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Alan Rosenblatt 11 min read

Rules of Social Media Engagement

Yesterday in part one "Measuring the Impact of Your Social Media Program" of this blog series, I discussed the importance of audience reach, how people see your key messages, and how to measure social media reach. None of these measurements will be helpful unless your organization knows how to truly engage people on social networks. 


Social media is fundamentally about engagement, which is the interaction among people. Engagement includes conversations with your audience and efforts by your audience to promote your messages to their networks. Measures of engagement include:

On Twitter, people share your messages by retweeting you, recommending people follow you, and putting you on lists. On Facebook, people share your messages by liking them, commenting on them, or sharing them to their wall or via private messages.


Two of the big challenges to measuring the impact of people retweeting you is counting how often you are retweeted and assessing the reach of those retweets. BackType.com (mentioned above) helps with respect to your tweets when they contain links, but it doesn’t help measure the impact of your tweets without links.

A tool like RetweetRank.com will give you how well you rank compared to millions of other tweeters, but this metric is an awful like a sledgehammer. It provides little granular insight.

Social media search tools like SocialMention.com allow you to search for who is retweeting you (run search for “RT @yourname”), though it only provides data for up to one month. Premium services, like SmallAct.com’s Thrive will provide long term data collection and provide you with data on the reach of your retweets and mentions.

On Facebook, once again, your Page Insights will provide you with data of sharing activity by your fans. While I find that the graphic interface leaves a bit to be desired, if you export the data to a spreadsheet, you can tally and chart to your heart’s content.


In addition to retweeting on Twitter and sharing/liking/commenting on Facebook, there are ways people can recommend you to their audiences. On Facebook, the frequency with which people suggest their friends become your friends provides some glimpse into this.

On Twitter, it is much easier. You can count how many times and who recommends you to their audiences with hashatgs. Fridays are known as “follow Friday” and people use the #FF or #FollowFriday hashtag to recommend you. There is also #ecomonday to recommend green tweeters on Mondays and #ProgressiveTuesday to recommend progressives on Tuesday. If you are a woman or a women’s issue organization, the #women2follow hashtag is used on any day of the week.

Twitter Lists

Another way people recommend you to their audiences on Twitter is with Twiiter’s internal List function. The number of times you are listed is another measure of your influence. Digging through these lists to tally how many people follow the lists you are on is another measure, though harder to collect.

Driving Web Traffic Home

Pageviews and unique website visitors are primary metrics of success for your website. They are also important metrics for social media, but less so. While it is great to get people to click through to your website from Twitter and Facebook, most people never will. That is why ensuring your message is conveyed in the post itself is so important. That said, measuring the clicks on your links is still a valuable metric to track for measuring your social media ROI.

Link shortening tools like Bit.ly and HootSuite.com (which creates the ow.li short links) not only shorten URLs, but also track clicks on them. This help you measure the traffic you drive to those links by providing both the number of clicks on the specific short URLs you create and on any shortened URL from that service to your destination web page. And while the click through data on these services doesn’t exactly match your website analytics data—because of a variety of technical reasons—the click data is reasonably close and you can use it to compare month to month or link to link performance.

More Tools

There are a few tools out there that help you make sense of many of these disparate measures. These tools help assign a measure of influence to your activities on Twitter, specifically. The two I use most frequently are Klout.com and Twitalyzer.com. These tools combine several of the factors mentioned above into a single influence score. They will help you 1) measure the influence of your own Twitter channels and 2) measure the influence of key members of your audience. These tools essentially evaluate one twitter account at a time (or up to three for comparison), so they are not great for processing large lists. But they do provide some great analysis of how well you are doing on Twitter.

Final Thoughts on Social Media Metrics of Success

The metrics discussed here provide a good set of indicators to help you identify the general performance of your social media program. But in and of themselves, they leave out some important performance metrics. For example, you still want to know if you are improving your brand recognition and reputation, are you creating enduring memes and raising public awareness of your issues, and did the policy you pushed for pass or fail as you hoped it would. These remain important metrics, but inevitably are the most difficult to use. They are easy to measure, but attributing causality to your social media program will be as difficult as saying a commercial caused a person to buy a product. You can correlate them to each other, but assigning the causal relationship is tough.

You might be able to identify a qualitative argument to attribute cause and affect (a senator mentioned during the floor debate that your campaign as the reason she changed her vote or your tweet was directly quoted by David Gregory on Meet the Press to a senior administration official). Or you might be able to create a plausible argument based on the sequence of events. But in the end, these qualitative arguments are mostly conjecture. Still, combined with the performance results discussed above, the complete package goes a long way towards establishing ROI.

A few years ago, Justin Perkins posted his ROI calculator for social media here on Frogloop. I helped Justin with this, reviewing it and testing it out. For its time, it was very useful. But now, given the explosion in social media tools and metrics, we are able to dig deeper into the value of social media programs. We are able to create value we could not create back then and measure it more effectively.

That said, there is still much we would like to measure in social media that we cannot. And there is a great need to bring many of these disparate metrics tools into a central dashboard that makes collecting the data less time consuming and confusing. All of this will happen, eventually.

*Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D. is the Associate Director for Online Advocacy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrDigipol and @CAPAction