The term “engagement” has easily become one of the most overused terms in marketing over the past few years. Even in it’s simplest, least frothy meaning it relies on the belief that more time spent and more interactions with a brand ultimately drives sales. Of all of the metrics available in Facebook, it’s the engagement metrics, principally the People Talking About This metrics, that brands care about most. Okay, truth be told, they care equally about all of the reach metrics but they go hand-in-glove. No one really wants a high fan count with no interaction. But if reach is actually a measure of the actual fans plus friends reached via specific content then that content must have been engaging to begin with to be passed along.
We care about engagement. We want more engaging brands. We want customers finding content important enough to pass along to their friends.
A study from AdMap says that engagement is stupid.
Sure, I could have put that more diplomatically. But read the study. Essentially it calls out what many of us struggle with everyday – different understandings of what the term ‘engagement’ can actually mean, connecting any form of engaged behavior to sales-related outcomes, and the mad rush to celebrate or condemn Facebook depending on what day of the week it is.
What do low levels of engagement mean?
The study examined the top 200 brand pages in Facebook and concluded that given a rolling week, fans engaged for FMCG-type brands around .30% while car brands pulled in .98%. No brand crested 1% average engagement. And it was not much better for “passion brands” which hopped from an average of .51% to .64%.
Without disputing their research, I have to question their conclusion that engagement doesn’t matter. It may be that engagement as a goal is faulty logic or a semantic slip. If brands are able to deliver valuable content and service through social platforms like Facebook they can actually build stronger bonds with customers that will translate into additional sales and valuable customer advocacy. Do customers interacting with valuable content constitute ‘engagement?’ Sure.
It is common knowledge that a minority of people lean forward enough to actually interact with brands in social media. It is that active minority that we work to engage everyday since we know they will spread the word via their social graph. Does that mean that a fan base of 1m people really only has 10,000 – 50,000 active fans? Probably. But that’s okay. The power of this minority is appreciable. I would also hypothesize that we are all learning new behaviors as consumers. That means that engagement levels may rise as brands do a better job of delivering value and we, as consumers, learn that we can expect more from brands.
Does engagement matter as a metric?
The AdMap study would say no,
“Overall, the results demonstrating low levels of interaction with brands, knowledge of repertoire rather than loyal brand buying behaviour and the fundamental uncertainty about what engagement is, or achieves, suggest that brands need to proceed with caution. They should focus instead on measurement of the sales effects of exposure to advertising with social media, tempering the expectation of finding high engagement that leads to sales.”
But I think the answer is actually a resounding “yes.” We want a productive relationship with customers. Productive for them and for the brand. Productivity for the brand can be summed up as sales today, sales tomorrow and customer advocacy. Engagement with brand content in Facebook is not only indicative of more brain space for brands strengthening awareness, consideration and even intent to purchase, but it is also directly correlative to reach via the more trusted channel of our friends, family and social connections.
You want sales, here’s sales
Facebook has been quiet due to the ‘quiet period’ surrounding the IPO. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been diligently collecting effectiveness measures. They know that marketers want hardcore evidence of Facebook’s efficacy as a business platform.
So, while engagement metrics matter as useful, daily KPIs indicative of the stronger bonds we are building with customers and the social advocacy we are earning, there are tangible sales results as well:
- In the four weeks after seeing “coffee house brand” messages on Facebook, fans and their friends overall bought at “coffee house brand” 38% more frequently than the unexposed group of fans and friends of fans
- In the four weeks after seeing “mass retailer” messages on Facebook, “mass retailer” fans and their friends overall bought at the store 21% more frequently
Both engagement and sales matter. And so, by the way, does social media.