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Why Social Marketers Need to Get Clear on “Engagement”

Why Social Marketers Need to Get Clear on “Engagement”

Engagement. In the world of social marketing, there is no word you’ll hear more often.

engagementPractically speaking, “engagement” is an umbrella for all the ways consumers can interact on social networks – from posts to pins and likes to link clicks. Social marketers then quantify these activities as a success metric. Despite its simple roots, this metric has become vague, non-standard, confusing, elusive at times, and inadequate to show success alone.

We have simultaneously become infatuated with engagement as today’s key marketing metric and entirely skipped the process of clarifying our terminology. As social marketing matures, marketers need to get on the same page about engagement and move on to the next level of models and analysis.

Why Social Marketers Are (Rightly) Infatuated with Engagement

Engagement is exciting because it shows that consumers are paying attention and compelled enough to participate. Engagement signals a level of connection beyond a passive impression. In traditional media, consumers are stuck as consumers. The ability for consumers to interact, participate, and respond in a way that marketers can quantify is one of the things that makes social media unique. It’s unlikely that I could share a TV ad with a phone call or in-person conversation, but on Facebook or Twitter I can instantly distribute and discuss a brand’s content with my 500 closest friends.

Why Social Marketers Need to Get Clear on “Engagement”

For engagement to have a seat at the table with impressions, viewers, clicks, and other accepted activity level measures, we need to have a focused approach to measuring the right things and understanding how to tie to our funnel and business goals. We also need a way to clarify and standardize the terminology. The best place to start is breaking down engagement into 3 distinct buckets of activity.

The 3 Types of Social Media Engagement Brands Need to Measure

Measuring, analyzing, and optimizing social media efforts for engagement makes sense. But how? It’s a murky area mostly defined only as a buzzword. Measurement should naturally tie to the three ways that consumers engage with businesses through social media:

1. Content Engagement

When users react to the content you’ve published by liking, pinning, commenting on it, or sharing it, they’re engaging with that content or campaign. This is crucial for understanding the value your brand’s social media content drives, and how it can move the needle. Metrics that benchmark this type of engagement can help demonstrate success, but the real value is that they can help shift focus, understand success, and build an audience that looks forward to your posts.

Measuring content engagement requires summing the shares, likes, comments, Retweets, etc, and the reach of those activities, for each campaign across channels and across media types. The critical step then becomes correlating or attributing content engagement to the business goal for the campaign.

2. Brand Engagement

When a user Tweets or posts about a brand, story, or idea, they engage in a conversation on a set of topics. For example, by writing this post, I’m engaging with the conversation on engagement. I’m SO meta right now. Brand engagement is important in the same regard that impressions are important. They both act as signals for brand strength. This is why ranking companies like Interbrand and Nielsen have started incorporating social engagement data into their calculations.

Quantifying brand engagement looks similar to measuring traditional PR – looking at the volume, reach, and sentiment of a conversation. However, in social media, you are able to measure that engagement at a more granular level.

3. Direct Engagement

When a brand responds to a user’s question or starts a 1:1 conversation, they engage directly. This direct engagement drives retention and advocacy by humanizing the brand, improving the overall customer experience, and increasing satisfaction.  In addition to supporting the marketing funnel, direct engagement can help reduce customer support costs by deflecting issues from the call center.

Measuring direct engagement is likely more specific to a brand’s goal than a generic activity set. If the goal is customer service, volume, sentiment, response time, and response rate are likely the most relevant and correlating those to call center deflection. In the case of a more sales oriented engagement, clicks or shares of the original interaction may be better indicators of success. Regardless of the model, these type of interactions are typically happening on a smaller scale than content or brand engagement and need to be segmented accordingly.

It’s time for social marketers to get clear about these 3 types of engagement and turn this often vague and elusive terminology into something we can all accept. We can further debate how to weight the different underlying activities, but getting clear on the bigger buckets will remove the confusion and gaps in our general definitions. Engagement alone does not equals success just as impressions alone do not equal success. Engagement is an activity metric, not a direct business metrics and should be treated accordingly. However, getting clear on how you define and measure engagement to align with your strategy is a critical first step to closing the loop and answering the bigger questions about social media’s quantifiable value.

Adam Schoenfeld

Adam is the Co-Founder and VP of Strategy at Simply Measured. In 2010 (aka the dark ages of social marketing), Adam joined Damon Cortesi and Aviel Ginzburg to found "Untitled Startup, Inc" with the goal of helping marketers and analysts use social data to do their best work. The company quickly evolved to become Simply Measured and the trusted leader in social analytics. Outside of Simply Measured, Adam is a golfer, breakfast enthusiast, and long-time data geek.

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