How to master the skill of calculating social media engagement rate

The following are the most popular formulas for calculating engagement rates on social media.

How to master the skill of calculating social media engagement rate

I once wrote an article discussing vanity metrics and actionable metrics, which was controversial and raised a considerable debate. My inspiration for writing the blog article, titled "More sales, fewer likes – let's stop boasting about vanity metrics as digital marketers", was based on the fact that throughout my career as a marketing professional, I have always faced the challenge of having to prove my worth to the company executives. Purely because in some companies, if not most, marketing is seen as just a cost centre, and its efforts are hardly seen to contribute to revenue.

The article aimed to address that marketers need a change of mindset and adopt a deeper metrics mindset that works harder to generate numbers with a more meaningful relationship to business success. But, some people purely misunderstood me and thought that I was rendering vanity metrics completely useless.

This article aims to extend the article mentioned above to discuss the social media engagement rate. I hope this article helps render most social media metrics useful, especially for their attribution towards leads, sales, customers, and brand advocates. 

However, I still stand by my word that, even though vanity metrics like followers, likes, and impressions count for something, engagement metrics like shares and comments give your social media performance perspective. They result in action that is more active than passive.

Follower growth is important, but it doesn't mean much if your followers don't care about the content you post. Every brand needs comments, shares, likes, and other actions that prove its content resonates with its target audience.

But, before I get into discussing the different formulas for calculating engagement rate. Let's first start with understanding what social media engagement and engagement rate are, why it's essential, and the different engagement metrics.

Here is the thing, every person, influencer, and brand wants to have a considerable following on social media. However, the most significant measure of social media success is an engaged audience, not just a big one. Social media engagement is a measure of how people are interacting with your social media accounts and content. 

The following is an excellent analogy by HootSuite "Imagine you threw a party, and tons of people showed up, but they all just sat there silently. No small talk, no dancing, no conversations, no questionable drinking games. Was the party really a success? The RSVP list looks good, sure, but did your guests have fun? Do they like your dip?"

Social media engagement measures how your followers interact with your brand on social media by recording interactions such as likes, comments, shares, etc. Which shows they are interested in your content and may want to support your business. 

The major social media platforms already have their custom components of engagement listed for free in their native analytics tools. Jenn Chenn from Sprout Social notes that the trick is understanding what engagement is on a broad level and how to examine it at a micro-level.

Social media engagement covers many interactions; some standard ones used to gauge engagement include likes, comments, social shares, saved items, click-throughs, or retweets. The table below provides a more comprehensive list of the different interactions from the major social media platforms.

Followers and audience growth Mentions (tagged or untagged)  Sticker taps (Stories)  Get Directions (Instagram only)
Use of brand hashtags Saves  Direct messages Reactions
Shares Comments Likes Calls
Retweets Regrams Emails Texts
Replies Profile visits Quote tweets Clicks

But merely just recording the different interactions and knowing how many people like, share, comment on your content might not be enough. It is best to measure social media engagement using a social media metric called the "engagement rate". The metric is calculated by dividing the engagement volume (likes or retweets + comments) by the number of followers. However, in this article, I will delve deeper and discuss five other ways to calculate the engagement rate.

If you wonder about the difference between social media engagement and the social media engagement rate, let me clarify. Engagement rate measures the rate at which your content performs independently of your follower count. Social media engagement just measures the volume of interactions such as comments, likes, shares, etc., but not how these interactions perform against metrics such as followers. By factoring in the number of followers you have, the engagement rate provides an honest assessment of the quality of your content.

Why is the social media engagement rate important?

It's important because being on social media as a brand is not just about popularity but about making meaningful connections with current and potential customers, which will boost your brand on and offline. Furthermore, it's also a sign that you're making an impact in the market. When your followers engage with your content, it shows that your relationship with them is strong and healthy. They are paying attention and likely willing to turn into a customer and become brand advocates one day.

The engagement rate provides a more accurate representation of content performance than simply looking at absolute measures of social media engagement such as likes, shares, and comments.

Suppose a brand has millions of followers but only receives a few interactions per post. In that case, likely, they're not producing high-quality content. While a brand that only has a few thousand followers but gets tons of shares and comments every time. This will mean high-quality content that would gain a high engagement rate.

