Want More Social Marketing Budget? Stop Measuring Social Engagement

Every week I get calls from Forrester clients asking how they can measure engagement on Facebook and Twitter. And every time, I tell these marketers the same thing: You must stop measuring social engagement.

I understand that it’s hard to measure social success: Marketers tell us measurement is their single biggest social challenge. And I know that tracking engagement feels like an easy option. But the simple fact is, engagement is not a useful social marketing success metric.

We’ve spoken with scores of social vendors who measure engagement, and none has proven if — or how strongly — engagement correlates to business success metrics like loyalty or sales. Even Facebook itself says engagement doesn’t prove success: In its marketing collateral, Facebook warns that engagement metrics are “not a reliable indicator” of whether social marketing improved your business.

Some say that engagement matters because when people like or share your posts, they reach a broader audience. And your social posts’ reach will go up slightly if people engage. But engagement can’t overcome declining organic reach. Brands’ Facebook reach is already low, and heading lower still. And data from Socialbakers shows that even the Facebook posts that receive the highest level of engagement still get 99% of their reach from paid, not organic, impressions.

So why do social marketers still focus on engagement data? Because it’s easy to collect. But it’s simply the wrong data. That’s why CMOs and other senior marketers rarely ask us about engagement — instead, it’s mostly social marketing strategists and digital marketing directors who want to track these metrics.

If you’re a social marketer and you want to impress your boss — and get more funding for your efforts — then it’s time to stop measuring social engagement. Instead, bring your CMO reports from sales tracking vendors, platforms that collect data into customer databases, and survey tools. You’ll be speaking their language, and your budget will benefit.

For much more detail on how to effectively measure the performance of social marketing programs, including specific tactics you can use and the names of vendors who can help, check out our new report “Stop Measuring Social Engagement.”


Marketers need social analytics to go beyond engagement

Great to see you digging into some of these social analytics problems, Nate. It seems like every survey of social marketers over the last 5 years has measurement and analytics called out as a top challenge or pain. I agree with the point that measuring engagement alone is not enough. I would go farther on the proposed solution to switch out engagement for CLTV and Loyalty exclusively. Doesn’t social media impact all parts of the funnel, not just loyalty? Our point of view at Simply Measured is that Social Analytics requires the complete picture across brand activity, audience engagement, and business results (beyond loyalty and beyond engagement). Engagement has an important role in optimization and benchmarking, but the full picture is more critical. This is why we’ve built cross-channel metrics, deep web analytics integration, and differentiated our platform with data access and customization.

Well I think the entire

Well I think the entire "measurability" conundrum can be applied to the whole marketing, isn't it? I mean RoI of the marketing function is always questioned by the leaders (especially business guys who pay marketers salaries). Social is one more pillar of marketing strategy and no wonder marketers desperately want to understand how they can measure the impact. Its easy to collect and more so easy to impress. For example, marketers can create funky charts saying "our website is now looked by 5x number of customers", without realizing that increases cost and does not necessarily add revenue. I think the entire digital marketing department or team or group in an organization needs to think about its value add beyond adding eye-balls for an organization. This will answer their social engagement problem as well.

It is only an issue to choose

It is only an issue to choose right indicators. You may do it in every job, not only when talking about social marketing. Or even make your own indicator to show positive results :)

There are 43,500,000 Google

There are 43,500,000 Google results for the phrase "trouble measuring social media results". There are NO results for the same phrase in which you swap TV, radio or billboards for social media. When you can show me which TV commercials I've watched and how many purchases that led to, then I'll worry about social media measurement.
When you put out a press release and it gets picked up by the New York Times it is seen as a win. So why isn't a social media post picked up by Mashable a win? No one knows if the press release in the NYT was actually read, or acted on. I can tell you how many people read the Mashable article, how many times it was shared, how many people clicked on the links within the article, how many people commented on it, what channels it was shared over, how much direct traffic it pushed to a client's website and which channels were most effective in sending traffic to my site, and of those, how many converted.
When you can do that for a press release or a magazine ad, let me know.

Have marketers lost the plot?

Great post, Nate. I couldn't agree more. It seems (some) marketers have lost the plot. Chasing meaningless engagement KPIs is a widespread phenomenon.

Maybe it is only natural to get a bit disoriented when the media landscape and consumption habits change so drastically in such a short timeframe. But still, to start measuring success in "magic berries" or "engagement" is simply not sane. Back when print ads with coupons where the thing, marketers didn't just look at how many people "engaged" by clipping a coupon as the one key indicator of marketing success!

Engagement should always be considered a means to a marketing end goal. Be that awareness, loyalty, sales etc. It is really more of a creative tactic that works particularly well in social channels, rather than a goal in itself.

I am glad that the social media space is maturing and that serious consulting firms are advocating to get some sanity in to counterbalance the social media marketing hype. With our Zenbu Social project, we are trying to define intuitive marketing performance benchmarking standards based on business metrics. But it is clear, speaking to even top 500 global marketers, that meaningful measurement in social media is still in very early stages.

P.S. Here's my two cents on the topic: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/screw-engagement-christian-green