Brand Engagement Measured On The Social Web


Earlier this week, Altimeter CEO & co-author of the marketing book Groundswell, Charlene Li, published a new report that features an analysis on the top 100 brands based on their level of engagement. With the new report & an online tool called ENGAGEMENTdb, Li provides us with some interesting insights on how some prestigious (and not-so prestigious) brands are handling their conversations with customers.

Sure, it seems that it’s limited to 100 brands right now, but I think that’s all that Li has had the capability to do right now and figured that with 100 of the top brands and how they’re engaging their customers using social media, it would at least be the proper starting point. But I suppose that they’re also adopting the time-honored tradition of crowdsourcing as well by inviting consumers and even other brands to submit their information on the ENGAGEMENTdb website to help “build a comprehensive guide to corporate social media efforts”.

Honestly after looking at the graph that’s featured on the ENGAGEMENTdb site, it has me a little confused, but I think I’ve sorted it all out. As you can see, there are at least two things being measured on the graph (see image above): the number of channels and the level of engagement. The correlation that I believe Li is making here is that with the more channels a brand is involved in, the higher the level of engagement. But what I don’t quite get is the color notation that also appears on the graph – some are in orange while others below a regression line is gray – apparently these denote being “very engaged” versus “low engagement”? I’m assuming that these relate to the brands in similar predicaments and fall around on the same point on the “number of channels” axis?

Charlene Li makes some interesting observations throughout this entire exercise that she lists in her 19 page report:

As the number of channels increase, overall engagement increases at a faster rate.
I’m not surprised at this – because you are going to where your customers are interacting. Just because you’re on one social network like LinkedIn when your core folks are discussing your product on Twitter or Facebook doesn’t mean that they’re all of a sudden going to migrate over to LinkedIn just to interact and engage with you. Multiple touch points makes perfect sense to increase engagement.

Engagement differs by industry.
Again, not a big surprise. Social media differs by company and also by industry.Twitter may not be the best thing for a company like Nike, but may be ideal for The Home Depot, for example. Li offers this analysis:

For example, media and technology companies tend to be in more channels and engage deeply within them. In contrast, apparel, consumer products, food & beverage, and fi nancial brands in general don’t engage as much – which is to be expected given that companies in these industries are just beginning to experiment with social media.

Furthermore, the ENGAGEMENTdb divides these brands into four distinct categories in terms of their adoption and use of social media channels to engage with customers:

  • Mavens – brands that are highly engaged in multiple channels (more than 7).
  • Butterflies – brands involved in multiple channels (more than 7) but not really that engaged with customers.
  • Selectives – brands involved in a few channels (less than 7) but highly engaged.
  • Wallflowers – brands involved in a few channels (less than 7) but not really that engaged with customers.

Not so surprising is the fact that Li proves that the financial performance of a company is related to their level of engagement with their customers. Basically what she says is that if you’re highly engaged across multiple channels, you have a better chance of having your efforts pay off (financially speaking) versus a brand who limits their social media use. And if you’re thinking that this is looking at “mom & pop” shops, you should read her report because it looks at the top 100 brands, including Starbucks, IKEA, Nike, AIG, Google and Microsoft, to say the least.

When your boss asks you why should you invest in social media, you can now tell them that it pays off, or so says Li. And I’m buying into it. The more engagement you have, the better your rapport with your customers. The better rapport and trust you have with your customers, the more willing they would be to buy your product over your competitors. But you, as the brand, need to get out there first and show the customers that they really matter. Go to where they’re at. Be more active in those communities and offer to help them out. Don’t think that just because you’ve set up shop on a social network like Plurk or Friendster that they’ll immediately flock to you. Be everywhere your customers are at.

In the end, after analyzing the top brands and looking at four case-studies more in-depth, the ENGAGEMENTdb report gives us a few takeaways that I supposed can be generalized to most social media efforts:

Engagement via social media IS important – and we can quantify it.
I think this is probably the biggest obstacle for more companies today. Every boss wants to know the numbers and what the return on investment is in order to sign off on doing some initiative – they think that it’s probably a waste of time. However, as Li proves in her report, the world of social media and engagement has some direct correlation with the top brands in the world that it will pay off through the relationships. And I believe that social media will reap its rewards in the long term and that will be all the better for companies.

What’s in it for me?
The ENGAGEMENTdb study offers a direct correlation between social media and the “two most meaningful financial performance metrics” – revenue & profit. Simply put: money talks. Li says that social media and engagement is happily responding.

Emphasize quality, not quantity.
Perhaps something that I see both sides to, but I am leaning more towards the quality of the engagement. Yes, I have been saying be everywhere your customers are (with respect to social media), but it’s also more important to have meaningful conversations and actually show the customers that there is some value in having them talk to you. Learn to listen first and then talk later. I like Li’s explanation for this point where she highlights that it’s more than posting something to your Facebook wall. You need to keep your content fresh by updating your blog often and even replying to comments while updating your profile status. Make it worthwhile.

To scale engagement, make social media everyone’s job.
This is an interesting point. I think what Li might be saying here is that the lines of the organizational hierarchy have blurred to the point where social media no longer falls into a specific department or rests with just the IT guy or the marketing team. Rather, it’s all about how everyone in the company is now a customer representative and needs to be out there talking to people and being an advocate and evangelist for the company.

Doing it all may not be for you – but do something.
I whole-heartedly agree with this statement. I’ve said in the past that not everything fits for the respective industry. Just because your competitor uses Twitter doesn’t mean that it’ll work for you. Maybe Facebook is your focal point versus using Twitter because of some demographic you’re trying to get or perhaps your customers are now flocking there. But the point here is not which social networks you reach out to. Rather, it’s all about you actually doing something and getting your face out there to engage with your customers.

Find your sweet spot.
True engagement means full engagement in the channels where you choose to invest. That’s directly from the ENGAGEMENTdb report and it makes a lot of sense. Li suggest advocating on your end for the necessary resources needed in order to succeed in the engagement process. Don’t spread yourself too thin just trying to be in all the social networks. Rather, find the ones where you do really well in and invest more resources into it. Then when you find yourself with more resources and capabilities, then brand off and start rebuilding networks in other areas.

You can download the entire 19-page report by Charlene Li and the Altimeter Group here and even look at the interactive graph that was created that tells you how the top 100 brands rank in terms of their engagement. I would recommend this report for anyone who might be interested in case studies and also understand the methodology on how engagement has become a direct tool in the success of a company’s financial performance.

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently Flipboard's Assistant Managing Editor, overseeing news curation in technology, science, gaming and health. In addition to his day job, Ken's the co-host of "The Created Economy" podcast, examining the Creator Economy. In a past life, he was a former reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding.