I get asked A LOT about social media measurement. Generally the questions fall in to a couple of buckets - but predominantly I get the "ROI" question. There are a lot of answers that I could give. One of the "social media gurus" favorite answers (judged solely on the frequency and douche biggish tone in which it's delivered) is: You don't try and measure the ROI of your telephone do you?
Well let's be real. Yes, you actually do. Because what they're talking about is customer service. And any customer service/eServices/Customer Care/etc team can tell you exactly what the ROI of not only their telephone - but the call you just made on it is. A good, measurement driven business can tell you the ROI on just about every investment they make. Social Media included.
But even if you don't have a fully flushed measurement framework in place there are still elements you should be looking at.
I'm going to argue today that there is one metric you should be tracking above all others in the social web.
Why is engagement your most important metric?
The level of engagement you are getting around specific points of conversation or specific pieces of content can tell you an incredible amount about what your audience cares about. If your engagement tends to be incredibly low around certain types of content - well maybe you need to change how your frame and present it, or maybe you need to rethink that type of content all together.
In most cases, engagement is in very close alignment with conversions. You may not know that yet if you don't have a well developed measurement framework in place - but once you get there you will likely see this relationship loud and clear.
If you're experiencing low engagement but a high volume (tweets, comments, etc) then this is a very clear sign you are leaving money on the table so to speak.
Engagement levels the playing field. Sure your big brand competitor has 100 million followers. And you think you can't compete with them let alone benchmark and measure against them? Wrong. Engagement is something that can transcend that type of discrepancy. Start thinking of engagement as a percentage of your followers or friends. That will give you a far more honest view at how you and your competition (regardless of size) is really doing.
What is engagement and how do we measure it?
Everyone is going to define engagement a little bit differently. Largely your business goals and KPI's will drive how engagement is defined within your organization. But consider that there will be several if not many elements that make up this one metric.
Engagement as volume:
For example, on Facebook we can define engagement as any activity that takes place around a specific piece of content: like, comment, share. And/or we can also incorporate any comments made independent of that straight to the wall. On something like Twitter we would look at mentions, @ replies, RT's (old and new) and citations of content.
Engagement as % of Friends/Followers (audience):
This way of measuring engagement gets at a truer version of the metric as I mentioned before. This measurement looks at all of the same inputs but quantifies it over the size of your audience. (SimplyMeasured actually has this as one of their graph's in the reporting templates you start with. Great tool. Very reasonably priced especially depending on your size.)
Engagement as a % of your market share:
Measuring your engagement as a percentage of your total market share gives you an idea as to how well you are engaging as a percentage of your total customer base. If this number is low you may want to look at why the rest of your consumers aren't engaging with you on the social web. Do they know you're there? Are you providing value in way that matters to them? And so on.
Engagement as a % of the market:
Measuring engagement on this level may very well be disappointing. Your numerator and denominator are going to be on such different scales. But that's okay because so will your competitors. Social media give you an opportunity to reach out to costumers and provide value outside of your current market share. Looking at engagement as a percentage of the total market gives you an idea around the size of your blue ocean.
How do you increase engagement?
Look at your data. Do more of what works.
Then - look for new content opportunities. Your web analytics data holds a wealth of information about your customers interest and intent. Give them what it is that they're looking for in an interesting way that also encourages them to share and engage around.
I will often encourage business owners to look at what is working for their closest competitor. Now I am most definitely not suggesting you copy them. That's a whole-lotta bad ju-ju. But I am suggesting that if you have the same customer base, that looking at what they're doing and how it's working could give you some ideas.
All that said - the best and most important tip I could give on how to increase engagement with your customers is this: Engage. Yep. That's it. Jump in. Start having conversations with them. Answer their questions. Don't wait. Don't be afraid. Engagement is about building relationships that lead to mutual benefit. This isn't something that happens over night or through automation (although I will add that does have it's place and time. Future post pending). Go forth and do awesome.