There are dozens of metrics we as marketers could track when it comes to social media. Things like impressions, AVEs, viral lift, or sentiment. It can be hard to distinguish not just the differences between some of these metrics, but also why some are more important than others.
If you have to prove the value of what you do on social media to someone who doesn’t have a firm understanding of it, you might find yourself reporting on metrics that you know are inconsequential at best.
If you’re being measured on boosting metrics that sound nice, for example, likes or total follower count, engagement is a good measurement that incorporates likes, and is scalable across follower count growth. Try and negotiate engagement as the metric that matters, because that’s what it is.
Then, there’s the tricks that social media platforms play on the stats themselves. How long does someone have to watch a video before it counts as a view? This varies by platform. However, if just scrolling by it counts as a view, you need to know that before proclaiming your latest piece of content a viral smash hit.
Social media platforms have one simple goal: keep us there.
That’s true whether we’re private users, brand pages, or spending millions on advertising on their platforms.
What is social media engagement?
Engagement includes the total number of likes, comments, and shares. On some platforms just pausing on the post, not scrolling away from it counts as engagement. It even includes reporting an ad as offensive Facebook itself defines engagement as the total number of actions people take on your social media posts. Hey, you hated it so much you took action, so it counts.
Divide your engagements by the total reach of your post, multiply it by 100 and you have a nice easy percentage to report on: your engagement rate.
In many ways, your engagement rate is a reflection of how well you are achieving social media’s goal, above: How well are you keeping your followers on your content?
The benchmark of what’s considered a “good” engagement rate varies by platform, but it’s much lower on Facebook or YouTube than on Instagram, where it sits somewhere between 3% and 6%.
Why brands need to measure social media engagement
Measuring your engagement rate on social media provides important insights into the value you provide to your audience.
If the rate is quite low, you know you’re not delivering to your full potential value. If that trend continues, you can expect to start losing followers-- a direct reflection of the value you aren’t providing. It can be an important wake up call that your messaging strategy is not resonating.
If the rate is quite high, you can expect the opposite: follower growth as people share your content, because they know their friends and followers will also find it valuable. This can validate your messaging strategy. You can expect knock-on effects like higher conversion rates, higher impressions, and more passionate fans. These are all good problems to have.
If you need more insight into your engagement rate, you can slice your numbers by passive and active engagement. Passive engagement, as the name implies, requires less effort. Generally it looks at engagements that require just a single button tap. Think Likes and Shares.
Active engagement requires more effort, so you can consider it to be more valuable. Active engagements are comments, retweets with comments, sharing in a private message with a note. Any action that requires thoughtfulness and consideration on social media is an active engagement.
Finally, if you are measuring the engagement rate, you have a standardized metric showing your value across time. 100 likes means a lot more coming from a page with 100 followers than one with 10,000. Your engagement rate reflects that.
What can brands do to boost engagement?
Both Instagram and Twitter are chock full of brands doing their utmost to hold our attention. Pithy tweets and ultra beautiful photos will only take a brand so far. Sometimes, they opt to go for a good old fashioned engagement boost by creating content that makes people want to interact.
Brands can ask for your engagement directly
This Halloween themed post from Snickers is a great example of a post that exists only to boost engagement numbers. It’s solid advertising all around:
You’re scrolling along one dark and stormy night when you come upon this thought exercise from Snickers. “Hmm” you might wonder, “What is a good example of a horror movie that would have ended differently if they just had a Snickers?”
Well, a quick Google search will tell you the correct answer is the 2009 horror film Hunger. But everyone will have their own answer. So you’ve just spent 1-3 minutes engaging with the post. Even when you’re just running through horror movies in your head, trying to shoehorn a Snickers into the plot, you are engaging with the post. Of course when you comment “Hunger! (2009)” you’re also engaging with the post.
You’re not even done, because, a week later when bae suggests you snuggle up with some popcorn and a scary movie, you’re still going to be trying to figure out how a chocolate bar could have saved the first victim. Now that’s engagement!
Brands can let user generated content engage for them
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by k a t e (@katekeepswild) on
A nice autumnal scene. I bet @katekeepswild is very pleased with her engagement rate.
A beautiful rugged scene with muted fall colors. How very fitting. Where else would someone take their coffee for #NationalCoffeeDay? 338 likes and 40+ comments later we can say that 26.5% of Kate’s followers found this content worth engaging with. That’s a fantastic engagement rate and I’m sure she was very pleased with her results.
It really is a great picture after all, isn’t it? And she looks very cosy in the oversized sweater but we know it’s probably cool or chilly outside. We imagine that the coffee she’s drinking is helping to keep her warm.
You know who else imagined that? That’s right, it was the green siren herself, Starbucks.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Starbucks Coffee ☕ (@starbucks) on
Nearly 86,000 likes later, do you think the coffee’s still warm?
