I ran across this article today, written not by a social media specialist but by an engineer – Mike Bailey, an engineer who now champions employee advocacy.
I’ve had to deliver this inconvenient truth countless times to eager clients: you can’t measure social ROI, just as you can’t gauge engagement by the number of times your readers click on something on your Web page.
It’s inconvenient because, of all the means available for assigning value to social interaction, the one nearest to what I consider useful is engagement.
To engage – as one does when changing gears on a manual shift car – is to have two gears, as it were, meshing their teeth. It’s a coming together of two things to transfer power.
It’s crucial that the gears are sized and positioned to make the engagement work. In the social world, the equivalent of this mechanical design is the matching of interests with the interesting. This engagement of interests is an intangible but measurable thing.
There is an invisible transfer of power where a piece of content so moves the reader or viewer that she feels compelled to respond with a reaction and might even expect a reply to her response. At least the content elicits an emotional response.
Ideally, this engagement reaction would measure a physical change – a quickening of the pulse, a rise in blood pressure, observable activity in the brain, dilation of the pupils. But technology and ethics have not brought us to that yet, and in our virtual connections where video is still maturing we don’t witness the expressions on faces or changes in voice tones that indicate emotional engagement.
Thus we depend on metrics tools and various link clicks to provide some indication of something more than a fleeting, accidental visit to content pages. This “engagement” has different definitions on different analytics platforms. It may be as simple as clicks on Facebook’s Like buttons or a response to a discussion thread.
So you find that Facebook Insights tells you that your engagement numbers are trending upwards. To what do you attribute that encouraging trend? Did you change something? Did one piece of content light a fire? Did you hit a relevance bullseye? Did you mean to and just lucked out on the timing?
These difficult-to-answer questions can leave the community manager hanging – wanting to take credit for the improvement but often unable to replicate the outcome the following week. We humans and our attention spans can be so unpredictable.
Bailey concludes that “Measuring reach, impressions, mentions and engagement for an item (all now accepted by the Public Relations Society of America as metrics for social-media measurement) is entirely within the capabilities of most social-media analytics packages. ” Getting results from these social media metrics will provide a basis of comparison with more traditional marketing metrics, justifying (or not) the investment in social activities.
Bailey’s conclusion does not, in my opinion, answer the question of how the current metrics for engagement tell us what we’re really looking for – that feeling and belief in real relationship between the business and its customers.
As an example of an engaged audience, take a look at Web pages featuring any automobile with a long history and a personality, such as the Ford Mustang.