Return On Engagement is Not a Numbers Game

In our previous post, Emphasize Return On Engagement to Measure Social Media, we  suggested that emphasizing Return On Engagement (ROE) rather than ROI may be appropriate for social media, especially inside the enterprise. In this post, we delve a little more deeply into ROE.

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One thing to remember is that Return On Engagement (ROE) is not a numbers game; it’s a quality of interaction game. It’s not how many followers or community members you have that counts. It’s how well you do know one another? How likely are they to recommend you or to become evangelists for your organization? These are the returns you get from your engagement with your community. You’ll notice they differ from the typical Return On Investment types of measures you may be familiar with.

ROE’s differences from ROI are aptly summed up by Amy Sample Ward:

Table 1 — ROI vs. ROE



Asks how many Facebook fans you have Asks how many people are “liking,” commenting and sharing your Facebook content
Asks how many staff and how many hours Asks how many posts, updates, replies or individual responses
Asks how many email subscribers Asks how many people send you emails
Asks how much money you raise Asks how many people are campaigning on your behalf

Your organization may need to adopt a very important attitude shift in order to fully benefit from measuring ROE. It’s one of the organizational transformations that effective use of social com­puting demands: the shift from pushing out messages to engaging in conversations. Put bluntly: You can’t measure engagement if you aren’t engaging your community.

This is a lesson that many organizations have to learn as they transition from offline marketing to leveraging social computing.
The differences in measurement mirror the differences in attitude summed up by Mike Valentino,
[2] CEO of media promotion company TMPG Inc.:

Return On Engagement (ROE) is a concept that begs the question: Do you want your consumers to be active or passive. Put another way, do you want to pay X for a 30-second spot passively watched by 2 million prospects; or, for example, a special event, or a Web experience ignited by non-traditional radio techniques where 500,000 engage with the brand for seven minutes, then use Word of Mouth (WOM) to pass along their experience?

Valentino’s rhetorical question begs us to answer, “The Web experience.” Yet it may be hard for your organization to give that answer. Traditional push media — whether it be Public Service Announcements (PSAs) or push email campaigns — have worked for you before despite their low engagement factor. You’re comfortable with them, and changing modes to engage with your community, especially without the well-defined metrics you’re used to, may be difficult.

Jeremiah Owyang provides a list[3] of somewhat informal ROE measures that demonstrates the powerful insights you can get when you start engaging with your community. We’ve edited the list slightly and adapted it:

  • We learned something about our community we’ve never known before
  • We learned something from our community that we didn’t know before
  • We connected with a handful of community members like never before as they talk back and we listen
  • We were able to tell our story to community members and they shared it with others
  • We have a blogging program where there are more community members talking back in comments than there are posts
  • We have an online community where members are self-supporting each other and costs are reduced
  • We learned a lot from this experimental program, and paved the way for future projects
  • We gained experience with a new way of two-way communication

Ask yourself: If we were to receive these returns on our social media engagement, would that make our efforts worthwhile? The value of some of these insights is easily quantified in dollars (reduced support costs) others are hard to put a price on (learning something about your community you never knew — that could be priceless).

To derive benefit from using ROE, you need to decide what your goals are, and how to measure your performance against them.

Return On Engagement is Not a Numbers Game is the 45th in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). At this rate it’ll be a long time before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

See the previous posts What is Social Media?, Social Sites Defined, Why Social Media? How is Social Media Relevant to Business? First Steps Toward a Social Media Strategy, and Decide What Your Business Will Do About Social Computing, pt. 1

Next up: Emphasize Share of Conversation to Measure Social Media

[1] Amy Sample Ward is a social media writer and consultant:

[2] Mike Valentino on ROE:

[3] Why Your Social Media Plan should have Success

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