Let’s compare the captions on each of these posts, shall we? Kate said in her original: “Stressed, blessed, and pumpkin spice obsessed”. Her focus was entirely on the product, she even used the #NationalCoffeeDay hashtag.
Starbucks, on the other hand, was focused on everything else. Their caption was “Coffee with a view”. They chose to focus on user experience. While Kate’s original photo was appealing and inviting, it very much offered a look into her life.
When shared to Starbucks massive and engaged following, and paired with the caption “coffee with a view” suddenly 86,000 people can imagine themselves in a similar situation. By the sea, or staring out at a cityscape, or up in the mountains like Kate, it doesn’t matter the view! It’s about the idea of taking time out of your day to energize, to warm up, and enjoy your surroundings. And people engage with that idea.
When Starbucks shared her photo, they made Kate the star. Yes she’s just one person, and probably was already a big aficionado, but they just created a superfan for life.
Provide value to a niche segment
Wendy's ventured into the absurd and the existential.
So Starbucks targeted people who like coffee and the outdoors with the user generated content they decided to share. Not a terribly risque strategy, seeing as coffee drinkers and people who enjoy the outdoors make up a pretty broad section of society.
Wendy’s decided to go a little more niche.
Yes, they released a free board game a la Dungeons & Dragons.
For a brand that literally has fans writing memes about their spicy chicken nuggets, this move was unnecessary. But it was highly engaging.
You know how they say YouTube commenters love marketing teams? Me neither.
For a certain segment of fans, particularly the ones who eat Wendy’s in the basement on a Friday night between throws of a eight-sided die, this was the brand shouting their acknowledgement in a big way. So what if they don’t have a girlfriend, they’ve got the Order of Freshtovia to defend.
So what does Wendy’s get out of this? Besides turning a game that is 45 years old and firmly cemented in nerd lore as THE game into THEIR game, they get engagement. Engagement as people play the game, bashing their competitors as the in-game bad guys because they have frozen beef, engagement on social media as people praise them, engagement when people dress up as these characters for Halloween or Comic-Con.
As nerd culture becomes ever more popular and mainstream, this is an example of a campaign that was both easy to roll out (a 12MB PDF and some french fries are all you need to play), and will age well just like its source material.
If you’ve been using social media for any significant amount of time you probably know how to do these measurements manually. Many a social media manager has hand-calculated their engagement rate, and is eager to never return to those times.
Just for old times’ sake, however, let's go over the formula to measure engagement rate again:
E(total number of engagements: likes, shares, comments, reports)÷R(reach of the post) x100=Engagement Rate
Thankfully we don’t have to remember this because we have...
Tools to measure engagement on social media
There are myriad tools to measure social media engagement. Many of them are built in to the platforms where you are posting.
Facebook has Audience Insights
Instagram has Post Insights
YouTube has YouTube Analytics within the Creator Studio or Google Analytics.
After that there are a variety of third-party tools that can help you make measuring your engagement rate, or that of an influencer you’ve hired for your campaign as simple as pressing a button
Talkwalker makes it easy to measure social media engagement by segments.
Talkwalker Analytics | Social media listening platform
Get a complete view of your brand health across multiple platforms, track mentions,and measure your engagement based on demographics that matter to you like location, age, platform or anything else you can imagine. Find out what moments during events like basketball games get fans engaged.
The Celtics beat the Mavericks 116-106. On social they won with 23k engagements to Dallas’ 12k.
TapInfluence | Influencer content marketing
This tool helps find influencers creating excellent content, and turns their creativity into an asset for your brand.
Snaplytics | Analytics for Stories & Snapchat
Disappearing stories found on Instagram and Snapchat are no longer a problem for measurement purposes using this tool.
InfluencerDB | Influencer ID & Management
This tool makes it very easy to add filters over your influencer search, so you can narrow down to the right influencer right away. It also makes managing a campaign and reporting on results very intuitive.
InfluencerDB offers many ways to filter your influencer search including by follower count, engagement, activity or location.
SocialPeeks | Instagram measurements
This is a very easy to use Chrome extension. If you frequently browse Instagram from a (work) computer this little button will save you time by showing you engagement rates and other important metrics within a user's profile on Instagram.com
In summary, here’s what we learned about engagements and how to measure them:
Engagement is a real thing: A good post can truly engage with you. It’s not a question of did you or didn’t you like the post, though it also measures that. It measures if you engaged with the post, even just by stopping on it for a moment. Engagement is a real life metric and you should be measuring it.
People want to see themselves reflected in brand content. Give them what they want by showing off their own work, making them the star. This can make creating content a much lighter load. Alternatively, you can create content for a specific group of your fans, which is just another way to make a broader group of people the star. It shows your fans they are important to the brand.