What you need to know about the engagement rate
The goal of posts on Instagram or videos on YouTube is to win followers and above all, to encourage the audience to react and interact. The appreciation for content on social media might be expressed through liking, commenting, or sharing. This interaction also provides influencers with valuable feedback on how their audience perceives their content. Advertisers and influencers use a widely used metric based on those interactions – the engagement rate. The engagement rate allows you to compare content on social media profiles and to determine the degree of activity of the audience of social media profiles. The engagement rate is a measure of how many people, who might have seen the content on their screens, actually react to it.
How can you compute and use the engagement rate? The following figure gives an overview of some aspects of the engagement rate, which we will discuss in more detail in the upcoming two blog posts.
In practice, there are several ways to compute the engagement rate. The engagement rate is a measure of audience interaction and activity on content and social media profiles (for a detailed definition, see LINK POST 1.2). Thus, the engagement rate can be compute not only over the entire social media profile but also per content on a network profile. Hence, there are two forms of engagement rate:
- Engagement rate per content
Engagement rates might be computed for different content based on their likes, comments, shares, or views (and more). The engagement rate allows to compare the interaction of content within and among social media profiles, as well as within or among different marketing campaigns.
- Engagement rate per social media profile
The engagement rate per social media profile allows to compare the average interactions between different social media profiles, and thus influencers.
We illustrate one simple way to compute the engagement rate by using the example of posts on Instagram. Let’s say we measure reach by the number of followers of an Instagram account. An account on Instagram has 10,000 followers. A post on that account with 500 likes, 40 comments and 60 shares has an engagement rate of 6%:
Engagement Rrate per post = 6%
= (500 Likes + 40 Comments+ 60 Shares)/(10’000 Followers)
Let’s assume the Instagram account has 5 posts with engagement rates of 6%, 7%, 8%, 9%, and 10% per post. As a result, the average engagement rate of the Instagram account is 8% per post:
Engagement rate per social media profile = 8%
=(6%+7%+8%+9%+10% )/(5 Posts)
The engagement rate is an important key indicator for content and their development over time. The engagement rate shows how many people interact with the content proportionally to their reach and how this interaction changes over time. The engagement rate is, therefore, a useful metric for companies and influencers to receive and compare audience feedback on their content. Like any metric, the engagement rate has advantages and disadvantages. It is advisable to be aware of what the engagement rate can and cannot do when working with the engagement rate. The following notes might give some valuable insights into the engagement rate.
What the Engagement Rate Can Do
- Comparison between content
The engagement rate allows you to compare the interaction between content and to observe their interaction overtime on a social media profile. A high number of likes and comments of a single piece of content does not necessarily represent the majority of the content in a social media profile. Some single pieces of content might go viral and represent an above-average engagement rate compared to the rest of the content on the social media profile. There are many reasons why single pieces of content may or may not go viral on social media profiles. For example, emotional or informative topics might encourage content interaction. Thus, the comparison of content with above- or below-average might provide valuable information and feedback to Influencers.
- Comparison between social media profiles (e.g. influencers)
The engagement rate allows you to compare the interaction of the content of social media profiles of influencers to their competitors. The same applies to content of company-owned social media profiles. High engagement rates indicate that the audience interacts a lot with the content and therefore with the social media profile. Influencers and companies might learn from the engagement rates by comparing the engagement rates of different social media profiles and by observing, monitoring and analyzing their content.
What the Engagement Rate Can't Do
- Lacking information about emotions of audience
People might interact with content and social media profiles for various reasons. A high engagement rate of content and social media profiles do not automatically imply positive audience feedback. It is possible that topics that profoundly arouse the audience lead to higher engagement rates. The engagement rate does not take that into account. The engagement rate indicates how many people interact, but not how the audience perceives the content and social media profiles.
- Lack of information about passive audience consumption
The engagement rate is an indicator for people who actively consume content on social media. However, the audience might also passively consume content in social media without actively interacting with it. For example, individuals, who see a post on Instagram without actively interacting with the post or the Instagram account, might also be influenced by the post or the Instagram account (i.e. influencer). The engagement rate does not account for this passive consumption. Thus, the engagement rate provides information about the active consumption of content of the audience, but it does not provide any information about the passive consumption of content of the audience or social media profiles.
Advice for Influencers and Companies
- The higher, the better – The engagement rate provides information about the degree of audience interaction and activity with content and social media profiles.
- The engagement rate provides valuable feedback from the audience: It is advised to review, compare and analyze the comments in detail for content and social media profiles that have an above-average and below-average engagement rate.
- Engagement rate as KPI (Key Performance Indicator) for sponsored content: For sponsored content, the engagement rate provides information on whether and how much the sponsored content was appreciated by the audience. Engagements rates of sponsored content might be compared within a campaign and across campaigns to better meet consumer needs.
- A conscious decision on the computation of the engagement rate: We presented two basic ways of how to compute the engagement rate. However, there exists several ways to compute the engagement rate and each social media platform slightly differs in their way on how to compute the engagement rate. For example, when is a View really a View? After 5 seconds or 30 secondes? It is advisable to consider those points and deliberately take the decision of how to compute the engagement rate and to adapt accordingly to the goals.
- If the emotions of the audience plays a significant role, a metric should be used or developed that takes the perception of the audience into account. The engagement rate does this only to a limited extent
Jana Gross is a PhD student at ETH Zurich. Her research is about social media and influencer marketing. The world of social media fascinates her. She shares her fascination and knowledge on current topics in social media and influencer marketing with us. In the context of our joint blog series, she regularly writes posts on our blog in the upcoming weeks.