How Does Engagement on Facebook Work and Does It Really Matter?

by Paula

December 16, 2016

how does engagement on facebook work

We need more engagement.” one of our clients said. “Engagement” was what a term he had heard through the grapevine and immediately gravitated to it. “But our metrics are looking great on Facebook,” we said, “We have great CPC (cost per website click), great CTR (click-through-rate), and good metrics on the Website (time on site, site conversion, good new visitor to visitor ratio). Why do you want us to move budget away from Direct Response ads to Engagement ads?” He looked perplexed. “All I know is I hear other agencies talking about Engagement, so it must be the new thing.” However, as much as we just wanted to yell “Nooooooooooooooooo!” we had to step back and explain Engagement.

What does Engagement mean on Facebook?

In Q4 of 2016 Facebook regrouped their advertising objectives into 3 main categories: Awareness, Consideration, and Conversion.

Facebook Campaign Objectives

When you advertise on Facebook, you have to decide what are you trying to achieve with your ad? Are you looking to create Awareness (in other words – Branding)? Are you trying to convince someone to look at your offerings (consider purchase)? Or are you trying to sell directly (or have someone take real action towards making a purchase or calling you)?
Engagement is considered an advertising tactic under the Consideration category (it used to be referred to as Boost Post – related article here on why Boost Posts are not worth it). In Facebook Engagement includes 4 goals:

-Post Engagement,
-Page Likes,
-Event Responses and
-Offer Claims.

I want people to like our posts and talk about our brand!” he added. “You want people to visit the website and call you!”, we said. He continued to look perplexed.
The client wanted people to talk about the brand. What he wanted was good old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing.
Word-of-mouth occurs when a trusted advisor encourages a person to purchase/try something. In the traditional way, a friend would call you up to recommend a movie, book or other product. You, then, would be more likely to take his recommendation. When word-of-mouth happens, people don’t act on all recommendations, but perhaps on average, they’ll act on 1 out of 5.

word-of-mouthWhen we think about the fact that the average person is exposed to ~2000 ads every day (tv, print, radio, direct mail, signs, banner ads, digital ads, etc.”.), increasing our chances to have a person consider our company/product because of word-of-mouth becomes very important.
People trust word-of-mouth because it’s objective and independent in nature. Word-of-mouth is also based on experience, meaning, a person consumed the product and then without bias, tells another person the “whole truth” about their experience.

Since word-of-mouth has the potential to grow exponentially, for many years, marketers have tried to harness its power. What better way now, than to use social media? Social media seems such a “natural” fit for word-of-mouth marketing.

It’s a Long Way from Word of Mouth to Engagement

The problem is that in Facebook engagement is not the same as word-of-mouth because engagement includes very simple actions such as “post likes” and clicking “Like” on a post does not necessarily mean that someone just gave an endorsement to your brand or product.
Commenting on a post is also an engagement action. Some business owners believe that having posts with many comments will generate “buzz” for their business. However, for small to medium-sized businesses, expecting comments from their posts is unrealistic.

The Numbers Behind Engagement

The numbers just don’t add up: Facebook’s algorithm will only show your organic posts to less than 2% of your fan base. An average small to medium business has under 2000 fans. That would mean that any given post would reach about 40 people. Now, out of those 40 people, only about 1-2% will “engage.”That means that only 1 person will either click like or comment or share. For companies that don’t have a huge fan base, then going after engagement and creating a buzz on Facebook based on brand/product-driven posts is not attainable. Brand/product-focused posts are just not that interesting.
engagement funnel
Now let’s assume you pay for engagement ads. Now you can control how many people will see your ad because you’re willing to pay for it. The problem with doing this is those engagement ads include the goals of liking, commenting, and sharing. You cannot separate those engagement actions. When you use this goal in ads, Facebook optimizes for people who are likely to engage in any way. We call these people digital social butterflies. These people will like almost anything. Is this what our client wants?

