Higher Ed Headbutt: Engagement Vs. ROI

Running off of my previous postCalculating Engagement: What Do They Want, the battle always arises: which is more important, engagement or ROI? The easy answer is, they’re equally relevant. However, often the former gets a bad rap due to the unusual amorphous nature that it takes and the lack of any solidly accepted structure to measure it. Before jumping to conclusions about either, let’s take a second to define each in terms of interactive, web based outreach.

Engagement: Everyone can define this differently. The way I like to frame it is, ‘how does what you are doing (or not doing) create a relationship between the brand and the user’? This is important. Social media and other outreach is not just about an end sale. Its about word of mouth, brand management and building momentum in the community that supports your institution. Can word of mouth be measured in dollar value? I say, no. But, positive and negative sentiment and its effect on enrollment can be. Without a way to listen and be part of the conversation taking place, both on and off line, you have no way to determine any changes were due to your efforts, or lack there of. Engagement then becomes not only putting information out there in a way that is palatable to your audience, after research and segmentation, but also listening to what is being said, not only in your predefined spaces. It’s listening and talking in a pre-developed brand voice where appropriate, while taking action on sentiments privately where you can.

ROI: This also can become a quagmire of uselessness. It’s ‘easy’ to calculate ROI in analytics by predetermining goals, funnels and leads that translate into deposited and then enrolled students. One can also set up such funnels and goals for social media efforts and track students through their cycle and enrollment defining a value for each. This measurement puts emphasis on something more tangible - and final - than engagement. It leads very strictly in most cases in higher ed to deposits, and maybe even as deep as final enrollment. But does it continue to retention? It has recently become more and more of a topic in higher education web analytics that retention should be factored into analytical ROI definitions, in terms of referrals,  and completed goals. But will we ever get to the point of tracking back to keywords, etc. by retained students?

Although some may say that engagement is too loose of a concept to actually measure and to maintain, I’d say its of much greater importance to higher ed than ROI. Don’t get me wrong, ROI should definitely remain a crucial measurement, especially if done down to the retention/graduation rate level. On the other hand, engagement helps a university gauge its place in the market, define new targets, and remain in the mix when it comes to positive or negative sentiment. Without it, universities continue to operate as fiefdoms and will remain lost in the past. ROI needs to be fleshed out to a very precise level, not just a per lead basis, but a ‘how’, ‘why’ and a ‘where’ analysis.

How are you defining engagement? Do you track both ROI and engagement and report out regularly on each? How much value is put on each at your institution?

3 Responses to “Higher Ed Headbutt: Engagement Vs. ROI”

  1. Says:

    Jess-THANK YOU! for writing this blog entry. Presently, in my role as the social media person for my department at UCLA, I am writing a “social media baseline metrics” memo. I make the case that it is difficult to calculate ROI based off of the numbers (and I showed off that graphic you pulled from Forrester Researcher). Instead, it should be about engagement… but tracking that can be much more onerous. I haven’t come up with a nifty way of doing this short of entering them as “incidents” in CRM software.

    • Says:

      @Sirinya - Glad it was helpful! I’m hopeful that we can all get to a place where engagement can be culled back to ROI in a more scientific route (analytics, survey’s, connections to actions from certain external sites, etc.). Some software out there can do these things I’m sure, but for those of us who cant afford it, making our own rigged tools will do so long as we have that baseline of which you speak, and can provide qualitative data.

  2. Says:

    Nice article Jess! As the digital lead for recruitment in my school (Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School based in Singapore), I keep a very simple spreadsheet that keeps track of measuring engagement on our Facebook Page. At least that gives me an overview of what are the postings that has more “likes” and “comments” than others. I find ROI a tougher cookie to measure. The only ROI I do right now is for my Google adword campaign, which gives me an indication of my CPA for each registrant. As of now, engagement is the number I share with the bigger team.