It doesn’t matter what city you live in, the size of the agency you work for or the piece of business you work on—sooner or later your client will ask the one question known to make even the most seasoned social media marketer wince: “What’s the value of engagement?”

Of course, methodologies already exist to quantify attribution to harder metrics, like web traffic and lead generation on social. But what if your client is a brand that doesn’t focus on B2B sales, e-commerce or another neatly quantifiable objective? How can agencies effectively prove the value of social media engagement to clients?

Setting the Record Straight

The thing is, proving the value of engagement will never be about tying a clear, quantifiable dollar sign to likes, comments, shares, DMs or @mentions. There’s too much ambiguity in that pursuit to satisfy any of your stakeholders. Engagement is more about building and maintaining the relevancy of a brand in the mind of its social community. Luckily, there are some pretty great ways to do just that that your client will see value in.

Don’t hang your S.O.W. hat on this, but your engagement efforts just might be rewarded with an uptick in site visits (🙌 ). Socialbakers conducted a study that found a direct correlation between Facebook engagement and site visits. Top of mind, it seems, can equal tip of finger.

Engage the Community, Build the Brand, Prove the Value

Time to get down to the fun stuff. Here are three ways you can prove in no uncertain terms, the value of engagement to your clients.

1. Social Customer Care

Social customer inquiries may appear as a comment on a post or they may be stand alone as posts to your page or @mentions. Both are engagement. Jay Baer of Convince and Convert claims that “social media customer service is the new marketing” and we’re apt to agree. Why? Because nearly every initial interaction on social is public facing. It’s a “spectator sport,” as Baer puts it. That means that when you provide outstanding customer service on social you get more than just the benefit of preventing a lost customer, you get to reinforce the brand’s commitment to the customer in the eyes of every person who saw the comment, post or tweet.

The formula for successful social customer service is pretty easy. Reply quickly, empathize, go the distance in making the customer happy (this separates the wheat from the chaff in business) and close the loop on the social post. Pro tip: If you need to turbocharge your customer care efforts on Twitter, try automating individual workflows with social media chatbots.

Lastly, prove the value of social customer service by documenting each case and then review your results each month with your client. Results vary by industry and social platform, but with a smart strategy and a little digital elbow grease you’ll be showing your client how Twitter “decreases cost per customer care resolution by 80%” compared to other customer service channels.

2. Get Real Feedback from Brand Advocates

Where else beside social can you find an audience willing to provide feedback about a product or business honestly and without compensation? 70% of brand advocates recommend at least 5 products per year to their friends and family, so it stands to reason that they would just as well want to share their opinions about your client’s brand with you.

Why not give them that opportunity? Start by collaborating with your client to figure out what pieces of feedback you’d like get from the brand advocates. Then turn the comment section of a social post or a Twitter chat into an open focus group with a strong call to action. Don’t be afraid of honest criticism. That’s the point. Actively respond and thank the community members for their responses. If you have some great brand swag, now would be the time to give it out.

The cool part about this tactic is that it can be used to add a layer of anecdotal insight to a product feasibility study or focus group. Plus, no matter how you use the response data, you’ve now succeeded in giving your biggest advocates a level of ownership over the brand that will likely deepen their affinity. Hello, word of mouth, it’s great to see you again.

3. Gather Insight on Engagement Through Social Listening

You’re posting engaging content, providing great social customer care and getting honest feedback from your advocates. You’re in the engagement trenches and loving every second of it. That’s awesome, but it’s time to take a step back and listen.

What you want to do now is use social listening to get a macro view of how consumers are engaging with your client’s brand. As D.C.-based consulting agency, Clutch, put it, “Think of the data collected through social listening as crowd-sourced research about your industry and customer base.” This is the forest to the previous bullet’s trees.

Three areas to focus are:

Sentiment-based terms used in conjunction with brand keywords. By utilizing custom keyword search queries and trend visualizations, you can identify areas of need when they matter most. Are you seeing a trend of ‘frustration’ terms around your client’s product? Address the issue on social and make clear the intention to fix it. Is there a positive keyword that sticks out? Good, highlight that strength in a post and watch the love roll in.

Side-by-side engagement trends by channel. What strengths do you see emerging for your client’s channels? Is Facebook the place for conversations while Twitter is for pass along? Maybe one channel is becoming the go-to for brand advocates while the other is plodding along. Use this information to optimize your content and engagement strategy. Engagement in, smarter strategy out.

Competitive analysis. Clients love this one. Show your client how their brand’s engagement stacks up against its top three competitors. Crushing them? Value proven. Lagging behind a bit? Give your tactical recommendations for how you plan to improve. Use our Ultimate Guide to Social Media Competitive Analysis to set yourself up for success.

Now that you’re on your way to becoming a master at proving the value of engagement, just remember that everything discussed above will take trial and error to dial in. It’s part of the multi-faceted, slow burn upside that is social media marketing. Take your time and tackle one piece at a time. As a British statesman once wrote, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” With any luck your client will feel the same way.