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If Facebook had existed at the time of ancient Egypt, there would be two things different about it.

Firstly, as they didn’t have books as we know them, it would have been called FacePapyrus or FaceTablet or something.

And secondly, all the emojis would be replaced with hieroglyphics – a big improvement as far as I’m concerned.

Picture old Ozymandias, King of Kings, looking upon his Royal Feed and despairing at the lack of hieroglyphics his Works were attracting from his loyal subjects.

“Only two Eyes of Horus and a Stork for that joke about the Hittites!” he probably thought to himself.

And I feel for him. Because, along with many other business owners today, I look at the lack of interaction on my social media postings with a blend of despair and misery.

Publishing anything on Facebook these days seems like casting it into the desert. And Instagram doesn’t seem much better, either.

Ozymandias would have probably taken out his frustrations on the Canaanites. But we don’t have that option, so we just grumble about it.

It Never Used to Be Like This

I joined Facebook and Twitter in 2007. For those like me who’ve been around a while, getting engagement on social media used to be a whole lot easier.

Plummeting reach and interaction has left many business owners, me included, scratching their heads, wondering what we’re doing wrong and how to reverse the decline.

Can things be improved? Or should we give it up as broken and market our businesses differently?

If we’re going to make it work, it would be beneficial to know how we’re doing. Are we just bad at writing engaging posts on social media, or is everyone else finding it a slog? One measure would be to look at our engagement rates and compare them to others.

First, we need to understand why engagement rates are important.

Then, we’ll examine what strategies SMEs can use to improve their social media engagement. Along the way, we’ll consider whether it’s time for a complete change.

What is an Engagement Rate?

In simple terms, engagement rate is a metric that measures how many people interact with your content on social media. It considers likes, comments, shares and other forms of engagement.

There are two ways to measure engagement rates: by reach and by followers. Strap in for a brief trip to the exciting world of analytics:

Engagement Rate Based on Reach: This measures how engaging your content was to those who saw it. It’s calculated using the number of interactions (likes, comments, saves) divided by the total reach (the number of unique users who saw the posts).

This method is particularly useful for assessing how well your content performs among those who see it, accounting for variations in how widely different posts are distributed.

Engagement Rate Based on Followers: This calculates the engagement relative to your total number of followers, regardless of how many saw the post. This method gives an idea of how engaged your entire follower base is with your content, but it can be less accurate in reflecting the performance of individual posts because, thanks to the algorithm, not all followers see all posts.

In this article, I’m talking about engagement rates based on reach (ERR), which clarifies how effectively our content engages viewers (rather than potential viewers).

For lovers of simple maths, it’s worked out like this:

Engagement Rate (ERR) = (Total Engagement / Total Reach) x 100

High engagement rates suggest that your efforts are hitting the mark, boosting your brand awareness, creating deeper connections with your audience, and so on, while low ERR means you have some work to do.

What are Benchmark Engagement Rates?

Each social media platform and each business category will have benchmark engagement figures available to compare against yours. These are based on industry surveys and can vary widely, so finding averages is tricky.

But here’s a starting point for average engagement rates:

  • Facebook: 0.5% – 0.99%
  • Instagram: 1.22% – 4.59%
  • LinkedIn: 1% – 3.5%

As averages go, these are pretty dismal. On Facebook, one in every hundred who sees your post will engage with it in some way. Even printed direct mail has a better response rate than that.

However, despite my gloomy outlook, Keefomatic’s ERR numbers on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram are all above average, with my rate on Instagram being a healthy 7.36%.

It just shows the importance of measuring these things – going on gut feeling alone isn’t very reliable (who knew?). 

Where Do You Find Your Engagement Rate Data?

Good question. Different platforms offer varying degrees of access to analytics data, but they all do an excellent job of hiding it.

LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram don’t publish your engagement rates directly (and they each measure it slightly differently). Instead, they will give you tons of data with the elements you need to make the calculation buried deep within.

You can subscribe to software services that will turn your analytics data into an easy-to-digest dashboard – DashThis make a good one, as do Hootsuite. But I don’t need a stylish graphic presentation of the numbers – I just want headline figures.

And that’s where ChatGPT comes in.

If you download your analytics data from your platforms’ admin pages (XLS files for LinkedIn, CSV for Facebook and Instagram), you can upload those files to ChatGPT (v4) and ask it to analyse them for you.

ChatGPT will not only give you the headline engagement rate (per platform) but can also provide analysis on all manner of valuable nuggets, such as:

  • The type of post that works best.
  • Rates of audience engagement per post type.
  • The optimum time of day to post.
  • The best days of the week to post.

The Reality of Social Media Management for SMEs

The usual advice to SMEs about managing social media is well-meaning but useless. You’re told you must start by deeply understanding your audience – their needs, interests and pain points – and then craft content to address these aspects while entertaining and inspiring them.

All true, but if it were that easy, we’d all be social media influencers with millions of followers. Doing all that work correctly would require an entire team of marketers, researchers and creatives.

Most SMEs are doing it on their own, alongside their actual jobs.

In the real world, success in social media involves a constant cycle of scheduling, creating, publishing, analysing and measuring what works and what doesn’t, then making improvements and going again.

Most of us do it by experimenting: learning what works, deleting what doesn’t, and making plenty of mistakes. Many give up along the way.

Ways to Boost Engagement

One thing that will help you is to stick to a consistent posting schedule. You can use analytics data to discover the optimum days and times to post so you can publish when your audience responds best.

Interacting with your followers also helps. If someone likes or comments on your post, engage with them – respond to comments and initiate discussions.

The Challenge of Starting from Zero

Social media, however, is a numbers game. If you are starting with very few or even no followers, you will have a lot of work to do to get any engagement at all.

That’s not to say that the more followers you have, the easier it gets. You still need to create posts that engage your audience, whether you have ten followers or 10,000.

Reflecting on the Value of Social Media

Is social media working for small businesses? I’ve asked myself this question a lot recently.

With reach and engagement as low as it is, if I were launching a business today, I’d think twice before opening a new social media account for it. The old idea of social media as a free source of leads and the place to build an online community now seems a distant fantasy.

Even though my social media posts have an above-average engagement rate, that doesn’t mean much if the average is near rock bottom to begin with.

Despite the promise of access to a vast audience of loyal fans, social media is a battleground where everyone is screaming for attention. Generating that attention comes at a cost – either time, money or both.

Beyond a certain point, the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in – every extra reel, carousel or video you publish contributes less to your business – yet they suck up just as much time and resources to produce as before.

The end game of all this decline is to shepherd you towards paying for the reach and engagement you used to get for free. And that might be an option for you, if you can get over the feeling you’ve been coerced into it.

Re-evaluating the Cost of Social Media Efforts

If you feel like you’re constantly fighting a losing battle with social media, you need to decide whether it’s worth the time you spend on it. Don’t forget that social media marketing isn’t the only way to market your business.

Only you will know if it’s time to quit, but you would be well advised to check your analytics stats before you throw in the towel.

If you have good engagement rates, then you’re doing something right. And even if the numbers look pitifully small and you think your creations deserve more than blank indifference (and who doesn’t?), benchmarking your rates against your peers provides a helpful reality check.

I think I’ll persevere for just a little bit longer.

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author avatar
Keith Barker Designer & Marketing Consultant
I'm Keith, the driving force behind Keefomatic Marketing & Design. With a career spanning over 35 years in marketing, design and advertising, I offer a comprehensive, results-driven service tailored to the needs of small business owners.