Research shows content engagement is disconnected from brand goals. What’s next?

content engagement

By Mark Schaefer

“Engagement” is one of the most intoxicating of social media measurements. It easily shows that something is HAPPENING and we love that.

I have written about engagement as a metric over the years, most notably stating that:

But for many companies who have been toiling at the content mill for years now, this is simply not enough. Once we have proved that we are creating “activity” with our content, we must face this truth: Engagement is a poor indicator of content value.

Content can gain a person’s interest, and even persuade them, without eliciting a public reaction that would show up as an indicator of engagement. In fact, research conducted by marketing intelligence company Affinio shows that approximately 70 percent of the time, our audience does not react to our content at all … they lurk.

Facebook research shows that 90 percent of people who saw an ad and bought a product never clicked on the ad at all.

To further complicate things, research shows that “clicks” (a traditional signal of “engagement”) really has no impact on the things that matter like brand awareness and purchase consideration.

Screenshot 2016-05-03 09.04.57

We can conclude that engagement rates more often reflect the online behavior of the person clicking, rather than the effectiveness of the content or ads!

How do we unravel this mystery of the true impact of our marketing content? Advanced marketers looking beyond mere “activity” will have to dig deeper and focus on new types of research and surveying that can reveal gains in reach, resonance, and reaction.


Did I reach the right number of people and the right type of people?

With more than 70 percent of your audience in the dark, typical “engagement number” simply are not enough to indicate whether your content investment is doing its job. Your true audience can be revealed with something like Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings which verifies that a campaign deliverable actually matches the desired demographic audience.

Brand resonance

An effective marketing program provides opportunities for consumers to engage with the brand over time that lead to awareness, trust and loyalty. Over time we want that engagement level, and the resonance of the brand to improve. But we simply don’t know that through simple engagement numbers.

Did my content improve my brand’s image and change attitudes of customers? To figure this out, we’re going to have to go old school and apply some online and offline polling, as we have done in traditional media for decades. I see too many marketers relying too much on dashboards. It’s time to dig deeper.


Ultimately our marketing my produce a reaction. Did I cause a consumer to buy a product, sign up for something, create a referral?

Connecting online promotion to offline behavior can be difficult and expensive. Big brands have access to huge databases that can match up both online ad exposure to offline consumer behavior to look at trends. I have seen some pretty incredible technology in the CPG space marrying offline purchases to online content. For smaller businesses, there is probably no more elegant solution than asking our customers — Have you seen our content or paid promotions? What made you buy?

A theme here is that to take content marketing measurement to the next level, we will need to stretch beyond the very limited insights of the dashboard and content engagement. We need to poll, survey and talk to our customers to really discern what’s working in our digital marketing efforts.


SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Alvin Albat

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