Of all the social networking sites today, Facebook is without a doubt the one that continues to develop at a phenomenal rate. Yet, open discussions about how best to measure Facebook don't seem to have evolved greatly.

Over the past couple of years there's been much debate about the changes to Facebook's content distribution engine. More brands are joining the social network, people are following more of these brands and competition to get a slot in people's News feed is at a premium.

We all know that organic reach of Facebook posts has dropped. Depending on brand and industry our trackers put the organic reach of individual posts between 1% and 8% - with an average at ~3% for large pages (as a proportion of a page's Facebook fan size).

As a result, if a brand wants to reach its community, and perhaps more importantly, if it wants to reach new audiences on Facebook, a paid media strategy is vital.

I'm not interested in fuelling the debate as to the reasons why Facebook organic reach has dropped. What I'm interested in is what this means from a measurement perspective.

Socialbakers has recently argued a shift away from the commonly used engagement rate methodology. It's a pretty strong signal, considering this is what Socialbakers’ Analytics platform was built around. Also, with a large brand/agency client list (including We Are Social and our clients), it's not unreasonable to suggest that this shift will influence how many marketers will be measuring their Facebook activity in the future.

To recap, the Socialbakers engagement methodology weighs post engagements (likes, comments & shares) by the number of fans of that page (they actually have two engagements rates; a post and a page engagement rate).

888d592171a458830f0f201f39b2fcd4

The rationale being that by dividing by the number of fans a page has to give you a percentage engagement figure, you are able to better compare pages of different fan sizes.

Now, Socialbakers is arguing that we should be concentrating on the raw number of engagements – i.e. no longer weighing these by the number of Facebook fans.

The reasoning? That with organic reach dropping and the rise of News Feed based advertising the playing field is no longer level, or to put it another way, that the number of Facebook fans isn't a true reflection of the opportunity a post has to be engaged-upon. Therefore, from a measurement perspective, it's no longer considered a good base to measure performance.

For people that rely heavily on this methodology, the concern might be the impact this change has when benchmarking pages of different sizes; i.e., a small page whose competitor has many more fans could move from a leading engagement rate position to a losing one.

For me, that's the whole point. While I certainly subscribe to the view that your Facebook community is still very important, at the end of the day, any serious brand investing in Facebook isn't there to only engage a small group of people, who let’s face it, are potentially already loyal advocates. In addition to engaging this loyal following, isn't the Facebook opportunity also one of reaching and engaging new audiences?

So if your closest competitor is generating many more engagements than you, it's fair to say they're reaching more people with their content.

I'm not suggesting that it’s only about reach. Reach for reach's sake isn't the objective. We should be all aiming to reach the correct audience with great content. And a proxy for great content can be the engagements it receives.

  • Engaging content often results in a lift in viral reach
  • Engaging content is a signal that the reached audience had some form of emotional reaction to your content
  • Engaging content can have higher recall thanks to the social context displayed (ie. seeing that your friends have engaged with that content / page)

So, where does this leave us from a measurement perspective?

Reach & frequency
At We Are Social, before talking engagement we'd suggest that Reach and Frequency (the average number of times people have been reached) are two of the most important metrics to be measuring on your page.

While individual post reach/frequency is useful, it's the weekly or monthly reach & frequency that's important, i.e. how many people are seeing your content and how often. While everyone is fixated on the 1-3% organic reach that individual posts have dropped to it's the total reach you're getting at the end of the week/month that you should be focusing on.

Instead of viewing reach as a sub-set of the number of fans you have, approach reach as a market-size opportunity. Use Facebook Insights to gauge your potential market size and plan a paid-media strategy that enables you to reach this audience.

Also, as social media shifts to a more paid approach, brands should invest in research into the impact of "viewed" content and not just "engaged" content.

Business outcomes
This varies by industry / brand - but I'm talking things like click-throughs, conversions to sign-ups, conversions to sales etc. Sure - for many sectors Facebook is going to remain a top of the funnel marketing channel, but that's no excuse to not track and optimise for business outcomes.

Engagement
Engagement rates shouldn't be an objective in itself. We should be focusing on the quality and outcome of those engagements. For example, is the engagement positive or negative? What are the key audience takeouts from the engagement? Ultimately, what is the brand or business impact of these engagements (linked to the above).

With this in mind you can measure the engagements that matter and optimise around that.

To do this, engagements should be weighted by Reach (or impressions) – i.e. as a proportion of people who actually saw your content, what was the engagement rate? There are a raft of metrics to use, but using Facebook’s own terminology, at a page level we're talking about Engaged users / Reach or Consumers / Reach - at a post level Post Engaged users / Reach and Post Likes+Comments+Shares / Impressions etc. Depending on your Facebook objectives you may wish to give higher value to specific interactions (eg – video plays over 95%, post shares etc).

Reach data is of course not public, so this way of calculating engagement rates is only possible for page administrators and can’t be compared to competitor pages. In order to benchmark engagement rates in this way, look to other brand, product or country pages within your organisations portfolio.

Benchmarking engagement vis-a-vis your competitors is where a tool such as Socialbakers will help you. However, it's vital to understand that the Socialbakers engagement rate methodology isn't necessarily showing you how engaging content is - it's showing you how many engagements it's receiving - which can be highly influenced by paid media.

In reality the change in methodology from Socialbakers only changes one thing - how brands rank against each other. Either methodology (as a % of fans or raw metrics) will still enable you to identify peaks and troughs of engagements. If you're intent on benchmarking public data I'd suggest that ranking your activity versus your competitors in raw metrics is probably a better indicator of your impact on Facebook.