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Facebook Engagement Rate: How One Little Metric Got So Tough To Nail Down

Facebook engagement rate…If you’re a social marketer, just reading that term might make you cringe. It’s a tough metric to understand, with a lot of nuances and opinions on how it should be calculated.

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As the Senior Account Manager for Simply Measured, I’ve spent the last year and a half working intimately with the data of more than 400 top brands, corporate teams, and agencies. Throughout my time here, the one topic that customers inquire on the most often is Facebook engagement rate.

In this post, I’d like to take a look at some of the questions and issues we’ve seen customers face, take a deeper look at how engagement rate works, and identify some ways to make your Facebook data more meaningful.

Who’s Struggling With Engagement Rate?

There are a lot of agencies, brands, and even analytics providers who calculate this in different ways. Some of the questions we hear most often are:

  • How do you define engagement rate? How are other teams defining engagement rate?
  • Should I be using total fans or total reach as the base in determining an engagement rate?
  • How can I calculate engagement averages on a page level?
  • What is a “good” engagement rate for my industry?
Bar graph of Facebook Engagement Rate

The answers to these questions seem to change with every algorithm update or metric deletion that Facebook makes, but for marketers, they’re questions that still need to be answered.

I recently received this email that highlighted the complexity and misunderstanding (even from some social analytics providers) that can come into play here…

We are wondering how you measure engagement rate. Engagement rate is something that  we have been calculating manually…But wondering if you have input on this. We are revamping our quarterly report, and want to get the calculation as accurate as possible.

Here are three ways other companies are calculating engagement rate, just to give you an idea.

1. Total number of engagements divided by the number of fans (our current approach, which we believe is a bit flawed). You can further normalize by dividing by the number of days or weeks or months.

2. Total number of engagements divided by the total number of potential impressions. You can further normalize by dividing by the number of days or weeks or months.

3. Total number of engagements divided by the number of fans divided by the number of brand posts.

Just wondering if you or team had any thoughts on this. Would be very helpful for us.

Yikes! There are so many metrics and variables it can make your head spin. Not to mention that each social channel provides different data and definitions for metrics, as well as having different measures of success. It can become a complex topic very quickly!

How Does Facebook Define Engagement Rate?

Facebook defines “engagement rate” as a post-level metric, so I’ll touch on some great ways to measure engagement averages and get some solid benchmarks on a page level, but it’s important to remember that this specific term doesn’t apply past your post-level analysis. Just keep in mind that when you’re asking for an “engagement rate” you’re really asking for a consistent calculation that you can use across all posts to provide a benchmark so you know when a post is successful or has failed.

Below are the three ways to look at engagement rate and engagement averages on Facebook.

1. Creating an Internal Benchmark

Screenshot 2014-02-19 11.21.41

To create an engagement rate benchmark, use the calculation: Engaged Users / Reach.

It’s important to have a strong understanding of “Engaged Users”, because in the Facebook ecosystem, there are two types:

  • Engaged users on the PAGE (Daily: The number of unique people who engaged with your page. Engagement includes any click or story created)

  • Engaged users on the POST (Lifetime: The number of unique people who clicked anywhere in your post).

For calculating engaged users, focus on the post level. Facebook defines “engagement rate” as a post level metric (more on page level measurement below).

Clicks were only recently introduced into total engagement as part of Facebook’s new Insights structure, which is why this method only works for your owned brand posts.

I have to say that at first, I was confused by this and even a little frustrated. Only likes, comments or shares create a story, and at the end of the day, the sun goes down and we’re all competing for the most free eyeballs on our content, right? But not every user is ready to like, comment, or share a post. Yet they are still engaging by watching your video or opening the photo. Your content is resonating with them.

With the shift in Facebook’s relevancy algorithm to favor more of the article sharing and off-site traffic that content marketers are focusing on, clicks have become vastly important in determining the organic reach of a Facebook post.

