Member engagement is a popular term these days, applied to everything from customer loyalty programs to Facebook games to political campaigns.  There are tools that purport to track every “like” or tweet as evidence that your members, or customers, or just visitors, are listening and “engaged”. 
I’m skeptical. I think this very useful and important term is being misused, applied to a wide range of online activities in today’s engagement-obsessed social media world. Too often, a moment of fleeting attention is classified as an engagement event. In our online community-focused world, such transitory winks of attention might be flirtatious, but they certainly don’t constitute engagement!
As a researcher by training and inclination, I’m taking a closer look at “engagement,” what it means and how it applies to our online social business activities. The dictionary definition is quite clear, and conveys a serious level of attention and commitment. 
en·gage [en-geyj] Show IPA verb, -gaged, -gag·ing.  verb (used with object)
  • to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons): He engaged her in conversation.
  • to secure for aid, employment, use, etc.; hire: to engage a worker; to engage a room
  • to attract and hold fast: The novel engaged her attention and interest.
  • to attract or please: His good nature engages everyone. 
  • to bind, as by pledge, promise, contract, or oath; make liable: He engaged himself to repay his debt within a month.
None of these definitions suggest a passing glance or a single, isolated click would qualify as “engagement.” On the contrary, a key aspect of engagement is that it occurs over a span of time, not just for an instant. As with all aspects of human behavior, engagement is not a fixed quantity. It is dynamic and variable. It’s intensity ranges from mild interest to active attention to deep and compelling fascination.
So, armed with a definition and a lot of experience with online communities, here’s a framework for measuring member engagement. We use a calendar quarter (three months) as the measurement period for this example:

Leader Networks Engagement Score for Private Online Communities
Engagement Level
--------------------
Engagement Score
None
-----------
Score = 0
Low
---------
Score =1
Medium
----------
Score = 3
High
-----------
Score = 6
Log-ins per quarter
0
0-2
3-5
more than 5
Beta group participation
none
joins, logs in once or twice
joins, logs in more than once, participates
makes active suggestions
Create a profile
visitor only
username and basic info
profile plus photo
profile, photo and connections
Post a message or take a quickpoll
0
1
2-3
4+
Responds to another member’s question
0
1
2-3
4+
Peer referral joins the community
0
1
2
3+
Response to newsletter
0
rarely opens; no clicks
opens 20%+; clicks 20%
opens 40%+; clicks 33%; 1-2 fwds
Responds to personal outreach emails and calls from community manager
0
once
sometimes
often
Asks for help: How do I find this? Can you post that for me?
0
once
sometimes
often
Submits content or responds to a request for an article about them
0
once
sometimes
often
Share unsolicited ideas for improvement, future features, new product concepts
once
sometimes
often
Attends a hosted live event
0
once
sometimes
often
Has brought content or an idea from the community into a meeting
0
once
sometimes
often
Score
0
13
39
78
What do the scores mean?
  •  A member with a score below 10 is not engaged
  •  A score in the 13-26 range signals a member who exploring the community but not fully engaged with other members
  •  Scores in the high 20s to around 50 indicate a member who is grown comfortable sharing with fellow members, and is becoming more fully engaged
  •  A score over 50 points to a member who is highly engaged and involved in the life of the community and someone who is probably considered a leader by other members of the community
How can these scores help you measure and grow your community? 
Consider this: if those scores represented the revenue value of a member, which kind of members would most want in your community? Right – the most engaged ones! In this model, a small number of engaged members is worth much more than large number of members with little or no actual engagement.
And this is why defining member engagement more precisely is so important. A visit does not constitute engagement; a newsletter open is not engagement; a “like” or a re-tweet are not, in themselves, an engaged activity. Engagement means continuing attention and activity from the member over time.  
Part two of this post discusses the key factors that can create, grow and sustain member engagement.