Using social media analytics to measure “engagement”

Read Write Web yesterday published the results of a fascinating analysis of news outlets’ social media efforts. Adam Sherk used an API from an analytics company called PostRank to take a look at how news organizations’ traffic compares to their engagement. He came up with an “engagement per unique visitor” ranking. The results are interesting (at the top of the list, by a wide margin, is The Guardian, followed by Slate and The New York Times). But what’s more applicable to the work I’m doing this year is the measurement tool itself.

PostRank defines engagement this way:

“Engagement refers to the attention other people pay to your published content, like blog posts, news & articles. They see and read a post, and then because it’s interesting, inspiring, or controversial, they get “hooked” and decide to take further action.”

The measurement of engagement starts with individual “engagement events,” like a tweet, “like,” comment, digg, RSS view, etc. See below:
engagement events

Realizing, however, that more user effort and participation are required to comment on a post than to click on it an RSS reader, for example, the system goes beyond that and applies a ranking to each kind of event. They use what they call “engagement points,” and each kind of action is awarded a certain number of points. (The site doesn’t reveal what the numerical value is for each kind of action.)

The categories they use for their interaction metrics look an awful lot like the nonprofit world’s ladder of engagement that I wrote about last week. PostRank uses “The 5 Cs of Engagement:” clicking, collecting, chatting, critiquing and creating. The engagement events each fit into one of those categories.

The value awarded to each kind of interaction and participation makes this analysis useful. The trick for journalists — and for my work — is to figure out how we can factor in both non-digital kinds of interactions and the quality of the interactions. In-person conversations matter. And a dozen meaty posts in a thread of comments have a different value than 100 lightweight ones.

How can we take those into account as we measure our community engagement?

This was originally posted on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute, where I am a 2010-2011 fellow.


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