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Beginning a new social media program or demonstrating to senior management its value can be a challenge. While social media is becoming established in marketing, many still struggle to prove its value to the bottom line.

Perhaps one of the most important of all metrics, engagement with users is likely one of the main reasons your social media program was started. Measuring where, how and why it's happening and increasing its effectiveness and frequency across channels is vital to program success.

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Measuring engagement is much more than simply measuring how many people have opted in to receiving your content. You might have 50,000 Twitter followers or 5,000 Facebook fans, but are they really interacting with and listening to you, and if so, what can you learn about that audience that can help you hone your messaging?

There are four steps to consider when answering this question.

Step One: Determine where it's happening

Most social marketing programs include multiple platforms, and activity can vary from one platform to the next. It's important to understand where your activity is happening and what type of activity that is.

Let's say you have comparable sized networks on Twitter and Facebook, but you're getting more of the key signs of engagement on Twitter (retweets, replies, mentions) than on Facebook (comments, likes, shares). There's something going on there that's worth looking into.

Looking at each platform you're using and comparing it to others will tell you where your fans or customers are the most engaged. If a clear front-runner emerges, that information will help to inform where your efforts should be concentrated, and where you may need to work on growing your audience.

Step Two: Determine how and why it's happening

The next step is to measure the "how" and "why" parts of the engagement question. To do this, we recommend taking a broader look at your data to identify trends. For instance:

  • Choose a larger date range, for example the last six months, and compare that data to the first six months.
  • Compare month to month, especially if your program is relatively new and you don't have many months of data.
  • Look at specific pieces of content, and identify the ones that are creating the most engagement.
  • On a daily or weekly basis, determine whether there are specific times when your audience is more engaged, whether it's a particular day of the week, or a time of day.

This allows you to see trends in active users - how many of your fans visit monthly, weekly, or daily and what they're doing when they visit.

It also allows you to see trends in interactions - how often and when are you creating buzz in your user community, how many comments and likes do you get on average, what content has generated the most feedback, etc.

You'll begin to see clear spikes in interactions where your content was really successful.

  • Compare those spikes in interactions to the piece of content you posted that generated that feedback, and use that information to inform future posts.
  • Think about your active base, how much real engagement you're getting as opposed to just getting in front of your audience. In the case of Facebook, a high number of page views compared to a low number of actual interactions means that you have a small active base and room for improvement.

You'll develop a sense of the interactions your audience is making with you, and you can begin to answer the question of how and why. This is a valuable addition to where and how much.

Step Three: Find your most engaging content and hone in

Using this information, you'll be able to clearly identify what engagement levels your content is eliciting. For instance, certain kinds of posts may get more feedback, while other kinds of posts garner little to no attention at all. Is it the title? Is it the type of post? Was the content posted at a certain time of the day or week?

By honing in on the content that people really respond to, and reducing or eliminating the efforts that aren't working, you can begin to refine and replicate the types of content that most engages people, that people find the most valuable.

Step Four: Put it in perspective

It's also important to remember that engagement can be a very broad term. You want to make sure you're looking at it not just by itself, but also in terms of your total audience. If your level of engagement is high in a very small part of your overall community, you need to consider whether that's moving towards your goals.

How many overall followers do you have in a given network, and of those, what percentage are actively responding to you, interacting with your page and sharing your content? The higher the percentage, the higher your engagement.

By putting these steps together, you'll be able to better understand how effective your content is at creating an engaged and interactive audience, and how well it's helping you achieve your business goals.

For more information on Measurement, check the Awareness whitepaper, The Top 9 Social Media Metrics Marketers Need to Know, or our latest e-book, The Social Funnel: Driving Business Value with Social Marketing.

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