Instead, this is a persuasive argument to prove why social media engagementis critical.
Because no one ever answers that.
Arm-chair ‘social media experts’ say that it is. But don’t go on to define it.
What’s worse, most of the media just confuse things further. Once-great institutions turned rags, like Forbes, now regularly spew unhelpful garbage.
The problem is that if you don’t understand how or why something is important, you have zero chance successfully implementing it. No matter how many tactics are copied and pasted.
So here’s a no-BS approach to back up why ‘engagement’ matters.
But first, the facts.
How Social Media Works
Permission Marketinghit bookstores (remember those?) in 1999.
Also from 99: the Snake mobile game, overhead projectors, CD-ROMs, and dial up modems. Oh, andTRL.
The book’s premise was simple: in these ‘heady days’ of ‘technological innovation’ (lots of air quotes), the future of promotion will be more about engagement, less about interruption.
Fast forward to 2009, and Inbound Marketinghit first edition Kindle’s everywhere.
Different titles, same premise.
As more and more people move online, the future of brand promotion is through interaction on these new mediums. Less so on old broadcast or static ones (because it’s tough to see a billboard while driving when you’re trying to text your friend back).
For years now, this has all played out pretty much as advertised (pun).
And the #1 destination this happens is social. Specifically, Facebook.
The trouble is, social activity often lacks intent.
That means people don’t go there because of your 2-for-1 discount. Instead, it’s usually to kill a few minutes or procrastinate, with brands benefiting through serendipity.
So the primary social marketing objective is to grab people’s attention, first, in order to give yourself a fighting chance.
And increasing your ability to gain attention in social media starts with engagement.
How Social Media Engagement Drives ‘Reach’
In the stone age of advertising, there were two important concepts to measure:
Reach: the total number of people being exposed to your message
Frequency: the number of times those people are being exposed (that sounds kinda dirty)
Social media hasn’t changed marketing, so those two things are still very relevant.
Today, ‘Reach’ is measured through many things, including impressions and views. And many times, as in the case of Facebook, increasing organic (unpaid) reach is entirely dependent on engagement.
Why? Natural amplification. Your social activity is broadcasted throughout your social graph, so when you ‘Like’ that funny cat meme, your friends are now alerted to the existence of that funny cat meme too.
The other reason is EdgeRank, the algorithm designed to control how far and wide your messages can go, to help them control how often brands can annoy users. (Also, to spend more in advertising.)
Fan engagement with content updates (Likes, comments, answering questions, etc.) are ‘votes’, similar to how backlinks help drive greater visibility through search engines.
The point is that greater post engagement drives reach (and not the other way around). Pull up your own Facebook Insights account right now, and you’ll see this play out for your most popular posts:
And if you zoom out a little bit, stacking Post Reach over Reactions, Comments and Shares over time, you’ll again see the correlation:
All social networks work this way to some degree or another. Seer’s excellent Pinterest Guideshows similar results, where their Analytics dashboard shows the symbiotic relationship between more engagement (repins, clicks, likes) and more impressions (reach).
So that’s it. Game over. Article finished.
Unfortunately, there are still few problems in proving that engagement has a greater impact beyond spreading your message a little further.
3 Common Problems with Proving ‘Engagement’ Matters
‘Likes’ on Facebook can help increase the reach of that post. Sure.
But do ‘Likes’ translate into sales?
As one unfortunate man found out, the answer is a resounding nope.
Problem #1. Traditional Engagement Metrics Fall Short
Sure, Likes and Favorites are a start. But they don’t go far enough in proving that ‘engagement’ drives real business objectives.
Ian Michiels from Gleanster gets a step further with the Mean Performance Social Media Score (MPS). But I barely had time to write this post, let alone set-up a new custom dashboard this morning.
Click through data (using UTM parameters, Bitly, or similar) is a start, but only if someone actually does anything in that current session. Same holds true for discount codes or coupons, which only help if people take action immediately (which as already discussed, is unlikely).
Thankfully there’s Klout. Just kidding, nobody uses that garbage.
Current methods of measuring engagement, while sounding nice in a Press Release, barely scratch the surface of foreshadowing any meaningful impact.
Problem #2: The Great Attribution Gap
Full funnel attribution is currently, and for the foreseeable future, a nightmare. Yes, it’s possible. Kinda. Sorta. But in reality, for most companies, it’s almost not worth the effort.
Tools like HubSpot, Mixpanel or Kissmetrics can help dramatically, getting you extremely close without pulling your own hair out.
