Return on Engagement – Past, Present, and Future

originally posted on Concept Hub

Many people have started embracing social media in an attempt to find the opportunities that exist within this latest trend on the Internet. However, many more people are standing on the sidelines watching and wondering what the return on investment, or a more accurate term, return on engagement might be.

For us to be able to recognize opportunities in existing and emerging trends often times we need to look at similar opportunities as well as risks of trends from the past.

Let’s go back about 10 years or so. About the time the Internet was becoming more mainstream in homes and offices. Many people were starting to make purchases online, but many more held back because of concerns about security. However, those who held back still utilized the Internet for research about a product, service, or company before making a purchasing decision.

What those incredibly insightful geeks with a bit of marketing knowledge figured out was that capturing data about how these consumers behaved might be helpful. So they created such things as Cookies and logfiles and page tagging as a means to capture the behavior of the consumers. The problem was without a reason, purpose, goal, strategy, or plan in place, all of the information was useless. There was no return on investment.

Along came Jeff Bezos, founder of with a simple idea; Use the data collected on the consumers to be able to give the consumers more of what they want. Later Google followed along the same line of thinking with their behavior based ads. I think we would all agree that both companies were able to see the return on investment for the data that could be collected.

Fast forward 10 years and now we can discuss the ability to engage our consumers online. There are lots of them and they are all talking amongst themselves publicly, sharing photos and videos and more. Why should anyone take the time to get involved? Because these are the same people that companies spend a massive amount of money and time to reach offline.

The reality is it is just like 10 years ago when some consumers made purchases online and others stuck to just research. Although not everyone is contributing to a blog or online community, almost everyone is getting some sort of information from social media sources and that information influences decision both online and offline.

Want a focus group? Do a technorati search around the topics of interest, or go into a relevant community and start asking questions, or build your own collaborative community. The time commitment is not much longer than the time spent on traditional focus groups, the cost is less, and I promise you the answers will be much more insightful and honest.

Want to get your business cards in the hands of some of the most influential people? Start talking to them, online! You can actually measure the influence each person has within his or her community and if they can not get back to you for whatever reason, you can continue to network within the community by tracing who links to that person.

Want to create an ad campaign where the actors and actresses are a good representative of your relevant audience? Go to your relevant audience and get them to be your raving fans to their peers. The best way to do this is to first listen to them (see focus group) and then give them more of what they want.

Engagement is not new. It is something each company throughout all of the time has had to do to reach their audience who needs their products or service. The return on engagement has always been in direct proportion to the value that the audience receives from such an engagement. If they are inspired, entertained, or feel a need has been served, they will perceive a greater value than if they were just presented a sales pitch. Unfortunately, many companies see the quick sales pitch as being less expensive, less time and easier to measure (how many cold calls to get a meeting…). However when we measure the value of building and maintaining long-term relationships that provide word of mouth marketing we can see that engagement has always held a much higher return at a much lower cost.




Very interesting concept. The line that jumped out at me was this one: “The return on engagement has always been in direct proportion to the value that the audience receives from such an engagement.” It’s not the number of engagements that is important so much as it is the value derived from those engagements that do occur. Even in a case where an investment is made to build a tool through which a relatively small number of people engage with each other, if those engagements deliver a benefit that otherwise would not have occurred, isn’t that a good return on engagement? Very thought-provoking. Nice work!

Posted by: Ethan Yarbrough | June 04, 2009 at 11:10 PM