Calculating Engagement: What Do They Want?

We’re all a flurry in our respective endeavours: creating dynamic content for our site, working on optimizing our text for search, creating opportunities for offline efforts to sync with online communities. But have we really stopped to consider how our target truly wants to receive content? How will we determine if what we created and publicized is being used - and being used in what way will make it a valued effort internally?

Many times we try  to calculate what engagement - a connection to our university, an ongoing, growing conversation - really is. Is it the number of applications? *Gasp* the number of pageviews? How many people deposit? How many graduate in four years? But when it comes to social media and web based tactics - what constitutes success?

We can’t use number actions divided by total number of community members as a measure of how effective we are. It’s not true that comments and user generated content are the only ways that our community shows that it’s engaged. What if our population tends to primarily be ‘Spectators’ or ‘Inactives’?

I love this graphic from Forrester:

 Calculating Engagement: What Do They Want?

If you’ve not yet tried this tool - I’m sure you have - via Groundswell and Forrester, try it now. You’ll see that in the US college going age group, primarily, we’re dealing with joiners and spectators. Thinking about this, does it change how we measure our efforts? Just because no one is talking, doesn’t mean that no one is listening and, perhaps, attending events or passing along the info to others verbally. The point is, it becomes hard to determine to a final scientific number what engagement is. It’s not filling out a form online. It’s not applications. It’s a deeper connection and involvement with the school, over time, to a point of integrating information into a person’s daily life. Are we finding ways to capture this, either in our listening strategy or in surveys for events, etc.?

In the end, we want engaged, active community members who attend, graduate and remain involved in our educational institutions. How much do we really know about their willingness and desire to build on what we create for them online?

Photo Courtesy: FD on Flickr

11 Responses to “Calculating Engagement: What Do They Want?”

  1. Says:

    Hey Jess - I see you’re a fan of Groundswell. So am I! You might be interested in the latest book by Charlene Li (who co-authored Groundswell while at Forrester). It’s called Open Leadership, and chapter 3 of that book is all about engagement. On the Open Leadership website, there’s a section on the Engagement Pyramid, which takes the ladder concept a step farther. (Here’s a graphic of the engagement pyramid, from the bottom of this post on behaviorgraphics.) Using the engagement pyramid, Li ranks social behavior online as follows (from top of the pyramid to bottom):

    Curating – Heavily involved in online communities such as discussion boards, fan pages, and wikipedia through moderation, contribution, editing, etc. These curators contribute their time, energy, and perspective to improve the foundation for available information on a given subject.

    Producing - Creates and publishes original content and social objects as a way of expressing expertise, positions, as well as contributing to the ecosystem of information those in the other categories seek to share thoughts and also make decisions.

    Commenting - Responds to the content created by Producers. Even though they do not actively create and distribute original social objects, their activity is still influential to those around them.

    Sharing – Individuals who actively update their status on social sites and upload/forward photos, videos, articles, etc. This behavior earns relevance and also demonstrates knowledge and awareness.

    Watching - Content consumers who are seeking information in order to make decisions or learn from peers, or purely seeking entertainment.

    There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this book, and I’m still trying to absorb it all. But your point is spot on: engagement is an important concept to grasp and measure.

  2. Says:

    Awesome. Fantastic comment, Andrew. I thought I had seen something like that but its hard to find online. I remember the listing of the varying types of audiences but this is even better! I’ll def pick up the book….

  3. Says:

    I think it is kind of funny, although I fully agree with the concepts that there are different measurements available for calculating engagement and that we should use them, we must always find a way to relate our efforts to the “bottom line”.

    Engagements #s => Why Should I Care => What’s the Real Value?

    Without being able to use the data to shed light towards a Strategic Business Objective/Goal you are simply providing “fluff”.

    For examples “Campus Tours/Visits” are not simply done just for the fun of it! There is a probability (calculation) that X% of those that visit a campus will apply and so on down the action chain.

    If your ‘efforts’ - social or other - are not working towards the your Strategic Business goals then you probably need to take a step back and ask yourself:

    “Why Are We Doing This?” & “What Else Could We Do Instead?”

    And last but not least: “What’s the Value in This?”

  4. Says:

    Paul, I agree. I think we get caught up in the numbers of things that happen online and not the number of things that happen offline. Goals should be something we can collect information around and do better next time and continue to change midstream. Engagement needs to equate to something happening down the road - not just numbers of something. Online communities and tactics help connect students with the school, and we pepper in information there that get them to take an action. But overall, the online community is there to keep us connected and engaged. Without it, we’re just pushing dates and registration info.

