Ah, engagement. That sticky word that gets discussed an awful lot in context of social media conversations. But how, exactly, do you look at engagement and keep tabs on the factors that drive it?
While no single metric alone is going to be a solid indicator of how engaged your community or customers are, there are a few things you can look at that help guide you toward the conversations and interactions to pay attention to for deeper analysis. Here's our take on a few of the engagement metrics to watch for.
One of the most popular ways of looking at engagement is how active the discussion is on any one piece of content or post. The quality and value of comments is another discussion altogether, but looking at the spark of conversation ignited by a post can be an interesting indicator of whether folks are listening, and that they're compelled to speak up and respond.
2. Unique commenters
Some communities are incredibly tight knit or niche, which means that you might have fewer people contributing to the overall dialogue (think the 80/20 rule here). But at a high level, looking at an increase in unique commenters over time can signal not just that you're reaching more eyes and ears, but that your work is compelling more and more people to emerge and discuss, rather than just a core contingent of fans. After all, the potential rabid fans must first make themselves known.
3. Thread size
Forums are still alive and well, especially in some tech, telco and automotive sectors (to name a few). And if you've got a community where you're posting discussion questions or even FAQs and support items, looking at the length and breadth of the threaded discussion that follows can not only show you how invested your members are, but whether the discussions are proving useful and impactful for them.
4. Time with Content
Some engagement can actually be passive, meaning that the people reading or interacting with the content might be very interested, but quiet. Forrester explains on their Groundswell technographics ladder that there are people in this camp. Sometimes, they might even take your content or ideas as inspiration to create something of their own, and may not say so directly. Sometimes, looking at how long people spend perusing your content or the community discussions can indicate deep interest, even if it isn't verbalized.
5. Content Downloads
Another popular way of assuming engagement, downloads of content like whitepapers, ebooks, or even blog posts can indicate interest in the subject matter. It's a little looser in implication since it's harder to track what happens AFTER the content download without doing some follow up. Are they actually getting around to reading the content and, even better, doing something with it? But looking at downloads can be a great leading indicator of engagement around a topic or subject.
Folks signing up to your blog or newsletter or publication indicates, plain and simple, that they're interested in what you have to say. And while true engagement is often looked at as something more interactive, subscriptions are the door opener to bring someone into the fold, and give you and them more opportunity to converse, discuss, and iterate on the content and subjects themselves.
7. Content Sharing
Another leading indicator that someone cares about what you're doing? They tell someone else. Retweets, Stumbles, bookmarks on Delicious, even emails or blog posts. And whether or not they comment actively themselves on a regular basis, they're demonstrating their perception of value in the material by being willing to share it along to their network. Another interesting look at this kind of statistic: how many of the shares come complete with additional positive commentary (vs. shares that say "ugh, did you SEE this piece of junk?").
If your community is well engaged, they're going to invest their time and brain power in guiding you toward business improvements. Things like suggestions, product improvement ideas, innovation forums like IdeaStorm, or voting and commenting on proposed ideas can all indicate a vested interest on behalf of the people you're trying to reach. If they care about what you're doing and how, you have a great opportunity to line up your efforts better with the needs of the people that drive your work.
9. Spinoff Content
As I alluded to with #4, sometimes folks engage with your content or company by carrying those ideas elsewhere and applying them to expanded ideas. Sometimes that can come in the form of spinoff content, which you can often identify through inbound links, as folks can often link back to the content that originally sparked their idea. If they don't, listening to topics similar to those you're discussing can help unearth spinoff content.
Recommendations and endorsements sort of have a foot in both the sales metric and engagement metric camp, so we'll talk more about the sales side in a couple of weeks. But posts and comments that recommend your business to others can be a strong indicator of that person's connection and level of commitment to you. This is how you start to find those undiscovered evangelists and fans, and empower them with more information and access to act as your ambassador.
Remember about engagement: The metrics above are indicators, not guarantees. The hypothesis here is that by interacting with content or people on a more obvious and consistent basis, the individual is demonstrating a more committed interest in what you're saying or doing. What you need to understand for yourself is what engagement means to you, in context of what you're trying to achieve through same.
That means the real value is in tying any or all of the above metrics into other, more specific measurements that indicate positive progress toward business goals. Correlating comments with increased email subscriptions. Lining up an increase in content downloads with an increase in leads, and better yet, conversion rates for those leads. You can also make a case that anything related to sales could be considered an engagement metric: leads, referrals, sales themselves. We'll tackle those in a different metrics post later in the month.
And the Ultimate Engagement Metric is still the sale itself. All of these indicators above are designed to help increase the likelihood that someone will pay more attention to you, more often, and eventually buy from you. Let's face it, we don't say "yay, we got more comments!" and stop there. We want more comments, because that indicates that we have people's attention. Attention is currency. More focused and persistent attention increases the odds that when someone needs to buy what we have, they'll look to us.
We'll talk more next week about the top metrics for tracking awareness and reach. In the meantime, when you track engagement, what are you looking for? The comments are open, and we're waiting to hear from you.