News & Views

Opinion / Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

by Contagious Team

Saul Parker, insight and strategy director at youth marketing agency Livity,on putting engagement in perspective


In recent years, content has become something of a silver bullet for the marketing industry; a way to keep up with the changing media landscape, and to elevate ourselves from the language of advertising and marketing. Young people treat YouTube as their homepage and short form video as their social currency.

Part of the appeal of content publishing for brand owners lies in the allure of accountability and measurement. With the ability to track everything from likes to length of exposure to links, it is tempting to assume that ROI and effectiveness will be greater here than with other creative mediums.

But just because the data exists, it does not follow that we know what to do with it, or that it paints an accurate picture of audience interactions.

One issue with standard metrics is that artificial inflation takes place, largely through bots and blackhat operators, but also from platform operators keen to promote specific content and advertiser appeal. Everybody takes traditional media audience figures with a pinch of salt, and we should do the same with newer platforms. A few years ago, YouTube wiped billions of artificial views from the channels of leading record companies, and we must assume that this battle continues.

Another difficulty is that conversion rates within the content space are poor. As channels proliferate and content grows exponentially, the ratio of subscribers to views declines rapidly, the ratio of views to shares even more so. The more channels I subscribe to, the more content I have to negotiate, and the less I manage to engage with, making subscriber figures a poor indicator of engagement.

With all this in mind, how best to measure engagement with social content? Which metrics make most sense? Of course, the answer is ‘it depends’. Here are some things to bear in mind in establishing KPIs around content:

Consider the social life of your audience: Too often our focus is on content and brand image, at the expense of considering the social reputation of our audience. At Livity we work on many issues-based campaigns where interaction with content can carry a reputational risk for young audiences. Sometimes sharing content is socially risky and we should aim to inspire other forms of interaction.

Revisit your campaign strategy: Planning 101 – go back to the strategy and what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re trying to start a conversation, or join one, the number and quality of comments will be critical; if you’re trying to hijack an event, the timing and context of views and shares might be more important.



Take a perspective on negativity: Before your campaign breaks, make a decision about the significance of negative feedback, and stick to it. Trolling and dislikes are inevitable: even Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off video, with 727 million views on YouTube, has over 340k dislikes. It’s important to keep negative feedback in perspective and avoid being distracted by it.

Remember the importance of unconscious processing: If behavioural economics taught us one thing, it is that the bulk of mental processing happens in the subconscious and often effective messaging appeals to emotional cognition. Its impact might not be best expressed through immediate tangible actions like shares and comments.

Interaction with social content is a personal and nuanced experience, and just because accumulated data exists, doesn’t make it important or useful. Don’t be too dismayed by the numbers, and try to remember that YouTube enjoys 4 billion views per day, with 300 hours of content uploaded every minute. Most people would rather watch Game Of Thrones, Gangnam Style or angry cat than your branded clip, but that just means you have to work a little harder to gain their attention.