Kissmetrics even provides a pretty infographic showing how it works (just in case, like me, you have trouble staying focused for longer than 2 seconds and need something shiny to look at).
But let’s assume for now that you can’t draw a straight line between ‘engagement’ and sales. Because in many cases, you can’t. At least not with 100% accuracy.
Problem #3: Declining Organic Performance
Let’s not beat around the bush here…
Organic reach on Facebook continues to decline. The reasons aren’t so mysterious.
But this trend is inevitable, as all social networks are ad-based platforms that will follow suit. The category leader sets the pace.
This is one reason why former Forrester VP, Nate Elliott, urges marketers to stop measuring social engagement altogether.
He makes some great points. But others are a bit simplistic. And the cynic in me can’t help but distrust analysts, sitting in their ivory tower, making recommendations – compared with the work of practitioners in the trenches.
So what to do?
Unfortunately, until something better comes along, we have to rely on correlation data.
Admittedly, it’s going out on a bit of a limb. But then again, that’s how pretty much every other promotion vehicle is measured. And if we’re putting the ROI of social media up against billboards and print ads, I’ll take that bet.
The good news is that there are a few good case studies out there to pull from.
How Social Media Engagement Drives ROI
Social media’s not the best, direct sales driver.
But it can be a powerful, indirect, sales assistor (not gonna lie, had to double check spelling on that one).
Here’s a brief summary of two favorite examples:
Step2 saw sales jump 130% year over year with greater social integration.
Moz’s cost of customer acquisition is a pittance at $131, because they acquire ~85% of their customers through ‘inbound’ channels and don’t have a sales team. And have grown revenue 21.6% in the past year. So it seems like it’s working.
The trick with ‘engagement’ based, social media correlation data, is that you can’t point to a single discernible area where it has the greatest impact. Instead, it’s the entire funnel.
Mckinsey illustrated how massive brands use social to support the entire customer journey.
The best example comes from a telecommunications company that decided to test the waters, modeling their social strategy and tactics after other successful benchmarks of similar companies.
While they were running largely off anecdotal evidence, they also made a few assumptions about how they’d benefit:
Assumption #1. There should be more positive posts online if these activities improve “general service perceptions about the brand”(as measured using BuzzMetrics)
The first point emphasizes positive online reviews, which play a significant role by influencing theZero Moment of Truth. These would obviously help increase things like credibility and trust, which are essential, but difficult to track objectively.
Assumption #2. They should see better search performance with added clicks and traffic from social sharing.
The second point focuses on increasing search visibility, which drives the most direct conversions(largely due to people searching with intent at the Bottom of the Funnel).
Assumption #3. If these things happen, they should be able to measure the indirect sales impact at some level against other media types using their “average” gross rating point (GRP) of ad expenditures (which measures the size of an audience a media vehicle generates).
The third makes the assumption that if the first two occur as expected, they’ll stand to gain from the powerful, yet indirect sales growth (the definition of ‘correlation’).
The company concluded that social-media activity not only boosted sales but also had higher ROIs than traditional marketing did.
Thus, while the company took a risk by shifting emphasis toward social-media efforts before it had data confirming that this was the correct course, the bet paid off.
What’s more, the analytic baseline now in place has given the company confidence to continue exploring a growing role for social media.
Sounds great, right?!
But how’d it happen?
Used Twitter as a new customer service platform. You know, to talk to people.
Ran social contests at the center of promotional campaigns. You know, to get people involved and reward their interaction.
Create a Facebook page that offered ‘tech tips’. You know, to educate and inform.
And even responded to people in real-time who mentioned their brand. You know, to ENGAGE!
These tactical elements are pretty basic. These activities used by a massive enterprise can be carried out by startups as well.
The scale is different. But the foundation is is the same. Engagement.
Engagement matters because…
People don’t buy shit from people they don’t know, like, or trust.
Today, awareness, trust, and affinity are largely built online. On mobile devices. And on social platforms. Long before they call you or set foot in your store.
Despite that, social media accounts for less than 1 percent of average marketing budgets.
I don’t know. Because of the problems listed above. Because of plausible deniability perhaps.
The funny thing, is that you can’t do one without the other today. ‘SEO’ for example can’t existwithout ‘engagement’ (largely through social). These channels NEED one another to work successfully.
Actually talking with customers (gulp!), is now a necessary evil. Whether we like it or not.
Yes, engagement matters.
It’s tough to define. It’s tough to track.
But the results are there if you’re willing to give it a shot.