ProTip: A customer who runs one of the world’s largest online retail brands posted a photo meme that received 123 shares, 419 likes and 6 comments; a healthy level of engagement for her page post. She posted a link the next day with a photo as a thumbnail (which Facebook now enlarges) and received only 27 shares, and 2 comment threads.

The meme photo with 18 times higher engagement had a Reach of 11,256 – only 1/3rd the amount of the link post, which Reached 26,288 unique users. Moral of the story: Don’t let clicks in the engaged users metric deter you!

Reach is a great metric to focus on since the users who view your content are not necessarily your page fans.

If you have the time to dig into the analysis (and please do!), it is important to differentiate your calculations and benchmarks for engaged users/organic reach and engaged users/paid reach separately.

Organic reach is content shown to an audience that has a higher likelihood of engaging since this audience has confirmed interest in your brand by liking the page, or by having a friend who has liked the page. This has proven to be a strong indicator in purchase preferences.

Paid reach can hit a target audience that is interested and has not yet taken action to like your page, but your paid campaigns are pushing content out to an audience that isn’t currently interacting with your brand. Furthermore, the higher the reach, the smaller the percentage of engaged users will most likely be. Don’t let your paid posts metrics skew your data too much with these variables. Create separate benchmarks and KPIs for each.

2. Monitoring Engaged Users

Reach is a great way to measure engagement rate, but it can also deviate from post to post based on source or campaign, as mentioned above. Viewing your total number of engaged users by week is a great way to get a pulse of when things are slowing down or when you’ve really succeeded. Remember that the best benchmark is often times yourself. While it doesn’t provide a post level metric, it does show whether or not your weekly posts have performed well or missed the bar.

This tactic can work in conjunction with your post-level engagement rate metric to develop a strong understanding of growth over time, and the impact of your efforts.

ProTip: One customer team mentioned that they keep track of their engaged users week-over-week to get a sense of how strong their engagement is and if they need to work a little harder the following week. They take their best week and use that as the main benchmark, then try to beat that until they have a new benchmark. I’d say developing goals and aiming to constantly hit or exceed them is a healthy attribute in any life function, and particularly in measuring your social performance.

Again, you’re looking for direction and benchmarks on performance. You don’t need an overly complicated calculation to determine this. Keeping an eye on both the engaged users/reach on a per-post level, and the total number of engaged users per week will certainly tell how you’re stacking up compared to posts or past weeks.

3. Stacking Up Competitively

So you’ve developed a healthy baseline internally and are able to easily determine success or failure on a post level. Congrats! However, we know the next question your boss will ask is: “Is that a good score? What’s the industry standard?” Do not fret! We can help you find this too.

“Engagement rate” isn’t a metric available on the page level, so it’s important to note that your calculations for page engagement averages will look different than they do at the post level.

Facebook Insights metrics are gated features, meaning we can’t get engaged users and reach for our competitors. Because of this, we have to change our calculation and work with what we’ve got. Remember that we’re looking for baselines and direction. Keep in mind that every other team is working with the exact same data you’ve got.

To find an industry standard, use engagement as a percentage of fans.

Since PTAT has gone away, the best way we’ve seen to measure your engagement compared to your competition is by measuring as a percentage of each page’s audience, using the following formula:

Engagements (comments, likes and shares) / Total Fans.

It’s easy, clean, and if your content isn’t resonating with the people who have explicitly declared interest in your brand, then you can analyze the tactics you’re using, and the tactics your sample set of other pages is using.

While not having total reach may seem like a bummer, don’t forget that engagement rate is intended to give you direction on performance. Are you measuring up? Are you lagging behind? Did a certain post blow it out of the water – and why? You don’t need exacts, just a consistent metric to provide a baseline.

Let us know how your teams are looking at engagement rates or index scores! I’d love to hear how other teams are scoring internally.

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Lauren Berry

Lauren is a Sr. Account Manager at Simply Measured, working with some of the largest brands in the world to track, understand, and optimize their social programs.

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