We’re in an engagement crisis. It’s been exposed by COVID-19 and accelerated by civic unrest. But it’s all rooted in the hurt of individuals and groups not being heard by the institutions meant to be serving their needs. To me, “engagement” means the mutual respect, care and connection that is born from truly listening to each other.
As businesses do their best to react, respond, and evolve to meet overlapping emergencies, they are also scrambling to figure out how to best engage and support their stakeholders — be they employees, audiences, customers, and beyond.
Hearken means “listen,” and our company has supported hundreds of organizations in their efforts to engage their stakeholders at the individual level and at scale, and to translate those insights into bottom-line growth. We’ve learned enough over the past few years on this topic to write volumes (and we share when we can on Medium). But business leaders don’t have time to dive into theory and case studies during emergencies like the ones we’re in. So, instead, I’ll lay out a few key concepts you can consider applying to your business immediately:
- Networked Growth
- Return on Engagement
- Hearken’s CARE Engagement Response Framework
- Micro vs. Macro Moments
- Upskilling for Engagement
It Starts With How You’re Connected: The Power of Networks
Every organization resides within networks. As a networked organization, the challenge is often how to understand the functionality and connectivity in the networks you reside in and where you can resource and leverage those networks to drive more connection and engagement with your services and brand. This is all about adding value through resourcing your existing network appropriately; supporting your team in meaningfully engaging others in your network, listening intently to identify unmet needs of others within the network and understanding where success is already happening without intentional resourcing. To execute on this effectively, it requires a team to adopt digital engagement as a new strategic capability. It demands resourcing new skills for teams such as social listening, user research, network analysis, and community management.
Community Management is an organization’s ability to connect new users to it within a network. It is resourcing team members and brand ambassadors to individually represent the brand in digital spaces and engage new and existing users of the brand authentically as individuals by building trust, providing empathy, sharing resources, and ensuring others feel heard and acknowledged. Every network has constellations of users in an outer layer, and there is potential to identify those constellations and connect them in meaningful ways to your brand through intentional and meaningful engagement. While the community space has grown in the private sector over the past few years, over 58% of community managers report that engagement is the most frustrating part of their job (CMX 2020 Community Industry Trends Report). Communicating the value and defining the impact of investing in community engagement to drive growth is a key reason why engagement can be frustrating. There is not really an accepted standard on how to measure engagement and how to tie engagement methodology to value creation and business process improvement. Hearken is working with our partners to help solve this challenge.
ROE is the new ROI: Return On Engagement
In a post COVID-19 world, public-facing organizations will need to understand how community engagement scales, and how to tie their investment in engagement activities to growth goals. We predict that ROE, “Return On Engagement,” will become the new growth metric organizations will need to put at their center. ROE will be reliant on a team’s ability to activate the inactive or disengaged people in their networks — their ability to connect the various constellations. To activate disengaged people, you better be able to offer listening, care and connection in an authentic way. This isn’t about traditional marketing that is mostly attraction based. This is figuring out how to drive growth through care and authentic engagement and connection of others.
For organizations in industries with constrained resources like journalism, higher education, and local governments, the challenges mirror what private sector companies experience; relational engagement cannot be powered by technology alone to drive desired ROE outcomes.
How you measure the impact of your community engagement should be directly tied to your organization’s resulting growth goals for Return on Engagement. For example, if you are an organization actively engaging 200,000 users annually, but you sit within a network of 1 million users, you probably have a metric around connecting new users to the brand in authentic ways. You could also measure # of new users engaging with individuals representing the brand daily as an example metric, and also assess the repeat engagement % of new users in a given time period. You also will need to define how you are adding value to those new users and how to communicate that value.
