Engagement rate – the most overrated social metric

If you have ever conducted any analytical work in social media you have probably heard about engagement rate. If not, it must have taken a really great effort, because it is probably the most mentioned keyword associated with social media analytics and most social media analytics tools are based around this metric. According to the Facebook documentation “Engagement rate is the percentage of people who saw a post that liked, shared, clicked or commented on it“.

Why is engagement rate ‘overrated’?

Most of the social media analytics tools are giving the general impression that the higher the engagement rate the better. They even went further and are providing aggregated values for benchmarking your competitors or so called ‘industry standards’. All this contributes to the common belief that engagement rate is somehow ‘hard’ metric, but in fact it is ‘softer’ than you think. Why?

Imagine having two posts (Post A and Post B) on your facebook wall and consider them to be seen by the exact same amount of users. Both posts would have the same amount of comments, but comments on Post A would be purely positive and comments on Post B would be purely negative, therefore even if engagement rate of both posts would be exactly the same, the final impact would be opposite. In fact, engagement rate only describes what the name stands for – how many users reacted on your posts regardless whether the reactions were positive, negative or neutral. Considering the given example, the analysis of values of engagement rate without the knowledge of ‘qualitative’ data is pointless, because one value could lead to opposite conclusions. Therefore using it as KPI without knowing further facts is rather useless and misleading.

What is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ value of engagement rate?

Following the previous paragraphs the answer is ANY or more preferably there is no good or bad value in general, since the value itself does not tell you whether the final impact is positive or negative. Sometimes the high value of engagement rate is highly desired (i.e. announcing a sale action), but sometimes it is not desired at all (i.e. customer complaints).

Using engagement rate without ‘qualitative’ data is like evaluating the musician’s performance purely by the number of attendants of his/her concert and not knowing whether they were booing or cheering.

Is there any ‘industry standard’?

I believe not, although there are some social media analytics companies that are calculating such (i.e. http://www.socialbakers.com/blog/1525-is-your-business-benchmarking-its-engagement-rate). In my opinion engagement rate is too soft to be aggregated. In other words, since the value of engagement rate is ambiguous, aggregation makes no sense.