Metrics in a mixed-up world: the case for engagement rates as a core KPI and ignoring competitor audience sizes

How important is engagement rate in the context of ongoing campaign management? A common question that’s relevant to both the normal and current CV19 social world. Now with the face of work and life changing so rapidly there is perhaps a need to revisit this question in the context of brands operating in strange times for a number of reasons, some of which we will cover below.

So, why is engagement rate important?

Outside of the context of a pure performance or paid campaign, there are two key questions to ask yourself when planning a new campaign.  How well do you know your audience, and how well are you able to produce content that they find interesting and compelling?

Provided you’re still operating some form of ‘organic’ program, be it always on or campaign based, it’s really important to understand how your audiences are responding to the content you deliver to them. Yes, CPMs conversion rates and other performance focused KPIs will tell you some of this story, but engagement rate is uniquely placed in terms of being able to evaluate how well you’re driving an action from the audience you’re reaching.

So why did engagement rate fall out of fashion?

One of the reasons perhaps is to do with the lack of consistency between how various platforms (and indeed agencies) determine what counts as an engagement, for example on Facebook what constitutes an engagement differs between the ad manager and the page insights; on one a view counts towards the number, and on the other it does not.

We would argue however that this need not be the case for blanket rejection of the metric, and actually the nuances on how engagement rates are determined are inconsequential in relation to the consistency in approach as to how you measure your efforts.

It is less so the metric specifics that are important, but instead sticking to how you measure and tracking that over time that will allow you to iterate and improve upon your activity.

Eyes on the competition, but not off the finish line

Alongside engagement rate, we’ve also seen a continued focus from some brands on how large the follower audience is on the channels they play on. Indeed, one of the very first questions we ask new clients is ‘who are your competitors’, to allow us to take a cursory look at those brands and services operate in order to glean easy wins or uncover obvious things to avoid. This is entirely appropriate; after all the best strategies are not defined in a vacuum, but with one eye on the competition and the other on your own team’s strengths and weaknesses. The interplay between the two is an important part of the path to a winning formula, but neither can exist in isolation of the other without severely hampering your effectiveness.

Where this can fall down, however, is an over-investment on that external picture and actively targeting follower growth to the detriment of better serving the audience you’re actively targeting. This is because it assumes some sort of level playing field, when the reality is that no two brands have the exact same budgets, strategies and content outputs. It’s like comparing a 100m sprinter to a 400m hurdler; even though both involve running, the similarities quickly fall away when you consider the nuances of the two race formats.

It is not all about commercials, message quality is paramount

Ultimately there is a danger both in measuring too much and too little over a long timeframe. Too much and you could find it hard to find insights in the numbers, or to know which numbers to be paying attention to. Too little and you might miss important stories and themes all together. So this is my call to take a step back and re-consider how you measure your efforts. If not with engagement rate, then a metric that is not commercially focused and instead turns towards a story of how well you are connecting the needs of your audience with the content you serve to them.

With CV19 the importance of getting your messaging right, or more crucially knowing when you’re getting it wrong is especially important. Consumer cynicism is high, and many brands have already found themselves on the receiving end of angry customers when they’ve got it wrong.

So in summary, tracking engagement rates can be an effective early warning system if customer sentiment starts to turn and at the very least is a fantastic way of measuring how well you know your audience and what they are looking for from the brands they follow on social channels.

Written by George Cathcart, Threepipe, Social Lead

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