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How to Measure Online Engagement

One key element of social media success is analytics. Without evaluating online efforts, you’re confining marketing strategy to mere shots in the dark. Fortunately, there are countless analytics programs on the Internet, providing streams of data about everything from audience gender differences to current hot topics of online discussion.

Unfortunately, much of this data is usually fluff. Pageviews, incoming clicks, tweets, or follower counts are great for measuring things such as reach or audience demographics, but they’re terrible methods for measuring true success. Say a Twitter account tweets a call-to-action to its 1 million followers, asking the audience to capitalize on a deal. If no one acts on the offer, the large following provided no benefit at all.

“Online engagement” is a far better determinant of social media success. The more important statistics are the ones that show what users are doing with the content produced by your marketing efforts — things such as retweets, comments, or sharing photos. These are the true engagement numbers and should be the focus of your analytics.

There are five main analytics to look for to measure online engagement:

  • Retweets/Shares:  If people are excited about the content you are producing, they’ll share it. Make sure you aren’t limiting yourself to analyzing activity on Facebook and Twitter. How many re-pins do you average? Is anyone tweeting links to your YouTube videos? Do your blog posts frequently receive pingbacks?
  • Comments:  A large part of social media marketing involves establishing yourself as a thought leader. One key element of this process is conversation. When you tweet about something, do people reply? Do your blog posts generate plenty of comments, or — even better — do they inspire entirely new blog posts? The true compliment to your social media efforts is rich discussion.
  • Click-throughs:  Are people clicking on the links you’re providing via social media? If so, do your followers seem more interested in a certain type of content (deals as opposed to blog posts or vise-versa)? This is a great way to stay aware of audience needs — one of the key elements of marketing.
  • Time spent online:  When people watch your YouTube videos, are they watching the entire video? When someone visits your blog, how long do they usually stay? The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News measures an “engaged” user as someone who spends at least five minutes on its website. Establish an optimal level for average time spent, and aim for that number.
  • Direct responses:  This is the ultimate engagement test, because it shows how strongly followers are willing to listen to you. If you ask followers to act on or respond to something (such as “Like” a post, take a survey, answer a question, etc.), how much of a reaction do you get? Blogger Debra Askanase recommends measuring response rates as a percentage of total following.

Now what?

Measuring these numbers is a positive step forward, but endless streams of data won’t provide benefits without a strategy. Simply boasting that you have 300 “engaged” followers will do you no more good than having 1 million who are unengaged.

It’s up to you as a marketer to utilize the information this data provides. Throughout the analytics process, you’ll notice trends in sources of engagement. Do consumers react more strongly to a certain topic you tweet or blog about? Is a certain social media site far more popular than another? Allocate your resources to the strongest-performing areas.

At the end of the day, it’s not that different from evaluating traditional marketing. You just have to measure the right numbers.

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About the author: Joseph Havey is the Director of Social Media for the Triangle-based Shelten Media, LLC, a start-up company specializing in social media marketing. He is a member of N.C. State’s PRSSA chapter, and writes for the school newspaper, Technician. In his free time, he trains for triathlons. 

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