What is social media engagement and how to improve it

Social media engagement with person holding mobile phone with notification icons

You probably already know that using social media sites is a great way to promote yourself or your business, locally and worldwide. But your social media strategy needs to involve more than just uploading to your favorite platforms. Successful social media marketing is also about getting your audience to interact with your content, known as social media engagement. Effectively engaging followers is an art and a science unto itself — one you’ll want to get the hang of.

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What is social media engagement and why is it important?

Broadly speaking, social media engagement refers to the number of comments, likes, shares, and follows your social media accounts get on various platforms, like Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

But don’t think of social media engagement strictly in terms of numbers. It’s as much about quality as it is about quantity. Making as many connections as possible is one thing, but forging meaningful connections with current and potential audiences is what can really translate to long-term loyalty, and ultimately a better return on your time and effort.

That’s why implementing a social media engagement strategy goes beyond using a traditional marketing strategy. Marketing, generally speaking, entails identifying customer needs and strategizing how best to meet them with the ultimate goal of translating those strategies into sales. Social media engagement strategy is less transactional and more focused on building relationships with customers and audiences to foster long-term brand recognition and loyalty.

How social media engagement is measured

Engagement rate is measured by a variety of factors, most of which can be sorted into one of two categories:

  • Passive metrics: Likes, followers, etc.
  • High-engagement metrics: Shares, retweets, comments, tags, etc.

Although passive metrics can be helpful in gaining an at-a-glance understanding of your overall engagement rate, high-engagement metrics are typically more meaningful indicators of brand interaction.

If you think of your social media account as a physical, brick-and-mortar shop, passive engagement is like foot traffic. Foot traffic is great, but it doesn’t amount to much if passersby aren’t browsing the merchandise and making purchases. You need customers to actively peruse your wares, pick them up, examine them, take photos in the store and share them on social media, tell their friends and family about it — and, of course, actually buy things.

Still, none of this happens without foot traffic. If your store is situated out of the way, like a social media page that doesn’t have many followers or gets many likes, fewer potential customers are likely to stop by. Passive engagement isn’t enough by itself, but it’s still an important ingredient in a successful social media strategy.

How engagement is measured on social media platforms

On a basic level, you can gauge your social media account’s engagement by looking at your follower count, and how many likes and shares your content gets. This gives you a baseline understanding of your reach, but it’s ultimately a superficial representation of actual user engagement. Fortunately, there are a number of third-party tools that offer in-depth readings of an account’s engagement, including Hootsuite, Google Analytics, Sprout Social.

Social platforms also offer their own engagement metrics readouts. Here’s what you can glean from some of the more popular services:


The ubiquitous social network’s analytics dashboard, the Meta Business Suite, allows the following insights into your accounts:

  • Reach. How many people see your posts? Who interacts with them?
  • Clicks. How do people interact with your page? How many clicks through to your website?
  • Visitors. What are the demographics of the people visiting your account?
  • Posts. How are your posts performing across Facebook over time?


Twitter’s dashboard gives access into insights including:

  • Engagement. How many impressions (views) and engagements (clicks) do your tweets get?
  • Audience. When is your audience most likely to be on Twitter? Where do they live and in what time zones?


If you have a business account, you can access Instagram Insights to view your account’s engagement metrics. The dashboard lets you view insights including:

  • Audience. Where do your followers live? What’s their gender identity? How old are they? When are they usually online? What days and times are they most active?
  • Content. What kind of content gets the most likes? What posts average the most comments?


TikTok insights are available to Pro users, and include the following metrics:

  • Audience. At what rate is your following growing? What are followers watching elsewhere? Where do they live? What are their demographic identifiers?
  • Timing. When is your traffic highest?
  • Content. Which videos are most watched in a given week? How long is average play time? How many comments, likes, and shares do they get?

How to heighten your social media engagement

Some social media users, like famous movie stars, big-name politicians, and professional athletes, are lucky enough to have built-in engagement. These folks already have large, invested fan bases and might not have to put as much work into engaging their online followers. But that doesn’t mean regular users are out of luck when it comes to boosting engagement. Here are a few practical steps you can take to increase engagement:

1. Know your strengths

As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going. That is, before you can understand where or how you can grow your following, you need to know what’s already working — and not working — with your current strategy. How many followers do you already have? How many comments and shares do your social media posts get on average? Which ones perform better than others? Answering these questions should give you a sense of your strengths, which you can then build on.

2. Build an engagement strategy

To develop an effective engagement strategy, you need a thorough understanding of your social media goals. Are you looking to rebrand yourself or your business, or increase brand awareness for large or small businesses? Are you looking for potential customers or opportunities? Are you seeking feedback on products, your art, or your style? Or are you looking to educate or inform your audience? Answering these questions not only helps you determine the kind of content you’re best suited to post, but what types of people you should be angling to get that content to (i.e. your target audience).

Once you’ve determined what you’re after, look at social media accounts that already accomplish your goals and compare their engagement with yours. Consider the kind of content they’re posting and how it differs from yours. How frequently and how regularly are they posting? How are they leveraging captions and tags to their advantage? Doing a basic competitor audit like this is good way to get inspired and start to see how your can achieve your own version of success. Hopefully you’ll come away with a better understanding of which platforms to prioritize, when to post, the kind of content you should focus on, and your brand voice or style.

3. Serve unique and valuable content

Post content that adheres to your brand voice, but also addresses the needs and interests of your target audience. Your brand voice is basically your commercial personality and tone. By understanding the tone of your target audience — is it casual, sophisticated, edgy?—you can better craft a voice that responds to customer conversations. Engagement-worthy content fosters social media interaction and a fluid dialogue between you and your followers. At the same time, you don’t want to let the cohesion between your brand voice and your target audience become too predictable. Don’t be afraid to switch things up with interactive elements, like polls, live videos with chat, or Q&As.

4. Stay on top of news and trends

Anytime you’re thinking about improving engagement with your audience, it’s a good idea to meet them where they are. Find ways to relate your content to what your followers might already be thinking about — trending memes, current pop culture, sports events, holidays, or breaking news. Just be sure that whatever you’re posting or commenting on fits within your brand. Weak links between social content and the news of the day can come off as inauthentic at best, and exploitative at worst.

5. Be real

Make sure your audience knows there’s a real human being behind each post. Let your personality and unique quirks shine through in style and captions. Authenticity helps create meaningful connections. Don’t be afraid to respond to good-faith comments (even critical ones), reply to direct messages (within reason), and throw a few likes or a follow-back at particularly loyal followers.

6. Stick to a schedule

Posting between one and three times a day is considered ideal for engagement by most social media professionals. But that’s just a general rule. You should also pay attention to when you publish. Consider your audience. If you live in California, for example, it may not be a great idea to post a photo on Instagram late at night, when everyone on the East Coast is fast asleep.

7. Track everything, and evolve

Establishing and employing an effective social media strategy is only half the battle —  to improve your social media engagement, you also need to track your efforts. An ongoing understanding of your engagement metrics allows you to further hone and fine-tune your content offerings. And don’t be afraid to alter or adapt your approach. The best-laid plans are ones that are subject to change. Your content and engagement strategy should evolve over time, based on what’s working for you, what’s not, and what’s going on in the world and culture.

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