An Engagement is any sort of interaction with content.
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What does Engagement mean?
The term engagement within marketing is over 100 years old. It is part of a sales strategy that is popular to this day called AIDA. This stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action (now sometimes expanded to AIDAS).
The strategy comes from a time when salespeople had to inform customers what a product was before encouraging them to buy. This would involve several stages of engaging people to get them into the right mental place to make a purchase of something they had literally never heard of before (such as a vacuum cleaner).
The IAB defines engagement as “a spectrum of consumer advertising activities and experiences—cognitive, emotional, and physical—that will have a positive impact on a brand”.
For most digital marketing practices (social media, SEO, display advertising etc), engagement simply means clicking on the thing which the marketer wants you to click on. By simply giving attention to something in any form, a relationship has begun to form between the user and the brand.
Or at least that this the idea. Marketers have in general taken this idea to the extreme by including muting an ad or expanding a tweet (as well as numerous other seemingly inconsequential actions) as being valuable interactions.
While there is an argument to say they mean something, it is generally likely that they are not equal in value to actually visiting an advertisers website.
Main Types of Engagement
How Different Social Networks Count Engagements
In Display advertising, an engagement typically means *any* user interaction – including negatives like closing an ad or muting or pausing a video. On social media, things are a bit different.
What counts as an engagement on social media has (mostly) been narrowed down to just positive interactions. Each social network is a little bit different though, so here is an overview of the biggest social networks:
While Facebook is odd when it comes to calculating Engagement Rate when it comes to measuring engagements themselves they are actually very traditional. Considering they rename every digital marketing metric they can (presumably to spite Google), they have really kept it together when it comes to engagements.
Facebook count every single positive interaction with a post or ad as an engagement, including reactions, shares, comments, and clicks (on links, videos and images). They don’t include negative interactions such as hiding or reporting posts, or unfollowing pages, however.
If you run an Engagement campaign on Facebook then these positive engagements are what you are paying for. All of this is good stuff in terms of engagement, and so if you are building consideration they are worthwhile. Clicks are probably the most valuable of these – but then if you want clicks run a CPC campaign instead.
Instagram straight up pretends not to have an Engagement Rate, which I think is frankly ridiculous. However they are part of Facebook, and so if you run an Engagement campaign on Instagram you’ll be getting the same things.
So for ads, Instagram counts reactions, shares, comments, and clicks on links, videos and images as engagements. However, for posts, Instagram only (publicly) considers Likes + Comments + Saves as engagements. So if you want to work out the CPE of a post, then you should possible just use these three.
Again this is all valuable stuff in terms of consideration. Each of these will push more people to see your posts, or people to care more about your posts.
Twitter goes as broad as it can for engagements and includes all user interactions with Tweets. This means retweets, replies, follows, likes, and clicks anywhere on a Tweet (including to expand the tweet or on links, hashtags, or your profile).
They don’t include interactions with the three dots in the top corner of a Tweet, as that is pretty much all negative. All of these engagements do imply that people think you are a trustworthy source of information, but I personally don’t think Tweet expands have much inherent value, and clicks on hashtags are similarly not generally that useful to you.
You could, of course, fix this by not adding hashtags to the posts that you promote (which I highly recommend), and writing Tweets that don’t need expanding (although this is slightly pointless).
LinkedIn also goes broad for engagement, although it goes its own way for engagement rate (via a different sort of impression). For engagements though, LinkedIn just counts all clicks on posts as engagements. These clicks include link clicks, likes, comments, and shares. Also, bookmarks presumably, although I can’t find them listed.
One bonus from LinkedIn is that I think that (technically) if someone follows your page from an ad then that isn’t counted as an engagement for Cost Per Engagement ad purposes. They list followers from your ads a free extra in your reports anyway.
Again, these are all solid points of engagement, so if you are looking for consideration these are worth paying for.
YouTube is a freak of a social network in many ways (so much so that many consider it a search engine instead). It doesn’t break this odd streak when it comes to engagements either as it counts engagements in a very odd way. I suspect that this is because publicly their main metrics are views and subscribers, but their algorithms actually promote videos with higher engagement rates (which for them is engagements divided by views).
Their official count of engagements is all clicks as well as 10 seconds or more of a TrueView (their viewing counter). By all clicks, they actually mean subscribes, likes, dislikes, comments, and shares (not including embeds). That’s right – they count dislikes too apparently. I wouldn’t recommend paying for engagements on this social network – go for views or clicks.
Other Social Networks:
As there are too many social networks to list here, you should generally just assume that any click on a post counts as an engagement. If they don’t provide you with an engagement metric and you are desperate to know then find the analytics section, and see what they list.
Analytics reports from social networks will usually include impressions, reach and/or views – so ignore those columns. Basically, add the rest together though – every click-based event is technically an engagement. If you want to exclude negative clicks (like unsubscribes etc) then that makes a lot of sense, although not every social network would agree.
As TikTok is cloning Facebook’s Ad Manager so closely I would expect them to copy how they measure engagement too. This trend might continue across all the smaller and new social networks as they grow.
Like with clicks, engagement on its own is not a great measure of success. Engagement Rate is a much more fair way of comparing multiple ads, as it shows how users would react given the same exposure.
Engagement Rate = Engagements x 100 ÷ Impressions
Engagement Advice for Site Owners
If an advertiser wants to buy ads on your site on a CPE basis (Cost Per Engagement), make sure that your tracking is in place so engagements can be tracked at your end.
Engagements are not sales (or even clicks necessarily). As a result, each engagement probably won’t pay that much. It is therefore extra essential that you can optimise towards them.
Also, make sure you define what counts as engagement so you know what you’re being paid for.
Engagement Advice for Ad Buyers
When planning an engagement campaign, be sure to think hard about which engagements actually mean something to you.
Also, make sure you can differentiate between them in your reporting. It is a risky business to lump high and low-value engagements into one CPE buy. Therefore strong reporting is the only way you will be able to effectively optimise your purchasing decisions.
Other names for engagement (synonyms)
User Interaction (this has fallen out of fashion)
Not to be confused with
- Getting married
- Engagement Marketing (which is about developing a brand with user help)
Find out more
Want to learn more? Check out these links:
- Engagement Rate Definition
- Engagement Rate Calculator
- CPE Calculator
- CPE Definition
- Buying Ads on a CPE Basis
- Selling Ads on a CPE Basis