GUEST POST: Social media engagement, how to measure it and not care about anyone else

You’ve posted your content, but how well is it working? What can you measure and how does that compare? Lucy Salvage takes a look at what numbers to look at.

When we talk about measuring data, KPIs, benchmarks and the like, one thing that can be useful is knowing what other people are doing and how well they are doing it.

Sure, in a lot of cases, particularly in business, competitor analysis is key to formulating an effective marketing strategy. But what about Local Government? In particular social media? I would argue that when it comes to social media engagement, you should only be concerned with numero uno. 

“Try telling the Big Boss that!” I hear you cry into your gin – and so the next time your Big Boss wants to know how you are doing on social alongside neighbouring councils, here is your argument for why that’s a bit of a silly question.  

It’s a one-horse race

The main reason why it’s more or less impossible to benchmark social engagement against other authorities is simple. We’re not in competition with them. We’re not trying to sell an identical product to the same target market. Thanks to local democracy and the Boundary Commission, you have your territory and they have theirs. Think The Hunger Games but without military rule or a fight to the death, everybody has their own district (or borough). For this reason alone, there is little if any value in regularly spending time analysing what other LAs are doing on social, unless that is they are doing something really spectacular and you want some of that action. 

Too many variables

Benchmarking social engagement against other local authorities is tricky because of the many different variables that make up each authority. If we break it down in the simplest of terms, most of it comes down to the diversity of our audiences – not one will be an identical match for another. Here are a few variables that make it hard to compare one authority’s social media engagement with another:

  • Geography – some are more rural/urban than others and with that comes varying needs and challenges. For example, a densely rural district may have poor broadband coverage resulting in a higher number of residents unable to access the internet compared to a densely populated urban borough with greater coverage. 
  • Age – areas with a higher percentage of an ageing population will have differing service needs to those areas with a more active younger audience. Age will also determine which social platform is the most effective home for your messaging and if you even use social media at all. Ofcom’s Adults Media Use and Attitudes Report (2022) shows that the percentage of people using social media varies considerably by age, as we would expect. 
  • Gender – each social media platform will have a differing split of male versus female followers. In my experience, audiences tend to mirror the national trend of having a higher proportion of female followers on each platform. This will impact how you position content, and therefore the results you get from it. 
  • Regional ethnic diversity – this will impact content as varying needs and traditions within the community are catered for. For example, content produced by the London Borough of Newham, named as the most diverse local authority in England and Wales, will produce different content to that of the least diverse authority, Allerdale District. 

Each of these variables means that whilst we might be offering similar services to our publics, the way they are communicated and presented will be very different, rendering it a pretty pointless task to try and make social media engagement comparisons between authorities. I realise, even if your Big Boss does not, that you have far better things to be doing with your time. 

How you should be benchmarking your social media engagement 

If you’re accessing your social analytics natively (i.e. for free via Twitter, Meta, or LinkedIn) then it’s likely you’re going to be limited in terms of what data you can collect.

If you pay for analytics via your management system, then you’ll have a lot more at your disposal. The key to utilising this data by whichever means is to be sure of your purpose. What will help you improve your content? What do you want to know? For monthly KPI reporting, I’d choose no more than four metrics to focus on. My top four:

  • Number of followers
  • Engagement (all)
  • Engagement rate 
  • Reach

Whilst the number of followers might appear to be somewhat of a vanity metric, it is still nice to see your following increase each month and confirm that actually, you’re doing something right. It’s also the quickest indicator of things going wrong if suddenly a large number of people abandon ship. 

There are some metrics that I personally find provide little value. These are: 

  • Brand awareness – just because someone doesn’t @mention you doesn’t mean they aren’t engaging with your content in other ways, and if you’ve ever tried to accurately @mention a company in a post you’ll know it takes FOREVER. Nobody has time for that)
  • Best time of day to post – this changes all the dang time day by day, week on week. It’s impossible to keep on top of and a waste of time to even try to. Just use your noodle. You know when your audience is most likely to be online.
  • Impressions – they’re just big numbers that lull you into a false sense of security – always best to choose reach over impressions IMHO.  

Sentiment analysis doesn’t get British humour

I include all engagements in my monthly reporting as I don’t trust sentiment analysis. Whilst management systems such as Sprout Social and Hootsuite offer sentiment analysis as part of their higher-tier paid packages, the technology isn’t as reliable as it could be. The last time I checked, artificial intelligence (AI) is yet to get to grips with British humour, particularly sarcasm.

I got fed up with having to manually check sentiment reports which were so far off the mark, that I stopped including them in my monthly reporting long ago. Until AI is better at recognising the context of a comment, then for me anyway, this data is meaningless. 

Don’t forget to add the context

What isn’t meaningless is YOU. You hold the power. You know your audiences and how they are likely to react to stuff. You are the one ‘in it’ so you are best placed to read the room when it comes to sentiment. Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of that when drowning in data. Don’t be afraid to include free text analysis of your observations in your reporting. You can give this context to supplement the inclusion of all engagements in your numerical reporting. 

Engagement is important

Engagement rate is one of the most valuable metrics as it gives you an overall indication of how you are doing and it’s the best way to benchmark against yourself. Only by regularly collecting data on a monthly basis (or more often if you are mad) will you come to know what an expected good engagement rate for you is. Remember, no one else matters. You are only in competition with yourself.

Setting benchmarks by platform

Here’s how I set social media benchmarks (by platform) for 2023. This was following the collection of a year’s worth of data in 2022:

  • I used the data over the twelve-month period to calculate averages for each metric (such as reach, engagement, and engagement rate.)
  • I then used these averages to create my benchmarks for 2023. For example, for LinkedIn I have a benchmark engagement rate of 12 per cent, and for Twitter it’s 4 per cent. This is reflective of the popularity of each of these platforms with my organisation’s audience. 

Your bad is someone else’s good 

To further reinforce the point that comparing your social media performance to that of others is a mug’s game, a bad engagement rate for you may be exceptionally good for someone else. Another reason why it is crucial you find your own ground when determining what is good and bad social media engagement. 

According to our feathered friends at Hootsuite, a good engagement rate is between 1 – 5 per cent. So, if you are punching well above that anyway, happy days! Your challenge now is to maintain that. For those struggling to achieve 1 – 3 per cent, then I would advise that you need to revisit your strategy to try and get to the bottom of why your content isn’t landing. This is the point where looking at what your neighbours are doing may come in helpful. 

Hootsuite lists six engagement rate formulas (oh look, another variable!). The one I use is ‘engagement rate by posts’. This will tell you the rate at which followers are engaging with your content, however, it won’t take into account anything that goes viral given that reach is not considered. Here is the magic formula you need for the engagement rate by posts calculation:

No. of engagements / no. of followers * 100

This blog from Hootsuite lists some other engagement rate types, such as by reach, by impressions, and by paid-for, which may work better for you (because only you matter remember!). 

You can be flexible with KPIs

Another thing to remember is that you can always tweak your KPIs as you move through the year. It isn’t cheating. It’s not fiddling the books. It’s progress and the best way for you to compete with yourself is by setting realistic and achievable targets that are bespoke to your organisation. 

Only then will you be able to accurately report your brilliantness to the Big Boss. It might be dog-eat-dog out there, but you’re always number one when it comes to reporting on social media engagement. 

Lucy Salvage MCIPR is Digital Content Creator, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and previously worked as Media and Communications Officer at Wealden District Council.

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