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First off, there seems to be a lot of confusion over what an engagement rate actually is. In short, it’s a measure of the number of people that are engaging compared to the number of people who could be engaging.

Due to the nature of the different social platforms there are likely to be varying rates for each one. For example, the rates for Facebook will differ to those for Twitter. A good rule of thumb is to divide the number of interactions with your base. It isn't rocket science.

However, looking across the barren landscape of brand social media pages, achieving and maintaining high engagement levels does seem to be.

So what's going wrong? Broadly speaking there are seven reasons why your engagement rate is low...

1. The content isn’t up to scratch

Let’s face it, creating content that is funny, likeable and shareable is actually quite hard for most brands.

Historically all they’ve had to worry about is a few big campaigns a year for which they get months to prepare.Now they’re expected to deliver post after post of high quality, engaging content.

It’s important to evaluate results and analyse what content works, and what doesn’t. This will allow you to continually optimise what you are posting by tracking what resonates with fans and feeding this back into the work.

2. Lack of segmentation

A brand’s audience is made up of lots of different types of people. Yes they will have certain things in common, but they will also have wildly varying passions and interests.

It’s useful to try and understand what is most engaging to the different groups and work out a way to get it to them. This could mean posting at different times or putting different content on different platforms.

A good example is location-dependent content. Do your fans care about the event you are hosting in a city miles away from where they live? Where appropriate and possible you should geo-locate this type of content.

3. The timing is wrong

Agencies and brands are businesses. Businesses tend to think between 9 and 5, which leads to a very limited view of when to post content. Social networking isn’t constrained by working hours, so neither should a brand’s activity be.

Ignore the plethora of studies that come out telling you the best times to post based on averages from a number of brands. Find out for yourself when is the best time to post your content. Test, learn, fail and adapt.

4. You’re asking too much (or offering too little)

Many brands are still in the big campaign mind-set, believing they have to deliver big, expensive, media driven campaigns.

Asking your audience to share their brand experience with you, upload their videos to your Facebook page or download your latest app is always going to be tricky.

Most people are time-poor so are unlikely to make this investment, especially if there's nothing in it for them. If you want them to put in time and effort, it’s best to offer them an incentive.

5. You’re attracting the wrong kind of ‘fans’

In the mad rush to acquire fans, many brands, often led by their media agencies, have run ‘like’ ads, run promotions and offered freebies. And it works. The problem is the people that have now liked the page have done so not because they like your brand, but because they want a prize or a discount.

They aren’t actually a fan of your brand; they are a fan of competitions and discounts. They don’t want you to deliver on-brand messaging; they want your free stuff.

If there's nothing in it for them, they won't be liking any content, or adding their comments, they'll just be ignoring you.

6. You’ve prioritised getting a high reach over targeting those who are most likely to respond

Generally speaking the more people who see a piece of content, the less likely any one of them is to engage with that piece of content. Imagine you have a core group of fans that always interacts with your content, say a group of 10,000.

If your total fan reach is 100,000 then your engagement rate is 10%. But say you want to get more reach and choose to spend money on paid media to push your content further.

Your core group will see the content, but the likelihood that those outside this core group are going to be as engaged is much lower.

7.  The brand / product isn't 'engaging'

It's a hard thing to come to terms with, but not all brands are going to be engaging from a social point of view. In fact, most aren't.

Does anyone really want to have a conversation with a cement brand on Facebook? But, does it really matter? Long before Facebook and Twitter came along we had advertising that people couldn't interact with, couldn't go online to comment on, yet it was still 'engaging’. And, it sold a lot of product.

It worked because it raised awareness and got the brand front of mind.

Conclusion

That's not to say that engagement rates aren't important. In fact, from a platform perspective they are very important, especially with the likes of Facebook where how engaging you are has a massive impact on your reach.

Page interactions are a strong component in EdgeRank, the algorithm that determines who and how many people will see a brand's content. That said, chasing engagement rates alone is very dangerous. Especially when you consider that most social media is (or really should be) supported by paid media spend.

By the nature of the calculation, having a low engagement rate could simply mean you're reaching an awful lot of people with your message.

What we need to remember is that engagement rates shouldn't be considered on their own. A huge number of things will affect this metric (see point 6 above) so we need to ensure we have our priorities right in terms of tracking and that we understand what our KPIs are for what period of time.

For example, if you want mass awareness for a new campaign then you have to expect a large drop in engagement rate. And having one set engagement rate for the whole year is probably unwise.

As always, the best place to start is to sit down with your social, strategy and data planning team and work out what your key objectives are, then put your KPIs in place.

Mike Phillips

Published 9 May, 2013 by Mike Phillips

Mike Phillips is Planner at TMW and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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