There is no great value in targeting those people, and certainly, their engagement actions are not true endorsements of our brand/products. Moreover, back to the math, we want to look at the COST of each share. When we’ve studied the data, we’ve seen that cost per share is half on engagement ads versus click to website ads. However, the cost per click to a website is half on click to website ads versus engagement ads. Also, if your posts are around your brand/products and are not that exciting, then cost per share can significantly go up (two or 3 times higher) – clearly because your post is not that interesting or important.
So what do you prefer?

Someone to visit your website for $1 or someone to share your post for $25? Sure, these numbers will vary depending on many factors, but unless you have some amazing posts to promote, your cost per share will be mammoth compared to your cost per website click. cost-per-share
There are, however, certain industries/areas of interest that will, by nature, create engagement on Facebook, both organically and paid. Let’s look at this: If engagement occurs when someone takes action in the form of a “Like” a “Share” or a “comment,” then you have to ask yourself what kind of posts are more likely to generate that action? We have found that engagement is much more likely among groups of people that are passionate about a subject. For example, people that belong to or follow political organizations, social causes, religious organizations. In addition, engagement occurs more often when the post publisher is a content producer – for example, advice groups, enthusiasts’ groups, etc.

For example, did you notice during this past election, when someone posted something about either candidate, there would be quite a bit of engagement?
People are not just going to talk about the most recent Toys R Us sale, or click share on the post about the 1-hour massage offer, or comment on the post asking people to list their home for sale or click like on the happy hour special of the day. These are just not that interesting posts that will move people to action. Now, if you advertise that the happy hour includes a worm in each tequila shot… then you will probably have great engagement!

Why the fallacy of Engagement?

We’ve seen now that if we want to think of engagement as a form of word of mouth, then we have to use the Post Share metric since a share could be thought of as the digital form of spreading the word.

There is one additional factor, however. The Who – Who is sharing?
Word of mouth matters because it’s a product endorsement that comes from real customers – people that actually saw the movie, went to the restaurant, bought the product. You don’t get a recommendation of a business from a friend when she has not yet become a customer. So not taking into consideration who is sharing the post is a mistake. If our customers are sharing our posts, then some form of product endorsement is happening, if the person sharing is not a customer, then there is no real endorsement and the person just happened to share because the post was interesting enough. The fallacy in this is that we could then just put a picture of a funny cat on a post and have it be shared. There is no merit to this form of sharing.

How marketing companies fool clients by “selling” them engagement numbers

When talking to clients, we always go back to the goal of the campaign. If the client wants new customers, then engagement is not the most effective way to achieve this goal.

What to focus on instead?

When our clients want to do a branding campaign, then reach and share is important, so we focus our efforts on posts that will be more likely to get shared AND are still relevant to the product/brand.
What does get shared if you’re a brand or product: For known brands and businesses, extraordinary offers will get shared, and by extraordinary we mean 50% + discounts, for unknown brands/products 70%+ or even FREE offers are more likely to get shared.
Here are other characteristics that make a post more shareable:

  • Compelling information about the product from credible sources
  • Comparisons that reveal meaningful differences
  • Generous offers
  • Verifiable persuasive studies, references, or opinion leader’s comments

For those companies that want true word of mouth to spread, Review Sites are the place to start. Positive reviews from real customers are true endorsements of your product/brand or service (related post here on how to respond to negative online reviews, how to get rid of bad Yelp reviews, the top review sites for consumers).
reviews as word of mouth
It is critical that businesses stay up to date with their customers’ reviews on Yelp, Google, and Facebook. Actively pursuing positive reviews on review sites – is truly encouraging the spread of word of mouth, and the truth is, no matter how hard a company tries to create engagement on social media, if the experience and satisfaction of everyday customers is not positive, then word of mouth and engagement will be negative, and that is clearly a buzz we don’t want spreading!

About the author 

Meet Paula Danylchuk, a seasoned digital marketer with over two decades of expertise. ​

Paula has a BS in Finance from the Universidad Panamericana, and an MBA in Information Technology from SDSU. She has worked in senior management roles at Qualcomm and Kyocera Wireless.

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