Thursday, July 12, 2012

Twitter Math

What is wrong with my math? I count and I tweet and my engagement rate is always in the toilet.  How do we know when we're really engaging? When have we *INFLUENCED*!?!?  The following discusses why calculating the engagement rate metric in a thoughtful way matters, and reviews two approaches to calculating it. Please share your favorite ER formula and we'll do some math together!!

You might rightly ask "what is the market value of engagement?" and "why would I care about how many people are talking back or talking about me?"

Time is money and if you're spending time for a business entity like a product or service, you want to be able to show you're creating value for the time hunched over the computer. If you are a hobbyist or spouting opinions and chatting with friends, that's cool, but it doesn't seem like a good use of time to read this post (but if you do, please comment so I can keep my engagement scores up!).

Market value of engagement ratings

Your engagment rate represents a measure of credibility. If people are reading your blog and you have the little "Tweet" button with the count of other people who have already read and Tweeted that article (see below), it creates a perception that this article is full of valuable content and therefore, more credible than other junky, schlocky, self-serving articles.
When you're selling a product in a market where people have a lot of choices, but there is a lot of risk to purchasing from the wrong vendor, credibility can bring in the sale.

Your engagement is also a sellable item if you're in a position to sell advertising on 'engagable' instruments like your blog or site or newsletter. MarketingSherpa profiled, which adjusts their advertising rates based on the relative engagement value of their website, vs. their newsletter. It doesn't quite hold for Twitter or Facebook, but *they* certainly are benefitting from your ability to engage their users, aren't they?

I'll concede tracking such things is only relevant when compared to either your past performance or someone else's effort. Measuring such things is inherently competitive: 'I want to know that my blog or feed is more valuable or influential than my competitor's' and 'I like doing it so I want to justify its value to my boss'. Being competitive isn't bad, I have thought in other instances that competitiveness is our defining human trait and makes us strive for greatness.

Since we agree we're engaged in social media activities for a business purpose, my best advice is to use and evaluate the weight of your engagement rate relative to your sales:
  • If engagement is way up but sales are down, is it possible you've tapped into something fabulously interesting that is not your product? Then either get back on task, or get into the business you and your audience find so much more involving.
  • If engagement is down, but sales are up, then perhaps your product doesn't run on social media fuel or there are other market factors, like you're so busy at the sales counter you haven't had time to post.
So, like any good economic calculation, IT DEPENDS if it is a valuable exercise. In this case, it depends on what's going on with the sales numbers. Sales trumps everything.

Traditional Engagement Ranking:

The engagement ranking is a statistic of how much activity your posts generate. It can be used across many of the social media channels. I'll use Facebook to demonstrate:
  • Tally up all of your posts that were reposted in a set period of time (say, April 2012).
  • Divide them by the average number of likes over that period. Some take the median between your first and last day of the period or round up, round down. Whether you prefer to be precise or conservative, just be consistent because it is primarily useful in gauging internal success for your effort.
  • Multiply by 100 to get your rate.
In the case of today's client, they tallied 138 activities (likes and comments) in the time period, over their 16000 followers, earning them a piss-poor 0.86 engagement rate. The industry standard of engagement rating is challenging to find, but it appears to be 5ish at minimum and doesn't typically get beyond 30.

The guy at Wise Metrics thinks that calculation is too simplistic, that retweets and comments and likes aren't the only way people interact, and it's not the only way someone derives a positive experience from your Twitter or Facebook feeds.

While I agree the traditional creates a very simplistic metric, and is easily manipulated by being a prolific poster (even with inane and off-topic messages), or by pandering gather new followers with an insipent "you follow me, I'll follow you" come on, or by dropping the "dead weight" of inactive followers, it is an objective means for tracking progress, if engagement is one of your goals. It always goes back to what your goals are.

Alternate Engagment Rating Calculation

The Wise Metrics version of the Engagement Rate takes into account the # of posts you made to generate your rate. It accounts for the number of people who had the opportunity to see your post (perhaps someone was out of town or camping or in a meeting and would have replied, but couldn't see your brilliant post). This makes sense since social media content can be "off the moment".

So our friends with the near-zero engagement rate calculated against all of their non-engaged followers takes into account that a mere 50 posts were seen by not their bloated 16000+ user number, but the secret number of people who were online and could possibly see your work: page_engaged_users metric in the case of Facebook, is only available in your account backend. In this case only 847 people were logged in and available to see (and eventually act on) the messages during the period. Then divide that by the number of people who stopped to like or retweet, browse through photos or watch videos, or the users_reached number. This group of folks could be outside your fanbase; they could be friends of your friends who saw it on someone else's feed - you could have no connection to them, but you touched them. In our example, 312 people were so touched. Now we get a very different story:
847 engaged users / 50 posts = 16.94
which is divided by 312 engaged users = 0.0542
x 100 to become a full rate = 5.43.
We made 50 posts (something controllable) and we generated activity among the available users (something not controllable, but knowable). This form of the calculation removes all the deadwood followers without the rigor of actually removing them. And it accounts for the people who may not be in your awareness, but were turned on by your message. It acknowledges the basic tenet of the internet that if you make it cool, they will find you.

The only downside is that because two of the three metrics used are from deep inside the site's owner accounts, it is impossible to do this metric on a competitor. Also, if you change calculations, you will have trouble doing year-over-year comparisons.

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