The economics of engagement

Digital and social media practices in most companies have reached a level of maturity that go well beyond experimentation.

Digital and social media practices in most companies have reached a level of maturity that go well beyond experimentation. With this maturity comes an expectation among most executive leaders that some economic analysis is warranted.  

The demand may not be for ROI, per se, but for at least some serious assessment of the economic benefits of social engagement.

Addressing that very issue, I was privileged to share with the Page Society last month the results of a major study my firm conducted in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The headline was compelling: companies that fully embrace social engagement are experiencing four times greater business impact than less-engaged companies.

These companies – let's call them socially engaged enterprises – have a number of shared qualities. For example, they can take punches. Negative customer and constituent comments don't faze them. And that's not all.

Leading socially engaged enterprises have the following overall qualities:

• They enjoy a 7.7% average business value return on engagement (versus 1.9% for the least engaged)

• The C-suite of their companies is the strongest advocate of social engagement

• Advocates exist in departments well beyond marketing

• Engagement helps break down walls between the company and its customers and activity goes well beyond listening.
The most successful companies extend engagement beyond marketing and communications to sales, product development, and other functional areas in order to generate greater business impact.

For example, 57% of socially engaged enterprises that receive a big return on investment crowdsource new products.

There is, of course, still much experimentation and many questions that are in the process of being answered.

Socially engaged companies are creating metrics that measure their engagement. The research indicates that benchmarks (33%) and key performance indicators (30%) will be the top approaches for measuring social engagement in the next two years.

We're seeing a greater percentage of organizations engaging in some capacity. Increasingly that means we can map and understand the differences between those receiving higher returns and those who aren't. It isn't quite ROI; that will come. But for now, it's a way to maximize return in an environment that's only going to become more important as customers and employees the world over continue to demand meaningful engagement.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function. 

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