The industry has made some progress in the development of inbound marketing and content marketing ideas, however, I'd suggest those new disciplines primarily are focused on developing relevant valuable content that attracts customers and community.
Many in the industry suggest good content engages the reader, which it can, but to me engagement means you conduct an outreach strategy where your company engages your community and customers.
By first engaging your community, community management if you will, you build credibility and relationships, so that when you do development content its dispersal through word of mouth networks is much more likely to happen, engagement first, content second.
My book, 'Strategies and Tools for Corporate blogging,' was really all about how to conduct a dialogue with your customers and community. I happened to pick blogging as the social media technology of choice, but engagement is just as relevant across all social media technologies, from YouTube to Flickr. In the book I detail how a company would develop an engagement or dialogue strategy with their community. Many of the ideas in the book were developed as a result of my engagement in the PR blogging community, which I recently detailed in my celebration of the 5th anniversary of the Global PR blogging Week, in that week a lot of the discussion was around the concept of conversations, those early bloggers really understand the concept of engagement, and most of my thinking of the idea of engagement comes from conversing with that community.
I often think this idea of engagement is lost in the shuffle when thinking about how to use social media for marketing. Why is that? Well marketers are comfortable with creating advertising to attract customers, here the focus is on attracting customers and converting them, if engagement occurs it is to sell the product, the concept of engagement around the customer's content is something new, and the ROI of that activity still has to be justified for many marketers.
This is not to say that content marketing is not a good idea, or a wrong step, it's just I think content marketing is a stepping stone in the development of marketing to engagement. I also understand that many in the industry would suggest engagement is part and parcel of content marketing, but I think there's still some debate about the definition of content marketing and differences in how content marketing and inbound marketing practices are implemented. See my debate with John Jantsch in his post Content Creates Engagement for more insight into my thinking here.
As I believe engagement is lost in the shuffle I've come up with a metric for measuring a company's level of engagement in their community, the Engagement Relevancy Rating.
You'd use the engagement relevancy rating to gauge your depth of engagement with your community, the more you conduct a dialogue with community members that's relevant to their topic of discussion, the greater your level of engagement with your audience.
To determine your relevancy rating, add up all of your comments within a period of time both on your social media property and on other people's social media properties where you can comment. Determine if your comment was related to a topic you wanted to address or the comment was related to a topic the community wanted to address. Divide the your total number of comments in a period, by the total number of comments that are relevant to your community member's post only, you will come up with a percentage that determines your level of engagement relevancy, the higher the percentage of engagement relevancy the more time you've spend engaging your community and less time you've spent promoting your own products and ideas.
Why is the engagement rating relevant and does it provide an ROI? Yes to answer both of those questions because to build relationships in social media you have to spend some time on reading other people's material and engaging those people with content that's about them rather than you. You'll be much more likely to build a relationship so that when you do develop content that's about you, the community will read your content and distribute that content because of the relationship and your credibility in the community.
I don’t necessarily see companies using the rating on a daily basis, but I think it’s a good gauge that will keep people focused on the concept of engagement with their community, a device for dialogue. As to what percentage a company should aim for with engagement relevancy, I’d say about 50%.