The Engagement Equation

The elusive holy grail of social media marketing is figuring out how to measure the nebulous concept of “engagement.” Evaluating our online efforts is even harder for social marketers because we don’t have the eventual sales figures to prove that they led to any changes in behavior among our audience. Before online marketing became a two-way street, way back when people would simply read information posted on a website, we could easily track things like unique visitors, page views and recency of visit. Now that the people we are talking to can talk back to us, we need to think about how to capture the value of conversations, interactions, and social networking.

I happened to see a comment on Twitter that led me to a blog post by John Johansen titled Engagement = Ingagement + Outgagement. Before I read the post, the title alone got me thinking in a new way about the concept. Turns out that John went in a different direction with the meanings of the terms than I did, so let’s just focus on the equation itself.

I see “ingagement” and “outgagement” as being similar to the ideas of inputs and outputs. “Ingagement” would refer to the marketing activities from your organization to which a particular person is exposed. That would include your website, blog, Twitter activity, emails, advertisements, etc. If someone is interested and paying attention to what you have to say, that’s a prerequisite to being engaged with your organization or issue.

“Outgagement” is the response from that person to your inputs. Does he or she leave a comment responding to your blog post, subscribe to your feed, engage in a conversation with you on Twitter, join your Facebook group, tell friends about your issue? Even better, but often not measurable through online indicators, is whether they actually adopt the behavior that you are promoting.

The outgagement is much less likely to happen unless there is some ingagement, and when both occur together, in an interactive way, we get “engagement.” Engagement can affect things like knowledge, attitudes and behaviors (though it could happen in either a positive or negative direction, depending upon the nature of the interactions). Even for commercial marketers, it’s not always easy to make a direct correlation between social media activities and increases in sales. Mike Kujawski gives some ideas on how to measure return on investment from your public sector/nonprofit online activities.

Generating engagement is not always simple, but it’s also not differential calculus. It boils down to giving people a reason to pay attention to your message and a way to interact with your issue or organization. And then it will all add up.

Photo Credit: Chris Inside

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  1. “Even better, but often not measurable through online indicators, is whether they actually adopt the behavior that you are promoting.”

    This is an excellent insight. In the race to capture data online, we can’t forget that for most people their meaningful interactions happen primarily offline.

    I like your take on engagement. This really stresses the importance of understanding where and how to listen to the people that matter to an organization.

    We don’t need to capture their attention everywhere. Just make sure we know when they are interested, and (dare I say) engaged.

  2. John,

    In social marketing, when our ultimate goal is to get people to adopt a health or social-related behavior, we have to think about what’s happening offline (which unfortunately is so much harder than tracking what they do online). Thanks for the back and forth sharing of perspectives. 🙂

  3. There is a concept called Transportation which originally referred to involvement in a printed story. Melanie Green and others are trying to apply it to o media, especially narrative type approaches. Another, that I have used is the concept of parasocial interaction, which is similarly a type of engagement. However, not sure it would work with web based interaction.

  4. Connie, thanks for your thoughts on this. I’ll see if I can find more on those concepts.

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