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Social Media Engagement Metrics: Taming the Elusive Beast


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Meaningful social media metrics are like an elusive mystical animal (for the sake of having a good metaphor: a unicorn). You go searching for what you want, and you find metrics that are close, but not quite right (um, a donkey). Or you realize that there’s no way to get exactly what you want (just grow a horn already, donkey).

That’s been my life for the last couple months. As part of our quanlitative quest, I’ve been obsessed with finding the most relevant and useful qualitative metrics to complement our already great quantitative social media metrics list. Given that we use different metrics based on each client’s strategy, it’s been a complex undertaking.

However, there are some social media engagement metrics that show promise – they more effectively communicate the true value of social media efforts and show whether your community is actually engaging with your brand.  I wanted to share those with you so that you can benefit, too.

Calculating True Engagement on Facebook

[Editorial note: Facebook moved this metric since I first reported on it so I’ve updated this blog post to include new screenshots and stats.]

Let’s set aside all the backlash Facebook’s received recently with its steep decline in organic traffic to brand pages because they are doing one engagement metric right. I’m going to start with that one.

Facebook’s Talking About This metric has been around for a while, but we’ve only really started paying attention to it recently. This metric is a great, public equalizer: great, because it bypasses taking fan numbers at their face value and puts it into perspective of how many people are actually engaging on that page; a public equalizer, because you can see this metric for any page.

Here, on Mack Web’s own Facebook page, is where to find the information you need to figure out the Talking About This metric:

How to Find Facebook Talking about This number

Facebook Talking About This Number second screen

The Talking About This metric counts “stories”, meaning everything from liking a page to posting on the wall or a post, sharing a post, mentioning a page in a post, or checking in at a location. That’s a whole lotta engagement in one little metric. That’s why it’s a good overall number to look at for Facebook.

I look at the Talking About This number divided by the number of fans, and multiply by 100 to get the percentage of engagement. This tells me the percentage of fans who are actually, actively engaging with the brand. I watch to see if it rises or falls, month to month, and what inspires those trends.

Here’s the formula if you want to take it for a spin:

Formula for the percentage of fans who are actually actively engaging

And this is how I keep track of it in a spreadsheet:

Calculating Facebook's People Talking About This Percentage
*Note on date: measure consistently on the same day every week or month, and note the date in your spreadsheet.

This percentage can unlock the reality of how a page is performing. If a brand has a lot of fans, but a low Talking About This percentage, then you know no one’s really engaging with the brand. All they have is a higher fan count, but they don’t have the attention of those fans.

Let me give an example.

NY Times vs. The Huffington Post. Which would you think has the higher Talking About This score? Don’t look below or sneak a peek at their Facebook pages. Just take a guess.

Actually, The Huffington Post is the big winner here (at least according to Facebook’s Talking About This metric).

Huffington Post Facebook Talking About This Number

The NY Times Talking About This Percentage

Here it is in action in spreadsheet format with the above example:

Comparing Huffington Post vs NY Times with Talking About This number
Not only is this metric helpful in truly understanding engagement on a page, it’s useful when we’re trying to educate clients who are fixated on fan count.

Calculating Engagement on Other Social Networks

Which other big social media channel takes engagement metrics to the level that Facebook has? Right now, none of them. Not Twitter, not LinkedIn, not Google+.

Publicly, these channels all focus on follower or fan count and hardly anything else. You can find your own engagement metrics in their analytics platforms, but you can’t often find your competitor’s unless you love counting and simple addition. Also, more often than not, the engagement metrics that these social networks provide for your own pages or profiles are either not great or are hard to pull together. And yet most channels have the capacity to provide us with that engagement data we crave. They just don’t. (Don’t even get me started on this).

For example, here’s the Impressions graph you can see on your LinkedIn Analytics page (but you can’t see for any other profile). In order to see total impressions for a month, you’ve got to add all the impressions up.

So what’s a marketer to do when it comes time to analyze engagement efforts on social networks other than Facebook? I’ve got a list of engagement metrics I’ve either 1) been using for a while or 2) recently found and think are worthwhile. Lucky for you, I’m going to share those, too.

Applause, Amplification, and Conversation

We are big Avinash fans over here at Mack Web so it’s no surprise that the basis of our engagement metrics is seated in Avinash’s Applause, Amplification, and Conversation metrics. We talk about these metrics a lot, and for good reason. You can find them (and calculate them) on all social networks in one form or another. Plus, they give you meaningful information about the health of your social media channels by showing you how well your fans are engaging with your brand on social media. These are our foundational social media engagement metrics – you have to watch these metrics in your analytics to fully understand your brand’s social media engagement.

In case you’re learning about these engagement metrics for the first time, here’s a quick breakdown of what they indicate:

Applause: This metric shows whether people like what you’re posting. If they’re not liking/favoriting/+1ing your stuff, it may mean they don’t like what you’re putting out there.

Amplification: Amplification shows that people like your posts enough to take action and share them.

Conversation: Conversation indicates whether people are actually interacting with you. Here you’ll be looking at @mentions, replies, comments, etc. on your posts.

Some other metrics that are good indicators of engagement and action are:

  • social media referral traffic and
  • how social media traffic effects micro-conversions or goals on your site.

Both of these metrics could make up a blog post by themselves so I’ll skip over them for now. (But stay tuned for more on these in future posts).

