Facebook Engagement: We’re Still Doing It Wrong

We’ve been having this debate internally for some time, but Toby Margetts’ recent post on “Why You Are Measuring Facebook Engagement Inaccurately” has prompted us to get the pen out to reveal our latest thoughts on Facebook engagement.

There are a number of schools of thought emerging on this debate, and in essence, the split is largely coming down to those who believe in reach versus those who believe in measuring against total fan count (page audience size).  Personally, I sit on the total fan count size, as measuring based on reach is defying the purpose of Facebook’s EdgeRank. If your reach is low (because your overall engagement is poor), using this to show your engagement percentages as a higher figure is incorrect. You should recognize the low engagement and focus on increasing this so that your reach increases.

The problem, put simply though, is that there is currently no industry standard way to measure engagement. Why does this matter? Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm determines the reach of your posts, so efficiently measuring and optimizing for engagement is key to extending your pages’ reach. 

An Engagement Metric Comparison

The table below is based on the same data on the same Facebook page. This page is performing particularly well for its sector and against local competitors. We ran the last week’s worth of data through the different engagement calculations we were aware of to show the vast differences shown:

Method

Engagement Rate

Talking About This (Audience)

31.4%

Talking About This (Minus New Fans, Audience)

14.6%

Daily Page Engagement (Audience)

6.1%

Daily Page Engagement (Reach)

4.7%

Average Post Engagement (Reach)

4.3%

Average Post Engagement (Audience Size)

2.7%

Let’s briefly go through the pros and cons of each metric:

  • People talking about this: Using Facebook’s open graph to find the PTAT number of a page and dividing this by total fans of the page (PTAT/total audience) is inaccurate as it includes all types of engagements, including new fans, so it is therefore influenced by any fan-acquisition campaigns that are occurring, clouding the true engagement rates of posts.
  • PTAT (minus new fans): Taking the new fans out of the talking about this number  — (PTAT – new fans)/total audience at time makes this a fairer metric.  The other advantage of PTAT is that it is publicly available data, meaning you can measure and compare against any page based on this, allowing for competitor analysis. However, optimizing for PTAT can be difficult, as the figure is always presented as a moving weekly figure, making post-level insights difficult.
  • Daily page engagement (audience): Daily page engagement (likes + comments + shares on a given day/fans on a given day) seems to be the middle ground between PTAT and average post engagement, and it certainly takes the middle ground in terms of actual engagement numbers in our example. From my perspective, daily page engagement is fundamentally flawed – to go to the effort of calculating the engagement daily is just as much effort as calculating per post, but without the level of insight that gives.
  • Daily page engagement (reach): As described above, daily page engagement is not a worthwhile metric in my opinion. On this version, the difference is between reach and audience, with the formula for calculation being likes + comments+ shares on a given day/reach on a given day. The issue with reach-based engagement calculations is that you can only see this for pages you own, meaning accurate benchmarking is impossible, and they don’t truly show engagement in my opinion.
  • Average post engagement (reach): Average post engagement gives you more insight, as you can break this down to show engagement levels by individual post to allow you to see what is and isn’t working. The average engagement of all posts: (comments + likes + shares for each post)/post reach. However, the major flaws are that this is a time-consuming process and that you can only get post reach for your own page.
  • Average post engagement (audience size): Average post engagement based on audience size: comments + likes + shares for each post/page fans. This suffers the same issues as the above metric but to a lesser extent.  You can’t get an accurate number on the audience size of competitors easily, especially if it’s more than four weeks ago. Tools such as Socialbakers can help with this problem. Alternatively, you can calculate this for a four-week period (and track it over time) by using the new likes per week metric on the PTAT graph and taking the new likes away from the total audience shown to give a fairly accurate estimate.

Weighted Engagement

In principle, weighting the different types of Facebook engagements (comments, likes, and shares) based on their importance is valid. However, using this as an engagement rate percentage is statistically incorrect.

Furthermore, weighting a comment as more important than a like, for instance, makes sense on paper. However, a like is pretty much 100 percent positive (hence the name!), whereas a comment can be negative, and then it is not really worth more to the page.

Clearly, a share holds the most value due to the reach and exposure it brings, but as no one is really clear exactly how Facebook weighs each engagement type, it would be pre-emptive to change how you calculate engagement based solely on this.

Let’s develop the idea though, as clearly a share is more important than a simple like due to the extra reach it gives your post.

So What’s A Brand To Do?

Right now, my advice would be to use the PTAT (minus new fans) metric to measure overall engagement over time and against competitors, and to use average post engagement (audience size) to measure and optimize your own posting strategy.

At the moment, this is time-consuming and slightly irritating to have two metrics to measure. However this allows you to track yourself against competitors and get real insight into what works on your page.

The best process to get these figures is to use the Facebook insights data for your page, as if you download the spreadsheets at page level, all of the required information is present. To get competitor data on PTAT figures, simply navigate to: http://www.facebook.com/COMPETITOR-BRAND-GOES-HERE/likes.

Facebook – Over To You!

In conclusion, let’s lay down a challenge to Facebook.  We want a new engagement metric that is clear, thought-out, and able to be benchmarked.  This should split between “organic” and “paid” engagement (through promoted posts and any activity directly from fan acquisition, where the fan has newly liked the page from an ad within the past few days, for instance), should factor in engagement weighting and sentiment (in a transparent way), and should, in my opinion, be based upon audience size.

Facebook is most likely doing all of this as part of the EdgeRank algorithm, so it’s time for the social network to develop these ideas and make them accessible within the page insights dashboard as a trackable true engagement figure on the platform. It should allow pages to choose a few key competitor pages to measure themselves against with this true engagement figure to allow brands to benchmark.

Ultimately, this will increase trust in the platform for page owners, and will allow brands to optimize their strategies to include more relevant content, thus making the Facebook experience better for users.

Readers: Which side of the fence do you sit on? How do you measure Facebook engagement? Let us know if you have any other ideas in the comments below.

Ben Harper is a former data analyst turned social media expert, having honed his skills within both major corporations and cutting-edge social startups, and it is that unique mix of skills that makes him a key member of the Zazzle Media team.

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