Why you measure Facebook engagement inaccurately

Let’s be clear: nobody is measuring their social activity effectively. This may seem like a sweeping statement but understand that this claim is based on a five fundamentals:  

1. ‘Engagement’ is subjective.

2. Shares, comments and likes are not equally valuable.

3. People can engage with your content without liking, commenting on or sharing it.

4. Consistently using the same measurement metric is redundant if that data is meaningless, which it often is.

5. Just because you’re meeting a KPI, doesn’t make it an accurate measure of engagement.

To further clarify, you may review your social activity and be thrilled that your posts receive hundreds or thousands of likes, comments and shares; you’ve noticed that your page likes have continued to grow at a healthy rate; you’re pleased that the sentiment appears to be pretty positive and your response rate is second to none.

This is great, right? Of course it is. But HOW great is it? Harder to say. Maybe impossible to say.   What’s Already Out There? There are measurement methods that are more sophisticated than others, ones that seek to apply mathematical formulae and logic to the concept of engagement. Take ‘Engagement Rate’ for example. Social Bakers defines its Engagement Rate metric as:

One would assume that the purpose of this metric is is to assess what percentage of your audience has engaged with your content. However, while this formula will produce a figure that is someway representative of how well a page is performing, it certainly doesn’t do what it purports. So should we trust it and consider using it?

The Problems with Engagement Rate  

There are a number of well documented problems, including the formula’s inability to distinguish between interactions by fans and non-fans, because you don’t have to be a ‘fan’ to interact with Facebook content.   And what if a ‘fan’ has watched a video or clicked on the link you posted on Facebook but didn’t like, comment on or share it?Does that not count?

Thirdly, this formula only looks at the total number of fans the page has, which isn’t representative of how many people have seen content. Facebook provides data on the number of people reached, inclusive of organic and viral reach, and it seems this figure is more meaningful than the number of people liking the page who won’t necessarily have seen your content.

Finally, this formula assumes that each like, comment or share is from a unique user. If a Facebook page has posted three times in a day and one user has liked, commented and shared all three, they are responsible for six interactions which this formula translates to six unique user interactions.

The Formula, Evolved

This gives rise to a slightly evolved formula, one that, admittedly, still doesn’t account for one user making multiple interactions:               This formula has the added benefit of producing a higher Engagement Rate figure as the number of fans reached will always been lower than the total number of fans.

Why This Still Isn’t Good Enough

As previously mentioned, likes, comments and shares are not of equal value, despite this formula quantifying them as such. It would be far more meaningful to implement a weighting system to likes, comments and shares. A study by Edgerank Checkershowed that a comment was about four times more valuable than a like – this was measured by comparing the average number of clicks a link posted to Facebook received per like vs per comment. So in short, a link that receives 10 likes will receive approximately 30 clicks whereas a link receives 10 comments will receive approximately 120 clicks.

To my knowledge there hasn’t been any research done into clicks vs shares, however it would be sensible to assume a person sharing content will invariably have clicked and consumed the content they’re sharing before they choose to share it with their friends, suggesting a share could be more valuable than a comment.   Without proper analytics and research into a target audiences’ existing behaviour, these figures may seem a bit arbitrary.

The value of a like, comment or share will vary from Facebook page to Facebook page. It would certainly be worth doing some research, looking at the analytics from previous Facebook activity and seeing how click-throughs to content correlate with the number of likes, comments and shares that it receives. Of course, this is only applicable to Facebook posts that have a direct call-to-action such as a link or a video. It would be invaluable to know how such weighting varies from sector to sector, if at all.

The Formula, Evolved (Redux)

For argument’s sake – and for the purpose of evolving this formula – let’s suggest that a like should be assigned a value of one, a comment the value of four and a share the value of 10.   These tables assume that there were 750 likes, 200 comments and 50 shares across three Facebook posts, reaching a combined total of 5,000 people that day.

Thus, Weighted Engagement Rate is born. As with the previous evolution, this produces a higher number, one that will not only look more impressive to clients but will also be more significant in terms of measuring engagement – the very thing we want to determine. It encourages genuine engagement by weighting comments and shares more heavily. So, ultimately, if you produce great content that people want to share and talk about (comment on), you’ll be rewarded with a higher engagement rate, if you use this formula:

It is important to note that this formula is dependent on specific research into a Facebook page’s existing audience and how they respond to content. It could be possible to produce industry standard weighting that takes an average across all sectors. This would only be beneficial if the numbers were fairly similar, however.

What do you think? Should brands look to Weighted Engagement Rate to measure their performance on Facebook? What’s the formula missing? I’d be keen on hearing your thoughts.

Toby Margetts is an Engagement Executive at Beyond.” His twitter handle is @tobymargetts