Part 1: Overcoming Social Media Audience Engagement Challenges

Audience engagement is one of the most important metrics a brand can use to evaluating the effectiveness of its branded social media channels, but it’s no secret that many companies struggle with building robust relations with their followers in digital environments.

Let’s identify the popular engagement challenges that should be addressed while developing a brand’s social media strategy and dispel some common myths regarding social media engagement.

Not all content is created equally engaging

Some social media posts have high engagement rates, others don’t. Why? According to “The Effect of Social Media Marketing Content on Consumer Engagement: Evidence from Facebook”1, there are two types of content: persuasive and informative. Persuasive content – defined as “emotional and philanthropic content” – increases engagement with a message.

On the contrary, informative content – defined as “mentions of prices, availability, and product features” – reduces engagement, if provided in isolation. However, researchers suggest, mixing together persuasive and informative content increases engagement.

Trust issues

Word-Of-Mouth is widely considered to be a great marketing tool, but do users actually trust social media?

Although Americans consume vast amounts of social media, they don’t consider it as trustworthy or as ethical as other forms of media, according to a 2013 Nielsen study2. The research found that 56% of respondents describe newspapers (print and online) as a “trustworthy media,” while only 37% trust social networks.

Purchasing decision influence is another attribute often prescribed to social media. However, this Harvard Business Review blog post3 suggests that, according to the Gallup’s State of the American Consumer report, 62% of U.S. adults who use social media say these sites have absolutely no influence on their purchasing decisions. Additionally, 30% of the poll say these sites have some influence, and just 5% say they have a great deal of influence. Thus, the author encourages marketers not to limit the use of social media platforms for social media marketing purposes only.

Understanding evolution of engagement

Why do people use social media and what do they expect from your platform? This is the question that brand managers should answer before establishing their brand’s social media presence. Accent Marketing Research on consumer engagement4 revealed how consumers use Facebook, Twitter and other social channels. In particular, the research found that 72% of consumers “only want to interact with the brand when they comment on social media channels.”

In the meantime, 82% use Facebook for speaking with a customer service representative and 2/3 of the poll use Facebook to find good deals and promotions. Asking questions via social media channels is another popular reason for using social media: 75% of Millennials and 55% of Baby Boomers find it helpful.

Research on consumer brand engagement

Let’s see what social strategies brands use to improve their engagement rates.

Valuable insights are provided in the recent study “Consumer Brand Engagement Exploration in Digital Environment”5, an empirical analysis that aimed to discover the drivers and contents of consumer brand engagement for some Italian cult brands (Alfa Romeo, among others.) As the research observed, for marketing purposes these brands used multiple channels – including social media – that allowed them to engage with both target customers and spontaneous engagers.

In order to perform engagement analysis, these brands could research open platforms like brand communities, social networks, websites, industry forums, chat, micro and video blog, etc. It would be important that the brands conduct the research not only on themselves but on competitors as well. As a result, these companies would acquire a great deal of qualitative information that was analyzed under certain developing methodologies. The study provided two text-mining techniques that brands can use for effective posts analysis: co-word analysis (to synthesize the consumers’ expressions emerged in the online discussions) and cluster analysis (to identify latent concepts underlining the lemmas, see the article for more detail.)

Multi-channel development: going beyond Facebook

Get out of your comfort Facebook and Twitter zone and invade new platforms! Although traditional social media channels are the best studied and, therefore, the most used ones, it would be wrong to focus on them exclusively instead of exploring new paths to approach your audience. This Advertising Age article6 provides amazing examples of how creatively unconventional social platforms have been used for skyrocketing brands’ engagement rates. For instance, MTV opted for Snapchat to create buzz around its Video Music Awards, reeling in 70,000 new Snapchat followers and increased cross-platform traffic: a swarm of Snapchat users posted screenshots of the messages to Twitter and Facebook.

As you’re working toward increasing engagement with your social channels, remember that social media, as a whole, is not a solid network. On the contrary, it’s constantly evolving – especially as the focus shifts from giants like Facebook toward niche social networks that are “becoming a driving force in the growth of the social sphere7.”

Therefore, in order to be successful in social it is crucial to stay up-to-date on social media tendencies and studies conducted by the leading institutions, research centers, and professionals. Moreover, it is important to understand the benefits of different social media platforms and develop media strategies based on these findings. As another Harvard Business Review article points out8, “All too often, when marketers talk about their ‘social strategy,’ they really mean a digital marketing strategy implemented on social platforms, rather than using social dynamics to benefit their business.”

It’s also important to understand the driving factors behind engagement data: your social audience. If you don’t understand who your audience is, which portion of your audience is engaging and how, and what content they’re engaging with, you’ll never truly grow your audience and increase their engagement.

Stay tuned for part two to learn more!


  1. The Effect of Social Media Marketing Content on Consumer Engagement: Evidence from Facebook:
  2. 2013 Nielsen National Cross-Media Engagement Study:
  3. Few Consumers Actually Heed Social Media:
  4. ACCENT Marketing Research Emphasizes the Value of Understanding the Evolution of Customer Engagement and Today’s Consumer:
  5. Consumer Brand Engagement Exploration in Digital Environment. An Empirical Research on an Italian Cult Brand:
  6. Real-Time Marketing Isn’t Just About Twitter:
  7. US Social Media Use Evolving:
  8. Marketers, Don’t “Join the Conversation” — Lead It: