How do you know your web engagement strategies are working if you aren't measuring them. You don't. But how exactly do you measure something like engagement anyway?

Engagement is Confusing

I have a marketing background, so I'm not really a stranger to the concept that you need to measure your marketing activities to ensure they are producing the required outcomes you intended. And I know that every marketing tactic has an associated measurement practice(s).

But with this whole "you need to engage with your customers" mantra comes a new set of challenges for marketers. How do you do that? How do you measure what you do to see if it's working? What are your end goals anyway, especially when it comes to your engagement practices?

I've also had the opportunity to see a number of products and platforms that support Web Engagement Management (WEM) and they always include some form of analytics/monitoring tools. Great. Looks good, seems to give me good information. I guess.

But I'm still stuck with the same questions, how do I engage, how do I measure what I do and what exactly am I trying to achieve by engaging with my customers? There are no rules, no real best practices, every company is different, every customer base is different. Is there anything common to help me wrap my head around this?

In other words, is there a "best approach to engagement"

and

is there a must-use metric to measure web engagement?

Truthfully -- and sadly -- the answer really is no. But here are some ideas/advice to give you some perspective.

Pick a Metric, Any Metric

Apparently there are a number of different stances on engagement metrics.

Metrics Are Not KPIs

In a conversation with Matt Goddard, CEO is r2integrated, a digital marketing agency, I got one. Goddard told me that people think that engagement metrics are KPIs or something that lead you to hit your KPIs, but that's a pretty challenging view -- "Statistical data doesn't help you understand a user's intentions."

Goddard believes that Engagement metrics drive particular KPIs. A couple of examples:

  • Your KPI is cost reduction in a community (because that community is now self-sufficient). A specific KPI is the number of questions answered correctly. The engagement metrics you might use? # individuals answering questions, are they the same people all the time, is there consistency in what they are saying, are the answering delivered timely?
  • Your KPI is digestion of a particular piece of content that leads to a conversion (referral traffic). How do you do that? Put content into those areas in the community where there is the highest level of communication, the most diverse people talking. In other words, put it in context of the conversation.

Goddard does not believe that sentiment can be measured (and most will agree that we aren't there yet). And people don't always write like they talk or think. Most people don't want to be on the fringe (so measuring bad sentiment is a waste of time) -- neutral sentiment is usually the highest.

Can the tools slice up the data small enough to really grasp sentiment? Goddard doesn't think so. He thinks it may not be about the measurement at all. If core social networking theory says that 10% of a given population will talk at all, then how can you really judge true sentiment? There just aren't enough people talking.

So Understand Your KPIs First

To know what metrics you want to track, make sure you understand what your KPIs are first. Once you define your KPIs you should be able to determine the value that your social media efforts are bringing into the organization. Here's Lithium Technologies' Social Maestro, Erin Korogodsky with her take on KPIs and social media.

Communities are the Key

Communities of Interest (COI) are Goddard's response to how to best support Web Engagement today. He sees peer to peer engagement (advice giving, advice seeking) as the new decision making behavior. A brand's relative position in a COI and its position across all relevant COIs is an indicator of success.

COIs are not owned by the brand. These are unowned properties, places where people go to discuss and share, seek/provide advice. Brands must identity those COIs which are important, rate them, score them and then actively engage within them.

Goddard makes a really good point when he asks, "how does a brand market when all information is known?". It must learn to co-exist with these COIs and leverage them for things like market research and product development. He doesn't think the brand is dead, but how the final buying decision is made is very often not in its control.

Doesn't Matter How, Just Engage

Maybe it's just enough to know we have to engage at all. When we asked our contributors what the key engagement metric was for 2011, Eric Peterson, founder of Web Analytics Demystified, responded with "Engagement" itself for social media. He explained:

"One thing we track at Twitalyzer (a side project of mine that has sort of gone big recently) is the likelihood that someone will actually respond when written to and engage in a conversation.

For example, here is a list of people who talk about "Apple" (the company) tracked by Twitalyzer:

http://bit.ly/iht8d0

As you can see in the third metric column, each of these people have a higher or lower level of engagement with their followers and audience. Some folks, like Jim Cramer, do an awesome job ... others not so much.

From where we sit (with my Twitalyzer hat on) if you're not willing to engage with your audience in Twitter (or any social media) you're not really understanding what social media is truly about."

Peterson makes a great point. Engagement is not just about listening to what customers and others say about our brand, it's about actively participating in the conversation yourself. Is there a wrong way to do that? As long as you don't spend your time promoting your brand, but instead offer advice, strategies and answers to questions you are on the right track. And you will refine your approach as you do it. You just need to start doing it.

Doing it right means you will see benefits. According to Chris Morace, SVP of Business Development at Jive Software, as much as 25-45% improvement in things like case deflection, cost savings in customer support for time to resolution and more can be achieved.

 

Tying Social Media Activities Back to the Organization

Azita Martin, CMO for Moxie Software, a relative newcomer to the social software market, says don't do social media in a bubble. It's important to tie your social media activities back to the organization, because it's only one element of your support and engagement model.

It is All About the Customer, For the Most Part

There is a lot of advice out there to that tells you how to measure engagement and what things to measure. Lots of good reading. But it comes down to understanding your own business, what your goals are and who your customers are. To make money today -- and it is all about the money -- you have to know and understand your customer intimately. Find out where they hang out, what they are asking, what their goals are and then find a way to provide it without breaking the bank.

Finding the balance between making your customers happy and making money is the real challenge.

David Hillis, VP of Business Development for Ingeniux, a WEM platform, brought it all home:

Old fashioned, bottom line and measurable -- revenue is where the growth is happening on the web this year.

Revenue is now a very measurable index for engagement, regardless if you are measuring lead conversion pipelines using Salesforce.com, counting e-commerce sales, or projecting digital content distribution and pay walls -- revenue is the key metric. The recession is over. It’s time to make the web pay.

Steve Jobs proved millions of people are willing to pay for digital content. The economics of the web have changed with globalization, mobile web access, and mass adoption of Internet technology. There are now tens, if not hundreds of millions of people worldwide that can engage with your content and spend money on your site. From daily deal sites like Groupon and social gaming sites like Zynga, to universities processing online admissions, businesses generating new sales leads, or member associations offering e-commerce and event registrations -- revenue rules the day.

Of course there are other very real and critical metrics. Social networks have expanded our content and web strategy in new ways. We now need to measure sentiment, conversations and total engagement across larger ecosystems of websites and services. Just look at the several hundred million dollars Salesforce.com spent on Radian6 to see how critical social metrics have become.

But to me, this year, only one metric counts -- revenue. You can bet your bottom dollar on it.

Final Thoughts

As I said earlier, I have seen a number of really good platforms/tools to help you engage with your customers and monitor how it's working. What it really brings to mind is that marketing is changing dramatically and marketers are sitting on the edge of some great new tools. But as great as these tools are, there is so much thinking and understanding that has to happen before you even click button or type a word.

So don't think tools are the answer. Understand your business needs and your customers and develop your strategy to move forward. Then find the tool(s) that will best suit your strategy. And have fun.

Next week CMSWire contributor Julie Hunt has a two part article called Goals & Metrics - Measuring Customer Engagement on the web (see Part 1 The Keys to Understanding Web Customer Engagement  and Part 2: Measuring Web Customer Engagement Using Goals, Metrics