The Hierarchy of Social Engagement Value

Recent discussion of Ellen’s notable Oscars selfie has prompted worthwhile discussion of its marketing value. On the whole, the digital marketing industry gave it a positive response. At a minimum, it got people talking about the Oscars and Ms. DeGeneres’ smooth handling of the event. But more importantly, it became a marketing coup for Samsung. The selfie was retweeted 3 million times by the morning after the Oscars, with tens of thousands of brand mentions for Samsung.

We should continue to challenge ourselves to think about value in social marketing. Individually, each retweet of the Oscar selfie has minimal value. But taken together, the volume created something very worthwhile. Other engagement that requires more effort on the part of the fan may result in lower volume, but can end up being equally, if not more, valuable to the brand.

In the hierarchy of social engagement value, simple likes and retweets come at the bottom. One click, and your audience has said, in passing, that they agree with you or like you. But the engagement ends the moment it happens — it has very little life, or value, beyond the click. Brands need a huge volume of them to make a difference.

At the next level up is a share of brand-related content. Even though a brand doesn’t always have such a powerful pulpit to launch sharing as Ellen and the Oscars, giving social audiences something fun to pass along is worthwhile. And, if accompanied by a compelling call to action (Ellen: “Let’s break Twitter!“), the crowd will respond to create something of value.

In the case of basic sweepstakes, engagement value in volume comes more easily, because there is an incentive to the fan. BodenUSA and Williams-Sonoma do this on a weekly basis in the Facebook newsfeed. And they usually ask for a comment, too, just to increase the participation a little bit, and to challenge the fan to think about the brand for a few seconds longer.

Brands can increase the engagement value of these promotions even further by looking for ways to get the fan to share their participation. That doesn’t typically happen with Facebook newsfeed promotions, because the participation is unlikely to be seen by any but the most watchful friends of the participant.


The contribution of user-created content, such as photos, is of even higher social value. Twitter recently reported their own study that shows tweets that have photo links boost retweet engagement by 35 percent. A brand may ask fans for a photo showing specifically how that fan interacts with their product — how they wear it, display it, cook with it, sit on it, see it, play with it. Tourism Australia, for example, sources all their photos on their Facebook page from fans, with great results. They describe their fans as the “world’s biggest social media team.”

Asking audiences for a “story” in video form requires more effort, and will result in fewer numbers, but potentially more valuable content. Digital video is in itself highly engaging — brands are expected to significantly increase their spend on digital video content because of the success it shows in engagement. But video creation is not trivial. It may come easily to, say, GoPro social audiences — but others will find it hard. However, it will happen, especially if the prize is really worthwhile, as it was in the recent “Turner Classic Movies” Ultimate Fan video contest.

Finally, there are “real world” events, like scavenger hunts and in-world challenges. No brand should embark on these marketing efforts without appreciating the significant effort required from the participant, and the drop-off expected at all stages of the promotion. But the upside? Potentially entertaining content, and engaged fans that are worthy of reward. This blogger’s review of last year’s Golden State Warriors Playoff Ticket scavenger hunt showed the amount of effort required to stay in the game, but the palpable enjoyment by passionate fans.

Engagement is considered to be the number one goal for brand marketers on social — above even sales, service, and lead generation. The value of a single click — a like or a retweet — only comes with huge volume. Indeed, the display advertising industry is built on this principle. At the other end of the scale, participation that requires thought on the part of the fan, that results in a fan sharing their participation, that calls out for a fan to create and deliver content, will make up for potentially lower volume with higher inherent value. Brands need to understand the difference, and measure accordingly.

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