Making sense of the key performance indicators for social media can be doubly challenging. First, many beginning social media marketers don’t know what to look for or where to look. And even for seasoned marketers, confusion persists in understanding what qualifies as good when using certain measurements. There are many ways to measure the performance of social media, the various elements of Facebook Insights were discussed in a previous posts. This post will focus on often cited and often misunderstood statistic, the engagement rate.
To recap the definition that was given in the previous post, the engagement figure tells how many viewers actively did something with the post that produced a story on the social media. This includes liking a post, sharing it with others, tagging people in the post, commenting, etc. These are the actions that produce stories on the readers profile. For example, when someone likes a post on a Company A’s Facebook page, the reader’s status feed will state that they liked a post from Company A with a link to the post. The engagement rate is the number of people who engaged with a post divided by the total number of people who saw the post.
A key question for social media marketers is, “What is a good engagement rate for posts on an organization’s social media page?” While the total reach and view count of content are important, the engagement numbers are the only thing that show how the content resonated with readers. If people like, comment, or share a post, this is a pretty good indication that the content is interesting to viewers.
This is all simple enough so far. What makes the issue confusing is that people assume that since the engagement rate is so important, the figure itself should be high. But this is not the case. An engagement rate above 1% is good and a rate below a 0.5% suggests room for improvement. The average Facebook page will have between a 0.5% and .99% engagement rate. The trend of low overall engagement rates is similar on other social media platforms. The average engagement rate for YouTube is 0.05% and for the recently launched Vine video application for Twitter, the rate is 0.03%.
This isn’t a matter of pages underperforming. Even the top 200 brand pages on Facebook only average 1.4% on their engagement rates. The rule of thumb for social media is 90-9-1 when it comes to engagement. About 90 percent of fans make up the unengaged audience. They may be viewing posts and content, but they aren’t engaging with them in a way besides viewing the posts. Nine percent of the audience is infrequently engaged and only one percent are a part of the naturally engaged audience.
In some respects, the issue is a misunderstanding of the role of social media. Though social media allows for personal interaction between organization’s and their audience, most people still interact with social media messages from businesses as they do with traditional mass media. To illustrate, a TV commercial is shown to millions of people. Of those millions of people, only a few will like the commercial enough to contact the company through mail, phone, or the internet. Most people, rather they like the commercial or not, wouldn’t do more than view the commercial and internalize the message.
The point is that although social media has changed a lot, it hasn’t changed people. Only a few people will ever actively engage with corporate marketing, regardless of the channel. This is something that Facebook admits.
“The meta-point is that you should think about Facebook like you think about other marketing channels and not necessarily as a new and different beast,” said Graham Mudd, head of vertical measurement at Facebook, in response to research from the Enrenberg-Bass Institute. “Broadly speaking we would agree with that sentiment, that focusing on core marketing metrics, like reach and frequency is what drives effectiveness. Engagement is an interesting and important metric for some marketers and campaigns. But it shouldn’t be standard by which Facebook as a marketing platform is evaluated.”
But just because the engagement rate is people may have originally thought, there is still a lot to be learned from that small percentage of engaged fans. Analyzing the behavior of these few can tell marketers a lot about the less vocal majority. It goes back to applying the knowledge of traditional media to social media. The conventional wisdom for PR is that for every one letter a company receives, they can assume that many more people felt the same way and just didn’t feel like writing a letter. Similarly, the engagement rate is a good indication of how interested (or not interested) other viewers are in the content.