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What is ‘Engagement’ and Why Measure It?

Rory Macrae


Marketers have a tendency to waffle on about something called ‘brand engagement’. We normally mention ‘engagement metrics’ during discussions around the success — or failure — of marketing activity.

You might typically hear something like;

“We haven't actually seen any more sales yet… but our last Facebook campaign had a 5% engagement rate!”

You’re left wondering what the hell that means and — if it’s not generating any profit (yet) — why it even matters.

So what is ‘engagement’ and do we need it? Or is it just a load of marketing jargon designed to cover up the failings of a digital marketing strategy?

What is ‘Engagement’?

Engagement is perhaps given a bad name because it has no single definition. It can mean lots of different things depending on the context and medium. Here’s some examples:

Website Content

Metrics that describe how engaged web users are include; bounce rate, average time on page (but not average session duration), average page views, returning visitors, form conversions, average scroll depth and shares. These stats can be gleaned from Google Analytics. For greater insight though, additional tracking software such as Hubspot or Candii is essential.

Social Media

In social media terms, engagement includes metrics such as; number of likes vs reach, number of comments, retweets / reposts and churn rate.


Email engagement can be analysed by looking at open rates and click-through rates.

Paid Advertising

More traditional outbound techniques such as display advertising and Adwords can be measured in terms of engagement too, by looking at impressions v clicks.

How are Engagement Metrics Useful?shutterstock_324944807.jpg

The trouble with engagement rates is that they can seem pretty meaningless, at least at first.

If you don’t have any historical data to compare your results to, it’s hard to decide whether what you’re doing is ‘good’ or not. Especially if you can’t attribute any tangible return yet.

This doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you actually collect the data. This will give you a benchmark by which you can compare future activity. It will allow you to carefully calibrate new campaigns based upon what you’ve learnt. The more data, the better.

In the meantime, you can compare your statistics to a few industry standards.

Be warned, average numbers can vary wildly depending upon industry, medium and audience. These are merely a rough guide.

Measuring Content Engagement

Engagement metrics are especially important for content marketing. This is because at the early stages of an inbound marketing strategy there is nothing else. No leads, no sales, no financial return. Yet.

Inbound marketing takes time. It takes time to gather momentum and it takes time to see a return on investment. This means that at the beginning of an inbound campaign we have little else to report upon, other than engagement.

We can monitor volumes, such as website visits, sessions and social ‘reach’ but there’s a reason why these are often referred to as ‘vanity metrics’. Whilst these stats are important, they don’t paint a complete picture. They don’t tell you how well your audience is responding to your marketing.

When you’ve been running an inbound campaign for a while, you’ll be able to correlate engagement rates with hard sales. You’ll know that boosting engagement in certain areas will directly translate into greater numbers of leads. And you’ll know what percentage of those leads should convert into customers. You’ll gain a clearer view of the true path to conversion. And it’s all down to engagement.

Engagement = Efficiency

shutterstock_222132790.jpgAnother way to look at engagement is to see it as a measure of efficiency. A more engaging campaign normally doesn’t cost any more to run but should yield better results.

For example, you could run a dry sales advert on Facebook or you could promote an informational post designed to help your demographic. One will likely be ignored and the other will generate engagement. Both cost the same to run but which one was most efficient at getting your brand out there?


Those in charge of the direction of a business are right to question the whole premise of ‘engagement’, and its associated metrics. Because, in the early stages of a marketing campaign, it is a meaningless concept. With nothing to compare statistics to and no tangible return, it will — initially — do little to inform success or failure. It is only with experimentation and patience that you can begin to find out how ‘engagement’ positively affects your business.

An investment in engagement is an investment in data. And — like marketing as a whole — it’s an investment in the future. It’s about recognising that by collecting and continuously monitoring engagement data, you’ll be able to make better decisions later on. It’ll give you greater power to engage your audience and convert them into brand advocates.



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