From our work consulting with public facing organizations as they develop scalable and sustainable community engagement strategies, we know there are 5 key motivators for users to engage:
- Vulnerability or pain: a desire to have an immediate need met
- Curiosity: a desire to learn
- Connection: a desire to belong
- Serving others: a desire to help another person
- Storytelling: a desire to be heard or hear the tales of lived experience of others
By listening across the network you reside in as an organization, you can better interpret the motivations of your users and observe where success is happening. Investing in continual listening and establishing feedback loops also allows you to keep the pulse on how the needs of the users in your network are shifting over time. It also affords you the opportunity to assess the value of your listening. If your goal is to connect more users at scale, you will need to respond at scale to what you are listening to and observing as engagement opportunities in the network.
Hearken has developed the CARE Engagement Response Framework as a guide. It’s designed to help your team interpret what type of response is appropriate given the interpretation of insights received. This can be tracked and measured to learn what responses drive more connectivity. CARE drives ROE for organizations and associated value metrics they are driving, especially in a digital engagement context.
CARE Engagement Response Framework:
- Connection (introduction, resource share, invitation)
- Amplification (cross posting across digital spaces tied to the brand)
- Recognition (gratitude, celebration, shoutouts, success stories)
- Empathy (acknowledgement, understanding)
Using this framework to guide teams responses across the network provides language and insight into what people are asking for, and how you can best respond. It enables people who intend to steward communities, but don’t have the experience or the intuition, to see clearly the foundational needs being expressed. By using CARE as part of your strategy, businesses can see how the public views their role, and allows you to optimize, leverage and scale what you’re already doing well.
Micro vs. Macro Engagement Moments
For many teams, the pressure of responding to each touchpoint and need is a blocker to scale, and their job description isn’t usually set up to support that work.
Public-serving or public-facing organizations often have historical mindsets of engagement, in which they put all of their focus on one monumental experience, hoping it results in high levels of gratitude, lifetime affiliation, and loyalty. Higher Education is a great example of this. Many engagement professionals who target alumni feel responsible for recreating the positive elements of an individual’s campus student experience in just about everything they do from communications, to programs, to events. We see other public serving organizations that are foundation-funded and receive program related investments also have the mindset that the engagement they produce must be singularly life-changing.
But that pressure and approach becomes a barrier to simpler modes of engagement. The emphasis on macro moments as a regular success metric blocks scalable engagement for organizations almost every time. Reshifting focus and resources to be centered on enabling more micro moments for meaningful engagement, is a more sustainable and impactful strategy. While the micro moments are less likely to be featured as foundational stories brands would like to tell concerning the impact of their work, they’ll be more successful driving growth outcomes with a resourcing micro vs. macro moments mindset.
Engagement requires upskilling, operational realignment and adoption of different and new metrics for success across an organization.
While many innovators in tech are leveraging AI in attempts to replicate a human’s ability to engage another human in a meaningful way, technology is still extremely limited in its engagement capability. Humans still win at the game of intimacy, care, and mutual support, and we will for a long time to come.
What this means can be an uncomfortable truth for business owners to grapple with. It means you can’t use technology alone to replace human connection or downsize your workforce. It means you need resources to help key team members upskill across your organization to work with technology. It means new jobs and new org charts and valuing a new set of success metrics. It’s important to note: it does not mean forfeiting profit. See our case studies at the end of this piece.
At Hearken our goal is to help our partners build their capability to leverage community engagement to drive growth. We do this through enabling community participation in the creation of whatever products a business makes — be that content, services, policy or tangible goods. It’s an “outside-in” approach. Our SaaS products drive content creation (EMS) and community connection (CMS) in ways that add value for individual end users and organizations.
In addition to our expertise as engagement technologists, our engagement consulting practice group supports teams in the upskilling, operational realignment and development of new goals and metrics to scale community engagement as a major growth driver. As a tech-enabled consultancy, we are not a strategy firm, we are a team of “doers”, implementers, trainers, and caregivers. If you are ready to invest in a community focused growth strategy, we are ready to support you.
We invite you to join our free engagement innovators’ community to start learning and connecting with other like-minded engagement enthusiasts across industries.