Don’t Make Engagement a Vanity Metric

June 2, 2013 Uberflip Hub

Social media marketers often view engagement rate as the holy grail of metrics. It is a standard by which to measure the health of your online community. Having your fans engage with your pages validates the content you are providing to your audience. And while all of this is undoubtedly true, marketers must be wary of using engagement rate as the key metric for determining social media success.

Separating Vanity from Valuable

Data and measurement is essential to helping define social goals. Data in the form of metrics provides cold, hard facts to help you understand if your social media efforts are successful. As a marketer, there is an abundance of data available at your fingertips (engagement, reach, sentiment, etc.). While this provides a wide array of options for you, there is however, such a thing as too many metrics. Sometimes it can be difficult to sift through the mountains of data and draw insights to drive social strategy.

An often-cited warning is to avoid vanity metrics, which look nice but provide little overall insight. Instead, focus on data which better represents the health of your community and the strength of your brand online. Marketers will frequently point to “likes” or numbers of fans as vanity metrics, since they don’t indicate whether the fans you do have are at all interested in what you are providing them. Many strategists and community managers will then point to engagement rate as a much more valuable option to determine social success.

Focus On Long-Term

While engagement rate is extremely useful in determining if your content is resonating with your community, it can become dangerous if used as an end goal for defining social success. Marketers will often use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to evaluate the success of online campaigns. These KPI’s should be linked to your social goals and, ultimately to business value. Engagement rate can provide insight when used as a KPI to help understand how you are achieving social goals. The problem occurs when using engagement rate as a social objective, as it tends to drive social strategy focused on short-term wins rather than longer-term community sustainability and brand health.

Brands will often run contests and giveaways as campaign ideas to engage their fan base. These offers are among the top reason fans will like a brand page, and posts promoting giveaways almost always drive the highest engagement. However, often your fans driven to engage with this content are only motivated by the offer itself rather than the link to your brand. These campaigns deliver high short-term metrics that are great for show, but don’t translate to your business goals nor convert fans into customers.

Strategy vs. Tactics

When thinking about how to use engagement rate to glean useful insights, consider the difference between overall strategy and tactical execution. Your social strategy helps define what you are trying to accomplish; tactics are methods you employ to achieve those goals. In essence strategy is the “what” part of the equation, whereas tactics are the “how”.

Engagement rate is an effective mechanism when used to evaluate the tactics you are employing to execute your strategy. Number of engagements can determine how people interact with your posts and whether or not your content is worthy of discussion. You can use engagement rate as a benchmark to compare to your competitors and industry. As well, you can obtain insights into what tactics your competitors are applying and what seems to be working for them.

But, when you take engagement rate at face value, you become shortsighted in your strategy and focus on engagement as an end goal. Engagement is not an end goal. Improved brand awareness is an end goal. Customer retention is an end goal. Increasing sales is an end goal. Engagement rate is a useful metric to draw insights on how you are reaching your social objectives, but it should not be the objective.

Build a Framework for Success

Rather than viewing metrics first, take a top-down approach to social media marketing.

  • Start with your business challenge and what you are trying to achieve.
  • Define your greater marketing objectives which will help meet your particular challenge.
  • Outline social goals that allow you to achieve these objectives.
  • Finally, drill down to the social KPIs which characterize your goals and ascertain whether they were met.

Allow your social approach to be successful by building using your business goals as a foundation. This enables you to use metrics such as engagement rate effectively as a KPI to draw insight, rather than as an objective. Engagement rate is a valuable piece of your measurement puzzle, but it isn’t the Holy Grail it’s made out to be.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author

Paul is a social media marketer and startup enthusiast based in Toronto, Canada. He likes to traverse both the tech startup and marketing agency worlds (and everything in between). Paul divides his time equally between tech events and Blue Jays games.

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