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Why Engagement Isn’t a Definitive Indicator of Anything


‘Engagement’ is frequently viewed as an ultimate measure of social media and content marketing success.

How many ‘likes’, favourites and +1’s did a piece of content receive?

How many shares or re-tweets?

How many comments?

And how many clicks?

It’s understandable why so many view engagement as being important. Engagement is seen as an indicator of how effectively your content incited your audience to take some sort of action, which in some cases can be attributed to affecting business objectives – building awareness, enhancing affinity, moving people along the path to purchase, sustaining loyalty, or whatever you might be trying to accomplish.

The problem is that engagement alone actually doesn’t tell us much at all. It’s not really a definitive indicator of anything except that someone clicked a button, or mashed a few keys on their keyboard.

What ‘engagement’ is lacking as an indicator of any real, meaningful success, is context – who is engaging, why they are engaging, what they are engaging with, and the nature of their engagement.


Ideally, you want the people who are engaging with your content to be people that you can reasonably convert into customers at some point, that are current customers, are past customers, or may be someone that can influence any of the aforementioned groups of people.

If the people who are engaging with your content have never, or will never, make a positive influence on your business, their engagement with your content is meaningless.


There are a number of reasons why someone might engage with your content: perhaps they identify with your brand, they enjoy using your products, they find the content to be particularly helpful, they are entertained, they are emotionally moved, or some other reason. These would all be considered to be positive forms of engagement, though each type might tell a different story and work toward achieving different objectives.

Understanding why people are engaging with your content can give a better picture of what those actions might mean. People are motivated to engage for a number of reasons, not all of which contribute to the same outcome.


The content you publish needs to be relevant to your business, brand, consumers or category in some way shape or form. Only when the content you publish is relevant to your business can you expect for engagement to be meaningful.

It’s easy to drive huge engagement by publishing photos of cute kittens wearing a hats, but unless kittens wearing hats has something to do with your business, any associated engagement isn’t going to make an appreciable impact on the success of your social media or content marketing efforts.


Not all engagement is created equal. Every social action requires differing levels of interest and involvement from your audience and their sentiment, their personal context, their stage in the purchase cycle, their technographic profile, and many other factors can have a great impact on the value of their engagement with your content.

For instance, it would be foolish to view negative comments in the same light as positive comments. They both can be indicators of success, but need to be categorized differently and cannot be lumped together as simply ‘engagement’ as they both tell a very different story.


Increasing ‘engagement’ should never be an objective as it is completely devoid of the context that is required for it to be meaningful to your business.

Only when you give consideration to the context surrounding engagement with your content will you be able to understand the correlation between those actions and real business results.

Do you, or have you used ‘engagement’ as a measure of social media marketing success?

How do you measure ‘engagement’ with the context that is required for it to be meaningful?

If you disagree with what I’ve written here, how do you validate ‘engagement’ as being a measure of success?

It would be great to chat with you more about this in the comments, or on Twitter @RGBSocial

Join The Conversation

  • Apr 24 Posted 3 years ago iConversing

    Matthew, great post. 

    Do you use any tool to categorize various purpose of each post (informational, awareness, sales), that also logs down the date/time, which subsequently allows inputing the outcome (likes, clicks, sales)?  To top it all, with easy to understand charts showing these correlations?

    That will really help give insights to allocate and optimize time spent done on social media.

  • RGBSocial's picture
    Apr 23 Posted 3 years ago RGBSocial

    That's a great example Gina. Thanks for sharing.


  • Apr 23 Posted 3 years ago Gina Harrison

    Engagement does not tell the full story! Case in point: I use bitly links that are unique to a post. When comparing likes and comments to the Bitly stats of how many people clicked on the link, the real picture emerges. It can be up to 10X more!

  • RGBSocial's picture
    Apr 23 Posted 3 years ago RGBSocial

    Thanks very much Daniel. It seems that we’re on the same page here in that there is always context that needs to be taken into account when using engagement as a measure of success, because as you point out, the importance of engagement can certainly differ depending on your objectives.

    I appreciate the comment and you adding some valuable considerations.

    Thanks again.


  • Apr 22 Posted 3 years ago sbessell

    Loved the article. 

    So many different ways to analyze engagement and to use social media tools!

  • MCCCODE's picture
    Apr 22 Posted 3 years ago MCCCODE

    Nice article Matthew,

    I see engagement and content creation on different streams, some topics are more conversational or shareable these are meant for Brand discovery, others are more informational created for the know how of the product, get to know the brand, and other content is intended for transactional potentiality (just a fancy word for sales).

    I see the importance of engagement more in the presence level than on the transactional level, how many of you have bought something because of a forum discussion?

    and even if you have how frequent does it happen?

    but is important to have this engagement for the future references, to create a better output for the brand and to show the company is alive, active and cares about its customers.





  • Apr 22 Posted 3 years ago Innokenty Lukin

    What people should really think of, when they read this article is that community members that show some engagement with your content are mostly not showing engagement with your brand. So that is the way your content strategy should be aimed on. Engagement with brand, not with content.

  • doriankalosz's picture
    Apr 22 Posted 3 years ago doriankalosz

    Thanks for ur article. I find it very interesting. 

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