"Engagement rates are the currency of the social media marketing industry." - Hootsuite.

The following are the engagement rate pros and cons, as noted by the Corporate finance Institute. 

Pros:

  • Gauges the level of audience interaction
  • Gains insight into the quality of the content
  • Provides a more accurate representation of content performance than simply looking at absolute individual measures such as the number of likes, comments, shares, etc. It is a more comprehensive metric

Cons:

  • The engagement rate is unable to differentiate between interactions that are more important than others. For example, an individual may consider a "share" on a Facebook page more important than a "like." However, the engagement metric does not account for that – both interactions are "equal" in the calculation.
  • The metric must be customized to provide deeper insight

Hootsuite engagement rate calculation methods:

The following are the most popular formulas for calculating engagement rates on social media.

1. Engagement rate by reach (ERR)

ERR measures the percentage of people who chose to interact with your content after seeing it.

  • ERR = total engagements per post / reach per post * 100 NB! For single post
  • Average ERR = Total ERR / Total posts NB! For single multiple posts

2. Engagement rate by posts (ER post)

This formula measures engagements by followers on a specific post. In other words, it's similar to ERR, except instead of reach, it tells you the rate at which followers engage with your content.

  • ER post = Total engagements on a post / Total followers *100
  • Average ER by post = Total ER by post / Total posts

3. Engagement rate by impressions (ER impressions)

While reach measures how many people see your content, impressions tracks how often that content appears on a screen.

  • ER impressions = Total engagements on a post / Total impressions *100
  • Average ER impressions = Total ER impressions / Total posts

4. Daily engagement rate (Daily ER)

While engagement rate by reach measures engagement against maximum exposure, it's still good to have a sense of how often your followers are engaging with your account daily.

  • Daily ER = Total engagements in a day / Total followers *100
  • Average Daily ER = Total engagements for X days / (X days *followers) *100

5. Engagement rate by views (ER views)

Suppose video is a primary vertical for your brand. In that case, you'll likely want to know how many people choose to engage with your videos after watching them.

  • ER view = Total engagements on video post / Total video views *100
  • Average ER view = Total ER view / Total posts

6. Factored Engagement Rate

Factored engagement rates add more or less weight to certain factors in the equation.

For example, a marketer may wish to place a higher value on comments versus likes, weighting each comment as two versus one. The following equation would look something like this:

  • Comment-weighted ER = (Total comments x 2) + all other engagements / Reach per post *100

Calculating how much each engagement costs you, CPE (Cost Per Engagement)

One last formula worth noting is the CPE; if you are sponsoring your social media posts and engagement is an important objective for your strategy, you will have to keep an eye on much you are spending. Which ideally helps track your return on marketing spend and overall ROI for your business.

• CPE = Total amount spent / Total engagements

Most of the major social media platforms will have this calculation available in their analytics tool, together with other calculations, such as cost-per-click.

Just ensure that you note the interactions they count as engagements, so you can be sure you're comparing apples to apples.

Hootsuite, free engagement rate calculator:

Now that you know the standard formulas for calculating the engagement rate to save yourself a lot of time, the guys at Hootsuite developed an engagement calculator that you can just populate the interaction numbers, and it will generate the engagement rate for you. 

Click here to access the Hootsuite free engagement calculator; all you need to use this calculator is Google Sheet. Click the "File" tab and select "Make a copy" to start filling in the fields.

What is a reasonable engagement rate?

The truth is that the average engagement rate differs from one social media platform to the next. However, most social media marketing professionals agree that a reasonable engagement rate is between 1% and 5%. The more you have followers that don't engage with your content, the harder it is to achieve.

However, the best advice I would give you in determining if your engagement rate is good or bad - is that it must be benchmarked against something else and measured against a predefined objective.

Keyhole advises that you consider the following points when determining your engagement rate against a particular benchmark or objective.

  • How your content performs in a given period (benchmark against your engagement rate over time)
  • Compares your performance against competitors (benchmark against your key competitors)
  • Create a benchmark for your industry social media engagement performance (benchmark against top industry players)
  • Compare your performance on different social media platforms. (benchmark against your own social media profiles)