Definition: Social media engagement measures the public shares, likes and comments for an online business' social media efforts. Engagement has historically been a common metric for evaluating social media performance but doesn't necessarily translate to sales.

With over 1.5 billion monthly users, a Facebook presence has become a necessity for both online and offline businesses. But return on investment for social media marketing efforts is difficult, and engagement is a blanket metric that doesn't describe how many users end up purchasing.

Measuring engagement

The three most popular social media sites today are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Each platform has its own mechanisms for users to express appreciation for individual posts and posters, which are measured

Engagement is measured differently across each platform:

Twitter: Re-tweets and followers

Facebook: Shares, likes and followers

Instagram: Likes and followers

While shares and likes tell you about the popularity of a given post, follows indicate a higher level of investment, meaning users want to see more of your content on a regular basis. Follows are therefore a type of conversion, similar to getting a visitor to sign up for an e-mail list.

Posts can be shared for many reasons, however, not all of them good. Social media engagement is only as positive as the reputation it generates: going viral over a poorly thought-out tweet can cause a tsunami of bad publicity that proves to be unshakeable.

Best practices for engaging users

Post daily — Keep your brand at the top of people's newsfeeds with witty, engaging and entertaining content. Frequent posting keeps your brand visible for customers, reminding them that you exist and have something interesting to say. Don't go overboard, however. Too many posts per day begins to look like spam to users. At best, posts get ignored; at worst, your brand gains a reputation as a disreputable ad spammer. One to three posts per day is a consistently safe range to aim for.

Use images — Images greatly increase interaction rates for all social media platforms. Research has shown that Facebook posts with images have an 85 percent interaction rate, compared with just 4 percent for other post types. Images also increase re-tweets on Twitter by 35 percent.

Be personal — Avoid sounding like a press release; show the audience that there are real people behind the brand.

Listen — Engagement is a two-way street. Hear what people are saying about your brand and respond to critiques in a constructive and positive way. If users have valid complaints, don't just acknowledge them, address them. Then make sure everyone sees how responsive and generous your brand can be via follow-up posts.

Monitor — There are several free social media marketing apps which track shares, re-tweets, likes and keywords associated with your brand. Sites like HootSuite, Social Mention and Addictomatic use various crawlers and algorithms to determine who is seeing your social media posts and how they're responding.

Contests — Contests and giveaways are a great way to increase interest in your brand. After all, everyone likes free stuff.

Partnerships — Share links and produce original content with other popular brands (so long as they're not your competitors), brand advocates and tastemakers.

Cover all the social media bases — Produce content for the top social media sites and cross-pollinate your content among them. For instance, link the more dynamic, image-oriented Instagram posts to Facebook and Twitter.

Like any metric, social media engagement should not be viewed in a vacuum. Balance engagement with content marketing and PR efforts, and Knowing how to use it for effective marketing means understanding the systems behind the most popular social media platforms, as well as the ways in which people use those systems. Success requires careful and conscious effort.


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