  5. Says:

    Paul - May I both agree and disagree with your point? :) Yes, engagement does need to be connected with business objectives. But not all aspects of engagement are necessarily easily measured or quantified.

    Just because something cannot be easily quantified does not mean it holds no value to the organization. Organizations invest a lot on intangibles that cannot be easily measured. For instance, today I brought in bagels for a little celebration our office held to honor someone (not in our department) who is about to retire. What is the ROI on that investment? We got to eat bagels and basically we were not “productive” in the usual sense for about 45 minutes during that celebration, but in my view it was a worthwhile investment of $13.98 at Panera even though the benefits of camaraderie and a bit of fun.

    Having said that, though, I’m not going to take the easy way out and say engagement cannot be measured. It can. For instance, our enrollment management division has data showing that it takes 14-18 contacts or communications per prospective student, on average, before they commit to enroll. For minorities and females, the number of contacts/communications per student is higher. What we’re trying to determine now is how social media engagement may or may not affect those numbers. It’s tough to measure, but we’re not shying away from it. (And if anyone has a secret formula for measuring the effectiveness of such contacts, please let me know.)

  6. Says:

    And even if that magical formula appears, I wonder if it would be different for each school based on location, competition, cost and strength of brand….

  7. Says:

    Jessica, Rock On! True community engagement is value able probably the most useful part as many students choose schools based on conversations with “other people”. Our people can be those other people if we are authentic and helpful.

    Andrew, mix away! Intangibles as you mention do add value and although they are harder to track say they are impossible is “a cop out” as you mentioned. If we can measure branding efforts then we can measure other “intangibles” too. Although you are right it is much harder - glad to hear you are trying.

    You asked for a “Magic Formula” that unfortunately I cannot provide but perhaps I can provide something helpful. It used to be said that it took 7 touches (marketing touches) to make a prospect consider buying a product. At a conference once iModules recommended that number be changed to 9 touches.

    7 touches (typical marketing stuff)
    +3 touches (social/online marketing)

    However, I’d suggest that the number be floated a little bit based more on the presumed authority & authenticity of the touch point. Let me explain.

    If Org. A tries to sell me something then I’m A% likely to buy it; if my parents tell me the product is best then I’m 2P% likely to buy it; if my good friend tells me then I’m 3F% likely to buy it.

    So the trick now is to figure out how many taps are needed and from which source. Note that if you get the F source to grow you’ll get much more likely to get me to buy the product.

    My Likely Hood to Buy % = A+2P+3F

    ** Note the above holds constant the cost & my ability to buy are one-to-one which is not the case as Cost adds in a friction factor. Also a touch point is only counted if it actually happens not the attempt but actual connection is required.

    Also as Director of Web Communicationpoints out the above formula would change based on the presumed authority & authenticity of the school which could make the schools efforts be more valuable than the Parents. I would never expect to out way the Friends though.

    My model comes off the C = 4m + 3v + 2(i-f) - 2a formula by MarketingExperiments for conversion rate.

    Since I have never tested this model I’d be glad to hear if it works out for someone.

  8. Says:

    In alumni relations, I have heard about 9 touches are needed to create engagement.
    The obsession with engagement is coming from the challenges we face with social media ROI. But engagement is only one factor of social media and silence can be golden even in this day and age.

  9. Says:

    Jess, great post and great discussion. I know I’m a little late here, but I wanted to throw a thought.

    Altimeter put together a report on social CRM that’s fantastic and really gets to the heart of this discussion, I think. (blog post here). The report is complete with use cases and vendors to look for depending upon what you need. Unfortunately, as was mentioned, there is nothing out there that does it all.

    For higher education, I think the issue here is that we’re trying to run before we walk. In general, higher education has yet to even embrace true CRM. To try to go beyond that and add in the social aspect will be a challenge.

    Analytics is all encompassing - web, social, business. We need to embrace the entire mentality, not just one part of it.

    Until that can be done, we’re limited as to how much we can do with each individual piece.

  10. Says:

    I love the diagram! Great information that you provide! This is a great article for those of use that really take time to think about how we engage with our respective markets. It is truly about what they want and how the initiate the connection. Great post!

  11. Says:

    Wow this is a great topic. So many questions that we, as an industry, haven’t quite been able to answer yet. The concept of engaging those “passive” users is so crucial, yet difficult to measure.

    Very interesting that the graphic shows 70% of users as Spectators-I guess our mission is to find a way push those spectators to action? Or do we feel that spectating can be an acceptable end result? =)

    I will be checking back to read everyone’s comments as they come in.