Since the birth of social media marketers at large companies around the world have wondered how to use it. On the one hand, it’s clearly important to be present there, after all, new arrivals are disrupting long-established markets on the backs of the social networks. But just producing content to engage with people isn’t a very sound business investment, and the number crunchers sitting there in suits are loathe to release more funds for something that is not “business critical.”
The question becomes, are social engagements worth anything? And if so, what? In this post I’m going to break it all down for you so at least you’ll know how to play devil’s advocate and question everything you hear!
Types of Engagement
The social platforms of 2017 generally tout the same major functionality. Whether you’re on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter you have three levels of engagement. Like, Comment, and Share.
When young, starry-eyed interns talk about viral content, they are referring to the Share functionality. Whenever anyone shares your content with their network, you benefit from an expanded reach. More eyes on the prize. A better CPM. Free amplification.
The Share functionality is a direct extension of a marketing plan. It clearly delivers a value to the marketers. Therefore, for the purposes of this post, I will be leaving the Share function out. Instead we will be focusing on the nebulous worlds of the Like and the Comment.
While neither the Like or the Comment have an absolute value, it is generally accepted that a Comment is more valuable than a Like, since the person engaging with the content is taking more time out of their busy life to express a feeling towards your product or content. A Like is the smallest amount of effort possible to express a preference. It takes only slightly more effort than huffing or “lol-ing” (which is when you find something funny, want to show that you feel it’s funny, but don’t actually laugh, just sort of snort and curl up the sides of one of your lips).
What can a Like possibly be worth then? Try explaining it to business-minded people who started their careers before digital, and conversations can go like this:
You: “We had 698 likes on that post, it’s pretty good compared to our average of 5-”
Older Business Director: “OK, but did they buy our product?”
Digital marketers are still struggling with this reality. In this literal case, the Like can easily be thrown away as worthless. Fortunately for us in digital, that’s not entirely true.
As any social or digital marketer will tell you, engagement rate is an important KPI. Engagement rate is one of the ways that you evaluate how well a message was received by a certain target audience. If you’re trying to reach teenage boys in New England with a few awesome animations featuring your company’s cool new drone, at the end of the campaign you can know for sure which content peaked more interest by measuring the engagement rate.
The engagement rate is also something that influencer marketers use to determine the quality of an influencer’s audience. If an influencer has a few million followers but a dismal engagement rate, that means that their audience reach is worth less compared to a smaller influencer who has a much higher engagement rate.
But can an engagement rate by itself be worth something? The answer is surprisingly yes. Social media provides new opportunities in programmatic marketing. Programmatic is basically a fancy word for really targeted, what’s important is that marketers use programmatic advertising to explore new target groups (“tribes” or “personas” depending on where you work). When a company wishes to test out new groups, launching content at that group and measuring how well it works can be beneficial to determining longterm strategy. Social allows for rapid feedback, relatively low investment levels, and automatic optimization. It’s basically like a focus group in the real world in real time.
Using engagement rate to determine the efficacy of certain types of content and targeting parameters before a product launch can go a long way to maximizing impact and minimizing risk, even for non-digital channels. Unfortunately, social is still all to often thought of last in a media mix, and so its virtue as a testing ground is rarely tapped.
Fight the Algorithms
When you think about it, Facebook is brilliant. Not for connecting people, that was a natural human behavoir that Facebook managed to digitalize. A good idea, sure, but inevitable. Where Facebook is really brilliant is in how it took businesses for a ride, and now sucks media investment like a group of vampire bats around a herd of cattle. (Yes, vampire bats suck cow blood, look it up).
Facebook told businesses: “Get on board! Make pages! Reach your audience! Grow your fans, and then by posting content you can talk to them whenever you want!”
Businesses: “Really, Facebook? Is that a good use of our time? Social is demanding!”
Facebook: “Of course it’s a good use of your time! You build your audience once, every piece of content helps you expand and reach new potential customers. Isn’t that what you want?”
Businesses: “Well yes, we’ll test it out, let’s invest a little bit to build our audience.”
Facebook: “Great! You’ll see it’s amazing.”
FAST FORWARD TO WHEN ALL BUSINESSES HAVE A FACEBOOK PAGE.
Facebook: “OK, so now our users feel that there is too much business-related messaging, so we’re introducing an algorithm to improve our user experience.”
Businesses: “So that means?”
Facebook: “That audience that you built by yourself? Yeah, you’re going to have to pay to reach them now.”
Businesses: “What the Zuck?”
That’s pretty much how it happened. And Instagram is now algorithm-based too. The chance of your organic content reaching anybody has been cut by 5, a reduction of 80% (by the most optimistic of estimations). It’s pay to play all the way.
The only way around the algorithms is to create super-engaging content that gets a lot of likes in the first few minutes that it’s posted so that it gets shown to more people. In a way, the audience validates it by liking it a lot so it passes the quality test and reaches a wider audience. This is why you always see posts of your friends getting married or having a baby that have 300 likes. It’s not because Facebook cares about you having a baby, it’s because as soon as people see that post they like it (because they are theoretically your friends and they theoretically care about you) so it gets boosted organically.
Your company’s content functions in the same way. This is also why it’s so important to post at the right time of the day, since posting when people sleep will mean that the content goes directly into some data storage facility in Utah instead of to your fans’ feeds. Better content at the optimal time leads to increased engagement rate and increased reach.
So while engagements is a tricky business question in terms of direct ROI, it can safely be said that it’s still important.