Additional Engagement Metrics I’m Experimenting with

I haven’t yet had a chance to put these metrics into full effect, but with the little experimentation I’ve had, they’re proving to be really promising:

Average Engagement Rate on Other Networks

Okay, yes, I know I just said that Facebook is the only network with easy, public engagement metrics. The most important word in that last sentence is easy. The Talking About This feature makes pulling this engagement metric simple. It’s in the same place on every brand’s page and publicly available. 

You’ll notice that I also said you can find engagement metrics on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. It’s just harder. They have all the data, but they don’t share them yet and also won’t give you a lot of information about your competitors. (Which always makes me think that the social networks must be hiding something, but maybe that’s just the conspiracy theorist in me).

Fortunately, there are wonderful people in the world, like our friends over at Raven, who have already figured some of this out. Here’s how you can calculate engagement rates for the other networks (and their competitors if you really love counting likes, +1s, shares, and the like).

Essentially, what you’ll be doing is adding together all the small indications of engagement (Applause, Amplification, and Conversation metrics) to build your own Talking About This metric for each social network. This allows you to track how many of your fans and followers are actively engaging with your brand, both in the moment and over time.

Average engagement metric forumla - 2

Add the total number of retweets, mentions, and replies together (Sprout Social is my friend here). Divide that number by your follower count and turn it into a percent. I like to look at this metric over a longer period of time to see a trend.

Much like Twitter, add up all likes, comments, and shares for the month on your company page and divide by total followers. Make that a percentage and look at the trend over time.

Side metrics rant: LinkedIn analytics is really special in my book because they don’t give you a total number for the month, as I mentioned before. Plus, its API doesn’t play nice with other analytics platforms. I hope you enjoy adding because you’ll be getting a good workout between LinkedIn and Google+ below. If you figure out a workaround, please leave it in the comments below – I will send happy thoughts your way as a sign of my gratitude.

Google+ is super fun because most pages (unless it’s a local page) don’t have easy numbers on the backend for shares, comments, and +1s. I have to count them on the actual page – suffice to say, that my simple addition muscles are real strong.

Click-Through Rate: The Content that “Clicks” with the Fans

This metric is a combination of two metrics: clicks on content and reach (a big thanks to Steve Webb for this tip). When you divide clicks on content by the reach of the content, you get this magical percentage that tells you how many of the audience who saw your post actually clicked on it.

Click through rate equation - 2

What can Click-Through Rate tell you?
I’m just getting started with this metric, but my favorite use thus far is as a barometer of whether people are liking the content we’re sharing and creating. Think of it as a way to measure an even fainter sign of interest than applause metrics. Your follower isn’t willing to commit publicly to liking you, but they are willing to see what you have to say beyond your 140 character message. Click-through rate can also be a great indicator of whether the wording of your updates entices them to click.

How to use Click-Through Rate
I see a few good ways to use click-through rate. You can use it to compare campaign to campaign on the macro level. On the micro level, you can use it to compare how specific pieces of content or content topics or themes perform. You can even use click-through rate to compare how different updates for the same link did.

You also can look at the level of interest from network to network for certain types of content. For example, you might find that Twitter followers like reading about case studies more than your LinkedIn followers. Or that your LinkedIn followers really like reading about ROI of social media.

How to Calculate Click-Through Rate on Various Social Networks

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty here. Currently, click-through rate data is only available on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Sometimes, I think G+ is floating off in left field somewhere, picking dandelions. I hope it’s having a good time, at least.

In order to calculate click-through rate on Twitter, I use Sprout Social and you’ll also need to use links for your clicks to be counted. Unfortunately, you can’t get this data on Twitter Analytics. On Sprout Social, go to Reports, then Sent Messages, then Twitter. Here’s where you get the info you need to calculate click-through rate:

So now you want to take the number of clicks (249) and divide by the reach number (750) and multiply the result (.33) by 100. This update had a 33% click-through rate. Not too shabby.

On LinkedIn, you’ll find click-through rate under the Analytics tab. Divide number of clicks by impressions and multiply by 100. Here the click-through rate would be 9%.

Facebook’s click-through rate can be found in Insights under the Posts tab. Look down at All Posts Published. In the example below, if you divide number of clicks by people reached and multiply by 100, you’ll get click-through rate for this post (2% click-through rate).

A Note on Sample Size when Using Click-Through Rate
Let me address the elephant in the room when you’re looking at click-through rate: sample size. Obviously, working with 249 clicks and a 750 reach (as in the example above) is not going to provide definitive answers. This means that you want to be careful about drawing conclusions from click-through rates taken with a small sample size.

Use click-through rate to guide your experiments on social media, not as a final judgment of what you must do. With a small sample size, click-through rate can only give you so much information about what’s going on on your social media pages. To draw an accurate conclusion, you’ll need to test a lot of theories and analyze loads of data. I never said this all was easy.

Taking Advantage of Engagement Metrics

Finding these types of metrics that show the value of our social and community work is our number one goal this year. It’s our Quest. Stick around for the ride – in the end, we want to swap out that donkey sporting the paper maiche horn for the real deal: a beautiful unicorn.

Have I missed your favorite engagement metric? Share in the comments below.

Author Ayelet Golz

More posts by Ayelet Golz

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