Engagement Rate for SMM

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts on “The Marketer’s Guide to Measuring Social Media Marketing Engagement.” The first post was entitled, “Why Measure Social Media Marketing Engagement.”


In the second post in this series, “Aligning Social Media Marketing Objectives and Metrics,” different types of social media engagement metrics were introduced – conversation, applause, amplification, and consumption. These are all “volume metrics”; they measure the counts of engagement activity. In turn, volume metrics can be used to measure a couple other important metrics: engagement rate and cost per engagement. More specifically:

  • Engagement Volume represents total impact or potential for impact. These metrics are raw counts of engagement and include metrics such as Facebook likes, Twitter retweets, etc.
  • Engagement Rate is a measure of quality or efficiency and is calculated as engagement volume divided by the number of users or events that could have triggered the action. Examples are engagement rate per follower, applause rate per unique impression, etc.
  • Cost per Engagement is calculated as engagement volume divided by spend and is critical for assessing the cost-effectiveness of a paid campaign.

The first step in choosing KPIs for your measurement strategy is to separate organic and viral activity from paid activity. Since paid promotions greatly impact the engagement and reach of a post, combining paid activity with organic and viral engagement can produce misleading results. There are also differences in what metrics are chosen based on the type of media used. For example, engagement rate is useful mostly for organic media and viral media, while cost per engagement applies only to paid media.

Both engagement volume and cost per engagement are must-have’s for paid media measurement. Since there are diminishing returns with increasing spend, it is possible to either get a very high engagement volume by targeting a broad audience (high volume but low efficiency) or a high engagement rate by targeting a very specific audience on a small scale (high efficiency but low volume). This means that it is always necessary to report on both engagement volume and cost per engagement in order to get a complete view of paid media performance.

On the other hand, the choice of organic and viral KPIs depends on your strategy and objectives. For example, engagement volume is useful for quantifying results of marketing efforts and linking to business impact, while engagement rate can be a measure of directional success and how much the social media efforts are resonating with the audience. When in doubt, it is best to measure both volume and rate but it may be acceptable to report on just one depending on your objectives and how engagement rate is defined.

How to Calculate Engagement Rate

Engagement rate is calculated as engagement volume divided by some base volume:

Engagement Rate Formula

There are three types of base volume metrics in social media: followers, reach, and impressions. These metrics represent the following:

  • Followers represent the audience who has potential to get direct exposure to posted content.
  • Reach represents the number of individuals who has been exposed to the content or page.
  • Impressions are the total number of views for the content or page.

The choice of base metric changes the meaning of the resulting engagement rate:

  • Engagement/Followers represents engagement per follower or fan. It has the benefit of being easy to calculate, even for competitive properties where reach information is unavailable. The main problem is that the reach of a post can extend beyond the follower base via viral or paid amplification, at which point the calculation ceases to make sense.
  • Engagement/Reach represents engagement per individual who saw the post, effective for assessing post quality. However, this metric can give a misleading view of performance since it does not differentiate between posts that have similar engagement rate but varying reach.
  • Engagement/Impressions represents engagement per view. Since it is relatively uncommon for an individual to engage with the same post twice, engagement/reach is generally a better choice for assessing post performance, excluding cases where impression-level efficiency is needed (such as CPM-priced paid campaigns).

The table below details the three possible engagement rate calculations, along with benefits, drawbacks, and use cases for each.

Engagement Rate Table

Having chosen the KPIs aligned to your needs, the next step in establishing a standardized measurement framework is to determine how to categorize the results and maximize the relevance of the insights generated. This will be the topic of the next post in the series.


Next in the series: How to Maximize Social Media Marketing Insights

 Marketer's Guide to Measuring Social Engagement

Want to spend your time driving marketing performance, rather than gathering data?

Let us show you what we are up to.

Get in touch