The State of Social Media Engagement and 3 Proven Ways to Boost It

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Social media is growing up. As the social media platforms struggle to monetize, they demand more from publishers – or they won’t let their audiences see their content.

Fortunately, we marketers have better tools available than in the past. We can track and optimize what works more effectively than ever before. But at the same time, our audiences grow tired of the fire hose of content aimed at them. They expect more personalized and useful communications, along with white-glove customer service.

With all those shifts, it’s not too surprising that just having lots of followers is no longer enough. Just publishing more and more content, broadcast style, won’t cut it, either. Audience engagement has become the coveted new goal.

First, some clarification. When I say “engagement,” I’m talking about likes, clicks, comments, and shares. There’s no shortage of social media metrics to measure, but those are the four metrics many marketers are talking about when we say “engagement”. But there’s also engagement in the context of customer support. We’ll talk a bit about that, too.

A word about reach

There’s one other metric that isn’t specifically an engagement measurement, but it is a close sister. It’s “reach”. This is the number of people your post is shown to. We all got a hard lesson in reach two years ago when Facebook slashed organic reach down to single digits.

In the case of Facebook, reach and engagement are currently linked. If you can improve the engagement rate for the posts you publish, Facebook’s algorithm will increase the reach of your posts. That means a higher percentage of your overall audience will see each post you publish.

As other social media platforms get more sophisticated, reach and engagement may become more closely aligned there, too. Instagram is a likely first candidate.

“What’s a good engagement rate?”

This is usually hard information to come by, but thanks to a few online tools and some recently published research, we can patch together a pretty good picture of what a good engagement rate would be for your social media posts.

The news is not good. A recent study from TrackMaven reports that in 2015 “output of content per brand increased by 35% per channel, while content engagement decreased by 17% overall.” You can see this in the graph below.

Here’s what the average interactions per post (aka, the engagement rates) are for each social media platform, broken out by month:

B2B marketers will see a prettier picture here than B2Cers. Both LinkedIn and Twitter actually saw very modest upticks in interactions per post. Facebook and Pinterest – typically strongholds for B2C marketers – both went down.

If you are a B2C marketer, you might want to take a look at another report TrackMaven did specifically for the B2C segment. It’s got detailed information about engagement levels and publishing frequency for different platforms.

Speaking of which … if you want to know what an “average” publishing schedule for each of those platforms is, here’s that benchmark:

So what does it all mean? Honestly, not too much you haven’t heard before. It’s just another view of “content shock” and how it’s taking a toll on content marketing’s results.

We’re all pumping out more and more content, but unfortunately, we’re getting fewer results from it. This is because our audiences have reached their content saturation rate. They’ve maxed out how much content they can consume. So now they either start ignoring all of this overabundant content generally, or they get pickier about quality and relevance.

This doesn’t mean content marketing or social media marketing doesn’t still work. And it certainly doesn’t mean you should scrap either marketing program. But you do want to be among the top-performing social media marketers, because a lot of people aren’t getting great results… and aren’t seeing a positive ROI.

So how to stay ahead of the pack? There are several actions to take

  • Stop publishing “filler”, “me too” or low-quality content. Even if that means you have to publish less.
  • Pay attention to your social media reports. Create a continuous loop of “study, plan, publish, measure.” The need to be a “data-driven” marketer is becoming more and more important. Flying blind does not cut it anymore.
  • Be crystal clear about your business goals and how you aim to achieve them.
  • Use a call to action on everything you publish.
  • Look for ways to reduce how much content you create. That might mean reposting old content, reformatting content, curating third-party content, or simply publishing less.
  • Publish content that gets more engagement – content that is designed from its DNA level up to grab your audience’s attention and get them to act.

That last point is what the rest of this post will focus on. You now know why engagement is important, and how it’s falling off for many marketers. Here’s how to keep your own social media engagement rates high.

1) Read your social media reports.

I know, I know, we all love the tricks about “add an image! Use “RT”!” But seriously, look at your social media reports and history to see which posts have done best. I love best practices and research studies, but you really shouldn’t use them as anything more than guides. What really matters is how your audience behaves. And that can only be learned by shifting through your social media reports.

One pro tip: Don’t just look at what’s performed best. Also check out which posts completely tanked. There’s valuable lessons to be learned from them, too. For every tactic we try to do more of, perhaps we should identify a tactic to do less of.

