’m grateful to you for adding this resource. I think there’s lots of things being passed around, but unless you’re new to social media it’s tough to pull some substance away from them.  Not the case here. Your presentation is full of interesting insight on engagement and this is the one that first made me a little sad about not being in attendance at the conference.

    I hope others also take notice. Non profits and private sector organizations are starting to come around more on social media, but they’re thinking about engagement is quite simplistic (which I see has partially been a topic by others). Part of the problem is that neither native analytics systems nor third party tools have reached this type of sophistication. I would love to see some case studies on organizations that have kept metrics on super fans etc and would really be benefited by a discussion on time management and tool sharing.

    Fascinating, powerful stuff! 


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    I couldn’t agree more that one of the things we struggle with in social media is how to measure engagement since many of the built-in or third-party analytics systems don’t look at measuring this. Some of us are all trying to think about how to develop ROE analytics, and I welcome your contribution to this discussion as well.

    I’m starting to work with a new organization, thus new to social media, and I hope to be able to track their engagement over a year and report back on how effective the measurement system was, and what the ROE really proved to be. So glad you commented on the blog, moving from our Twitter discussion to here!


    Dwight ดนัย Reply:

    This week I’m interviewing with a non profit to do some social media work. If I get the position, I will definitely be implementing some strategies to target and measure higher level engagement. Perhaps we should touch basis again in a few months and compare notes?

    Other thoughts:
    – Should your lowest to highest ROE chart read, “Engage, Contribute, Commit, Create” When I first saw it I was confused about the order, but after thinking about it, just changing the one label may make it more clear to people.
    – I do use twitter’s listing capability to identify pools of users that have a certain significance to the the brand (i.e. constituents, influencers, industry experts, etc). Are there any suggestions for recognizing and highlighting such users on facebook?
    – What tool did you use to analyze your hashtag (#bluekey)? I haven’t had much luck finding something like that.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Dwight, unfortunately, I didn’t create the labels for the chart – they came from the study. However, if I were theorizing, then your suggested label change makes a lot of sense. I also find the labels confusing and wish 22squared had created different labels.

    The only suggestions that I can think of for highlighting users/fans of a Facebook Page are: 1. featured pages (a new setting in admin for Pages to feature the ones that show up on the left side) 2. custom tab featuring thoe significant users. My colleague in Malaysia, Ching Ya, has a “Member of the Month” custom tab that features an interview with the MOTM: http://www.facebook.com/SocialBloggingTracker?sk=app_4949752878 (last updated Jan ’11). I’d welcome other ideas!

    Rowfeeder.com is an awesome tool for analyzing hashtag campaigns. Highly recommend the paid version as well as the free one.

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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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