The metric every social media marketer should focus on in 2020 (Hint: it's not engagement)

Kelsey Formost

05 Nov 2019 · 2 min read


Declining engagement rates are old news. And yet, there’s been a lot of noise in the social media marketing world recently about the rising concern surrounding declining engagement and what that says about the efficacy of influencer marketing.

What those naysayers are forgetting to take into account is the fact that this year’s declining engagement rates aren’t because of a change in consumer behavior alone. Rather, those lower rates are mainly a result of changing algorithms.

Yes, engagement rates are not what they used to be. We all miss the massive, hyper-impactful organic engagement that was possible in 2016. But today’s lower engagement rates do not mean consumers aren’t interacting with and being impacted by content.

Even though engagement rates seem lower, the time that people spend online consuming content is ever-increasing. On average, people spend 2 hours and 23 minutes a day on social media (up from 1 hour and 30 mins in 2013). And they’re not just spending more time on social media, they’re also spending more money. In fact, multiple case studies have all reached the same conclusion that influencer marketing has 11x the ROI of traditional advertising in 2019.

With such a huge return on investment on the table, why are marketers running scared at the first signs of change? Rather than pulling their investment out of one of the most effective marketing channels in existence, brands and agencies should adapt to the new reality by shifting their focus from engagement rates to reach and social listening.

There’s a lot of resistance at first because it feels awkward, even wrong, to change our thinking in such a massive way. Engagement rate has always been the standard benchmark, “The Devil we know”, so to speak. And while engagement is still an extremely valuable metric to pay attention to, it’s no longer the only one that matters.

Shifting our attention from a post’s performance to overall audience behavior

Because we have access to more specific and valuable data, we also have access to more specific and valuable benchmarks for success. Instead of focusing on a single post’s performance by measuring how many likes or comments that post gets, we need to be focusing on the overall behavior and affinities of the audience members we’re reaching.

Influencer marketing allows brands and agencies to leverage an influencer’s dialed-in audience and reach an incredibly specific pool of their ideal customers. That’s the main factor behind that 11x ROI. Marketing platforms and new technology now allow us to measure so much more than just likes, comments, and saves. We can research our competitors’ campaigns and audiences, look at historical data to understand behavioral trends, and dial in to our ideal customers to make meaningful, lasting conversions.

Because there are now so many brands vying for attention on social media, it’s more important than ever to reach an incredibly specific audience, and to measure and understand their behavior on a granular level beyond just engagement rates.

Don’t mistake platform changes for changes in consumer behavior

Beyond the current decline in engagement, signs point to the landscape changing even further when it comes to public-facing metrics. With the announcement of Facebook testing hiding ‘likes’, shifting your focus to reach and social listening puts you ahead of the game.

Keep your focus on your ideal audience and off of changing vanity metrics. While the rush of one well-performing post might be exciting, high-value repeat impressions and improved brand awareness will bring better results over time.

The Bottom Line

Customer behavior isn’t changing, the algorithms are. Keep your eyes on the prize: your ideal audience's overall behavior, not just a post’s engagement rate.

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