For those of you with super-small budgets, don’t be afraid to get old school on this. You can identify trends with just a spreadsheet. Make sure you tally up results from at least 50 posts to get a good data set to make decisions from. Here are typical things to track.

If the spreadsheet project seems daunting, there is a shortcut. Especially for your Facebook posts. BuzzSumo has a new tool called SumoRank that will give you a great view of which attributes are driving your posts’ engagement. Here’s what part of the report looks like:

If you want to track how you and your competitor’s Facebook posts fare for engagement, consider upgrading to a tool like Fanpage Karma. You can, of course, also use Facebook’s analytics dashboard, which is actually pretty good.

To track your engagement rates on Twitter, there’s Twitter analytics. It can be helpful, but I find it difficult to see trends in the way Twitter presents the information. There are a couple of other tools I prefer.

Buffer’s paid plans are good – you can sort by which tweets performed best or worst in terms of retweets, mentions, clicks, likes and potential reach. You can also get similar data via Buffer for LinkedIn, which has far fewer free tools to measure activity than Facebook or Twitter have. Want a tool for Pinterest? Check out Tailwind.

While those tools are helpful, they still won’t give you the trend analysis a spreadsheet or a social media audit can reveal. If you’re really serious about improving your engagement rates, I recommend you do a detailed social media audit about every six months.

2) Use images.

It’s an oldie, but a goodie. Adding an image will get you more engagement purty much every single time. Several studies have confirmed this.

Another just-published study from BuzzSumo tallied up results from over a billion Facebook posts. They found image posts get the second most number of interactions by post type.

Though Facebook is image-heavy, the big players in visual content right now are Instagram and Pinterest. According to recent research from TrackMaven, Instagrammers can get small edge on their competition by using these filters:

Speaking of Instagram, there’s a new reason to use it, also based on data from that huge BuzzSumo study. They found that images posted via Instagram and then shared to Facebook get 23% more engagement than if they were directly posted to Facebook. That’s a nice enough lift to be worth the extra time.

3) Ask questions. Answer questions.

Want to know which post type gets more interactions than any other? It’s question-based posts. These do even better when they’re paired with a strong image.

It’s not too surprising this type of post does so well. The marketer is specifically reaching out to the audience with this type of post. It’s not the old “broadcast” model of publishing so many social media marketers still use.

The customer service opportunity

This also brings up one of the major themes in social media right now: Customer service. That’s another way to ask and answer questions.

More and more customers expect businesses to help them via social media. And yet, a lot of companies are coming up short here. Your company may not yet be getting many customer service questions, but when you do, think of these as engagements, too. Because they are – and they’re the type of engagements that really matter to your customers.

Your audience might think it’s fun and diverting to come up with a caption for a cute photo, but when their order is late or your product malfunctions and they aren’t getting help from other sources, their entire relationship with you is on the line. If your social media team can answer their question fast, you’ll have made a major difference to them.

This aspect of social media is so important that some marketers consider these type of social engagements to be “social media engagement.” They think of the likes, clicks and share metrics more as publishing metrics.

Even if your audience is generally mum, there are a number of ways to initiate these types of engagements:

  • Thank people who have shared your content.
  • Set up a listening station, so when someone comments about your brand, products or services, you can chime in.
  • Like and share your followers content.
  • Set up a listening station so when people comment or ask questions that are directly related to your business, you can respond to them. The classic example of this would be a search for “Boston hotel”. A hotel in Boston with an active social staff could follow that term and see if they could be of help when anyone uses it. Just always use restraint with this tactic. Be helpful, not pushy or creepy.

Conclusion

Social media engagement is the new frontier of social media marketing. It focuses on quality more than quantity, and thus requires a lot more sophistication than just broadcasting more content out to your followers.

If you want more engagement, you’ll need to get smart with your social media analytics. You’ll also need to maximize your shares and reach with well-formatted, well-timed posts. You may need to craft content based on personas, and on where people are in their buyer’s journey.

Above all, you’ll need to be… social. To ask and answer questions, to say please and thank you and “what do you think?” Your audience is right there, waiting to talk.

What do you think?

Is social media engagement your number one priority on social media? If not, what is? Share your opinion in the comments.

Social media has become a vital business communication tactic in a marketer’s toolset. But because trends in social media marketing are always changing, the tactics that worked six months ago may no longer yield positive results. Enter – the social media audit – the perfect tool to help your company see what’s working and what’s not with your social media strategy.