Ending with a Question Mark: Reflections on Engagement at the Case Foundation

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Why is everyone talking all the sudden talking about measuring engagement? A year or so ago the nonprofit sector (and the public sector for that matter) were all about the “Like” and the “Follow.” In fact, over 43% of nonprofit professionals surveyed say that they still use this metric to gauge success. Yet, much of the for-profit world has now shifted to worrying about things such as the “Share” and the “RT.”

Is there a reason for this? Yes! Absolutely! And the nonprofit sector should be heading that way as well. This is especially important because the nonprofit sector is lacking a common benchmark for engagement. Over 37% of respondents to the Social Media for Nonprofits survey don’t believe that one exists.

There may be a reason for that – today social media practitioners are more concerned about discovering what their audience cares about and when they want to receive this content. A page Like doesn’t tell us that, but a Like, Comment or Share on a post does. These metrics are the pulse of our audience and we can feel it with every post, every day of the year.

At the Case Foundation we have found the most successful posts are ones, which invite a dialogue between the foundation and fans. One piece of content asking fans to share their favorite nonprofit generated almost 600 organic user interactions, the most ever for our page. Social media guru, John Haydon tells us that “posts that end with a question mark vs. a period generate twice as many Likes, Comments, and Shares – especially those that start with “should” or “would.” This is only one example of an effective way to have your audience buy into your brand and messaging. He also tells us “Growing an engaged community is like tomato farming. The tomato farmer does not work to eat tomatoes today. He works to feed his family two years from now. And he understands what’s required. To get a nice sweet juicy tomato, he might have to spend a couple of years working the soil, pulling out the weeds and constantly checking the crop’s health.”

Engagement also tells us exactly how healthy our audience is. Social media maven Beth Kanter says “an engagement model is looking at the degree of relationship between your organization and its supporters, the strategies you need to use to move them closer to your organization, and how to measure that progression.   And more importantly, engagement has a purpose or larger goal.   There is a continuum of engagement or a progression of the relationship from stranger to becoming a life-long champion and supporter for your organization.”

A sudden drop in Retweets or a significantly lower engagement rate on Facebook can act as a big red arrow to tell us that something isn’t right. It is our job to go back to past engagement metrics, which are the best indicators of how to right the ship and properly improve.

Almost 71% of people have indicated that they use Facebook insights to measure engagement. This is certainly a step in the right direction. These exportable spreadsheets (both by post and by date) can help organizations pinpoint the days, times, and types of content that resonate best with their audience. It also doesn’t hurt to keep track of weekly Retweets, clicks and other metrics through programs such as Sprout Social and Radian6 or sites such as Bit.ly. Shari Ilsen, the Director of Engagement for VolunteerMatch agrees that there is a need for nonprofits to measure engagement. “One of the best things about our communities of engaged volunteers, nonprofits and companies on social media is that they don’t always behave the way we expect. Without tracking and analyzing key metrics for our engagement, we would miss opportunities to build momentum around popular posts and provide even more value for our audiences and the organization.”

Engagement doesn’t need to be a scary or abstract concept. All it takes is a bit of content development and some investigative work. Once you learn your community’s habits, you can then work towards engaging them and adjusting where necessary.

Do you have any tips or tricks? What do you think engagement is? Want to pose a question? Tweet at us: @CaseFoundation and @SM4NP! (No, this isn’t a trick to help us boost our engagement numbers!)