Engagement is an Ambiguous Term

I was reading this interview from Stratechery with Facebook’s Vice-President Adam Mosseri. He was asked a question about engagement, and I thought the response was interesting.

Engagement’s an ambiguous term. I think that for News Feed we’ve always used different types of metrics to try to measure the value we create for people. No metric or measure of value is perfect, they all have tradeoffs, and we’ve tried to iterate on those measures over time. I think it’s just more sophisticated and I believe, hopefully, a healthier thing for us to focus on. This being meaningful social interactions.
— Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s Vice-President

I bring this up because for many in the church world, and more specifically online ministry what people measure is often confusing. The funny thing about online ministry is you can measure more than a local congregation, but that tends to paralyze many. More choices often lead to less movement. A few things first that stand out from the quote:

  • Facebook agrees “engagement” is super broad
  • Metrics always change 
  • No data point is perfect
  • Continually be reviewing and adjusting what you are measuring
  • Health for the user is the goal

I’m not here to argue what Facebook is and isn’t doing. They are highly motivated to keep their users happy. You and I are their money maker. If we leave, it’s over. They might be struggling with keeping the community at bay for the moment, but they think profoundly about this, and I think we, being the church, can learn from this thought process. 

What makes a church healthy? That is a big question, and I can’t answer it in this post, but church plants measure three things for overall health. I heard this a while back from church planting experts, and it hasn't left my mind yet. 

  1. Attendance (butts in the seats every week not membership rosters)
  2. Giving (more people giving means more disciples combating materialism. This is a sign of biblical maturity)
  3. Baptisms (not just signing a card of committing their lives to Christ, but publicly declaring their faith by getting wet) 

Generally speaking, if these three things are growing your church is healthy. It’s not an exact science of course. I would personally add something about small groups, active in ministry, and a bunch more things about open rates and usage data for your website to the list. Back to the Facebook quote. I love that Adam says Facebook is not just looking at the total user number, but they are digging into the more significant data trends. We, the church, tend to get caught up on the attendance metric only, but Facebook is noticing what people are and aren’t doing (might sound creepy with all the most recent news). We should be getting lost in Excel docs, pivot tables, filtering, graphing, and more. I bet Facebook is using more advanced system than exporting and using Excel (at least I hope). The problem is analyzing the data takes bandwidth and focus to always be reviewing the lines of information. Plus, data doesn’t usually make sense. You need to have a breakthrough often to see the real narrative in-order to adjust. 

I’ve noticed churches recently struggling with measuring the effectiveness of Facebook Live. They will report back five thousand people watched their live event on Facebook, but 95% bounced after ten seconds typically and if you use the “Audience Retention” feature to drag to how many watched at least thirty minutes, it’s around hundred fifty people. Thousands are reduced down to less than two hundred people. Don't get me wrong, I don’t think churches are purposely misrepresenting the data. They don’t get how to interpret the data. They see a number and regurgitate it to their leader. What’s scary is that could screw up the scale of what is actually happening online. Programs could be ended because of misreporting a simple thing like Facebook reach data.

What you report is what gets talked about, what gets discussed gets repeated, and what is repeated gets resources. Be wise with how you measure each platform. Be thoughtful. Dig into your data. We as humans love to talk about the big number. It’s not bad to be big. I was working with a larger media ministry one time and they said they had a million people every month watching their content on tv. I was amazed. I asked a follow-up question about how many people visited their website monthly. The number was close to ten thousand people. Then I wondered how many personal interactions did they get in email form, Facebook messages, texts, and phone calls. It was around hundred. The last question was how many people get plugged into a local church from their evangelistic ministry, which was their purpose for existing.  The number was two people every month. A million people become two people with a few simple questions.

Now, there is nothing wrong with two people experiencing life change. Jesus changing someone's life is what gets me excited, but it can screw up everything else if you are focusing on the wrong engagement metrics. I would instead dig into the two people, reverse engineer what worked for them, instead of focusing on the million. Measuring what is working in the deeper engagement allows you to become healthier overall and more efficient in funneling people from your community into your core. Health leads to real growth beyond the weekend services.  

We all want a healthy community. You as the leader need to rise above all the noise to identify what is working and not. Any person can read a number, but it takes a wise person to discern what is actually happening. Let's make our metrics a little less ambiguous.