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Social Media Reach Engagement

Why engagement rates are a Social red herring

By Michael Scantlebury, Creative director



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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March 4, 2016 | 4 min read

Social builds brands and creates sales. As a marketer who believes in social, you can often find yourself defending this fact. Or maybe, just sometimes, when you’ve had a bad day, maybe not quite believing it. We’re sorry about that, it’s our fault (agencies, I mean).

Michael Scantlebury founded Impero in 2009.

When social was coming of age and into the consciousness of people and brands it was all very exciting. As agencies and marketers we all inherently knew that communicating and building relationships with consumers builds brands and ultimately leads to sales. ‘Social’ was where people communicated with one another and built personal relationships so it made pretty good sense. Nowadays when you add the sheer scale of social on top of this fact, it becomes a no brainer.

We made a mistake. We didn’t work hard enough to create measures that told us anything interesting or insightful about our successes or failures in this space. Instead, we rounded up any data we could get and invented a measure. We invented the engagement rate, and what a mistake that was.

We needed to prove that social made a difference, but we weren’t sophisticated enough to prove it outright. So we invented the engagement rate because it told us how well we were performing in social compared to our competitors. However, benchmarking doesn’t usually tell you anything of real value when it comes to social.

We invented a measure and made creative to achieve success by this measure without ever questioning what we should be measuring in the first place. I refer to it as the “social red herring”. It distracts us from using relevant and important social measures. Well, it’s time to grow up. It’s time to link social back to business and brand goals.

The five steps I would recommend to measure success and failure in social are defined below:

Define the problem

What problem are we trying to fix? Or, what goal are we trying to achieve? Do we have low awareness or frequency? Do we have an image problem? Do we need to increase likability (like with a lowercase ‘l’ you’ll note). Do we have a new product that we think our audience will love? Or is it something else?

Define what type of campaign you should be running

Nope, you won't hear many digital and social agencies say this, but not all problems are best solved online. So before we start, should we even be in social?

Define the measures that will prove its success or failure, and create your own success score card

This is the tricky part, but the most valuable step in this process. It’s where social gets personal, because your score card is all about you. Give yourself points for each like, share, non-negative comment and reach.

Define the strategy to achieve those goals

Every good communications campaign starts with a good strategy.

Make the creative and run the campaign

A step not to be taken lightly of course, but if you've followed the previous four steps, this should actually be the fun part.

If you stick with engagement rates, you run the risk that your agency will chase a high rate before chasing a solution to your brand problems. And as a brand you’ll never be able to tell if you’re winning or not. If you'd like to know more, read our free whitepaper on the subject here.

Michael Scantlebury is the founder of Impero.

Social Media Reach Engagement

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