The Great Debate: Does Social Media Engagement Matter?

The Great Debate: Does Social Media Engagement Matter? Kevin Shively Blogger Extraordinaire Simply Measured

Engagement has been a major piece of social marketing ever since we were tallying Likes, comments, and shares manually. It’s a staple because it’s a constant. It’s been what we could measure since social was new, so it became the baseline for our entire measurement practice.

But CMOs and business leaders don’t care about engagement. They care about overall results. Are we limiting ourselves as marketers by focusing so intently on it?

When I was a kid, I was an outfielder on our little league team. One weekend when our catcher was on vacation, our coach told me to gear up because I’d be playing catcher that day.

“But coach,” I protested. “I’m an outfielder!”

“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re a baseball player.”

Turns out, I was way better as a catcher than I was as an outfielder, which I’d have never known if I hadn’t been forced out of my comfort zone. In the end, baseball wasn’t really my game at all so I became a sports writer instead, but the metaphor still works so stop judging me.

Breaking Out of the Comfort Zone

Social marketing is around the same age I was when I had that conversation with my coach.

We’ve gotten complacent with the role social plays, but only because we haven’t tried anything else, and today, I’d like to challenge you to think bigger. What other positions can social play?

Ballfield
Marketing is only successful when each channel fills a specific role, but when all channels share a common goal.

In baseball, the team in the field has a finite number of players, and a shared goal of getting three outs before the other team can score. There are dozens and dozens of ways to stop them from scoring, but only one end goal: a goose egg on the scoreboard. You do this by placing the players in strategic places that maximize your ability to reach that goal.

As a social marketer, do you know what your team’s end-goal is? Because this is where you need to start. Once you have that locked in, you can zero in on the ways to get there.

What Position Does Social Play on Your Team?

First of all, I apologize for the continued baseball metaphor…I’m really sticking with this one.

It’s important to identify where social can make the biggest impact for your team. How does your social media program support broader marketing goals, and how does it move potential customers from one stage of the buyer’s journey to the next?

Social Metrics Map

The above map is something you’ll see constantly if you read the Simply Measured blog, and that’s because it’s central to our philosophy both as marketers, and also as an analytics software company.

Social media can drive engagement, but it can also drive awareness, sales, retention, and advocacy. It all depends on your industry, social strategy, and end goals.

By mapping your goals back to your KPIs, you may realize that engagement isn’t a proxy for success, and you may decide it is. Either way, you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish before you can measure your progress.

The Case for Engagement

While the debate rages on over engagement, one thing is for sure; no other marketing channel has a metric like engagement. This is one of social media’s great powers.

Engagement gives us a stronger link to which content works, which resonates with our potential customers, and which doesn’t. While engagement may not correlate to conversions and direct ROI, it can provide support along the way.

When Is Engagement Valuable?

As you saw in the social metrics map above, engagement is valuable as a KPI in a couple of ways. Let’s stay within the context of the buyer’s journey:

  1. In the awareness phase, where impressions and reach are critical to spreading your message to potential buyers, engagement works as a secondary KPI, enabling greater reach.
  2. In the consideration phase, engagement is incredibly valuable. This is why so many brands use social for this purpose. When you want your audience to start thinking about your product as an option, social is a great way to get your message in front of them in an organic way. Engagement is the best KPI here because it lets you know that tactic is working, and you’re convincing people to take an action (even if it’s passive, like a “Like”) with your branded content.
  3. In the adoption phase, where the focus is on keeping customers, and keeping them happy. Social media can be a great tool to do this, by interacting in a more casual setting than the aisles of your store, chat window of your ecommerce site, or via email. Engagement with customers allows you to understand how happy they are, or how likely they are to churn and never buy from you again.
  4. In the advocacy phase, earned engagement can be a KPI you focus on. By identifying the earned mentions your brand is generating, you can measure and improve brand perception and affinity.

So, while engagement can’t be your sole metric, it can be valuable in many ways.

To go back to the baseball metaphor, if the goal is to stop a run from scoring, not every player will get the third out. Some may stop a base runner from stealing second, or hold the runner at third on a pop fly.

Social media is complex, and our activities as marketers can holistically support any stage of the buyer’s journey, as long as we have them playing the right position.

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Kevin Shively

As the head of content marketing at Simply Measured, cohost of the #SimplySocial podcast, and generally delightful person, my job is to tell stories to the internet...You're welcome internet.