Marketing Series: Social Media Engagement: What is it?

Lots of indie creatives struggle to get engagement on social media, even though social media is touted as one of the primary ways for indies to market themselves. What most people don’t understand though is what exactly they’re looking at when they are looking at engagement and more important what it means for a content creator.  In order to understand how to increase engagement, we have to take a deep dive into what engagement is. 

Engagement is usually looked at in terms of how people interact with posts. There are two common perspectives of “engagement.” One is a general impression of people noticing, liking, and interacting with your content.  The other is how social media platforms, advertisers, and researchers track engagement is through numbers. At least how people use the numbers. Let me explain. 

My guess is that, for you, “engagement” is a way of describing how much people like and interact with your posts.  It probably gives you an impression of whether or not people are enjoying  what you’re putting out and whether or not you’re connecting with others.  Your thoughts may not go much further than this. If they do, you may use the number of likes your posts get to determine how well each of them perform.  Social media platforms use the numbers for numerical analysis, rather than just gaining a general impression of performance.  

Engagement on social media platforms is a combination of actions a person can take on a particular post. Facebook has more types of actions, such as reacting (liking, hating, etc), sharing, clicking on a link, and commenting. On Instagram, you can like or comment on a post, but Instagram doesn’t track reposting (because it uses third-party apps). You can also visit a profile or follow someone after reacting to a post, which Instagram does track as but tracks separately from what they define as engagement. If someone likes a post and then visits your profile, the visit is tracked on that but but is not included as engagement.

I looked at one of my posts that had an engagement score of 197.  It had 107 likes, 87 comments, and 3 saved. That’s 197. So there aren’t any fancy ways of weighting comments over likes or saves. But of those 87 comments, I made 7 of them.  Does this mean that, theoretically, if I create a post and make 100 comments myself, the engagement score would be 100, and said post would be performing better than one that has a score of three, because three people liked it?  Hmmm. That doesn’t seem like a useful way to measure engagement.

As you may be able to see, getting good engagement numbers can happen easily through saying something controversial for the sake of controversy. Although this may seem like a good strategy, it’s a hard road to go down because you’ll have to up the ante every time you post to keep up the controversy.  

Let’s look at another scenario.  Let’s say four people liked one IG post, but no one commented.  That post will get a score of 4. Let’s say another post on IG, got 2 likes and each of those people wrote a comment.  So that post also got 4. So does this mean that both posts got equal engagement? According to the numbers, it seems that way.  I would say that the one with the comments got more engagement. Although it was just two people liking and commenting, they were really into the post. It took more effort to make the comments than just double click on a post to like.  To me, liking a post enough to comment seems like the engagement is better. 

The numbers should mean something. The way that social media combines actions can make the numbers meaningless. So how do you get meaning from numbers?  

When you look at the numbers, you have to remember why you’re looking at them and what the numbers represent. If you’re an indie writer, you’re probably looking at numbers to see how much you’re connecting with your audience.  Connection with your audience isn’t how many likes you get, how many followers, or how many comments you get. Those numbers just represent something that you can’t count directly: human connection. Engagement really isn’t about the numbers. Not really. But the numbers help you to measure what you’re really wanting to understand: the strength of your relationship with your audience.  You’re trying to answer the question: does what I put out matter to those following me?

To better understand what the numbers mean, I’m going to tell you what to look at and how. What you should be looking at are the more specific numbers. Which posts are getting the most likes? Those are the ones people are not just skimming past, so yay. Next, look at which posts are getting the most comments. Were the comments directed at you or were they part of a discussion? Both kinds of comments are good, for now, we are just figuring out what to look for. You can also look at comments to see what exactly is sparking interest. Of the posts where you are promoting an off-platform destination (like a blog post), you should look at how many clicks or profile visits you’re getting . (The profile visits would indicate that the person is trying to find the link to your blog post). I sometimes go to my blog posts to see where the people from IG have landed and which posts are are getting interest. I can write more about this if it’s of interest. Here we discussed the different ways people engage with a post that shows how much you’re connecting with your audience.

Another way to look at engagement is the ratio of likes to your number of followers.  How deeply into your followers are you getting engagement. If you read my post on newsletters, you’ll be familiar with the idea of “open rates,” as a way to judge whether or not your newsletter is performing well or not.  On social media, there is a ratio to judge how well you’re doing which is likes in relation to your number of followers. If you have 100 followers and a post gets 10 likes, you have a 10% engagement rate. That’s pretty good, right?  Well yes. The thing to know that that the larger the number of followers the lower your engagement rates will be.   You’re probably in the less than 1000 to 5000 follower range.  For those who have less than 1000 followers, the industry “standard” for those who want to monetize on IG is 8%.  For above 1000 but fewer than 5000, the industry “standard” is 5.7%.  This industry-standard is for people who want to make money on their posts.  The goal is to get the highest percentage of your followers to engage with your posts and not just swipe on by.   

Connection is the real goal you’re trying to achieve.  Engagement is a way for you to know that you are achieving that goal.  It is a way to measure your connection with your audience. The question becomes, how do you increase your connection with your audience? This question will be explored in the next post on engagement.

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©2020, 2021 Michelle Raab, PhD. All rights reserved.

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Edited and Updated February 3, 2021

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4 thoughts on “Marketing Series: Social Media Engagement: What is it?

  1. Superb post looking beyond the numbers. I’ve often wondered the same thing about how your own comments are included in engagement scores! They’re important, by all means – especially when you can turn a comment into a conversation. But they’re not the same as engagement from someone else!
    Likewise, I have wondered about how those spammy comments that some accounts post are counted, too (the ones that have no relationship to the content, but only exist to direct other viewers to the commenter’s own account).
    Digging deeper as you put it is definitely required.

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