The Engagement Crisis In Content Marketing And Social Media: Why It’s Happening And How To Fix It

Even as social channels are proliferating, engagement is dropping. Columnist Blaise Lucey discusses the reasons for the problem and what marketers should do in response.

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Does your brand’s Twitter account seem like a ghost town? How about your Facebook and LinkedIn page?

If you’ve noticed a drop in social engagement, web referrals, blog traffic and shares, you’re not alone. Buffer lost nearly half of all social referrals to the brand blog from 2014 to 2015. Facebook referrals to the top 30 major publishers dropped by 32 percent from January to October 2015, according to SimpleReach data published by Digiday. Early in 2015, Forrester discovered that user engagement on brand social content continued to fall.

The worst part? Companies are creating more stuff than ever. They’re investing in social, they believe in content, but they’re seeing less ROI (return on investment) from more effort.

We’re in the midst of an engagement crisis, because the number of channels is growing, but marketers are doing the same thing as before. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

So what’s happening? And what’s the solution?

Output Versus ROI

In 2015, according to Forrester research, top brands posted:

  • 18.3x per week on Twitter.
  • 6.5x per week on Facebook.
  • 4.9x per week on Instagram.

This represents a minor increase in the number of posts for Twitter and Facebook and more than a 50-percent increase in posts on Instagram over the prior year.


At first glance, this seems like it paid off. From 2014 to 2015, top brands doubled their Facebook fans, reaching an average of 18.1 million per brand. Average Instagram followers in 2015 reached one million, five times higher than 2014. Twitter followers also doubled.

But when Forrester dug deeper, the content engagement just wasn’t there. When the firm measured user interactions as a percentage of a brand’s followers and fans, it turned out that engagement on Instagram dropped by almost half.

Twitter engagement fell, and, while Facebook engagement rose, Forrester attributed that to paid ads.

Content marketing isn’t faring any better. TrackMaven research showed that content marketing output in 2015 rose by 35 percent and engagement dropped by 17 percent. Those are findings from an analysis of 50 million content marketing pieces posted on blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

And in “2016 Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends,” the reported effectiveness of content for B2B organizations dropped from 38 percent to 30 percent.

There are two obvious culprits here: Organic social reach is falling, because social networks want brands to pay for visibility. And, of course, content saturation.

Every marketer has gotten the memo that content can make you money. And now, faced with dropping engagement across the board, companies think the solution is… even more content.

The biggest weakness in digital marketing today is not the failure to adapt to a changing landscape; it’s the failure to realize that the landscape is never going to stop changing.

The Same Old Innovation

Four years ago, marketers scoured the internet for advice on how to Facebook and what to tweet. Today, social media is no longer a cure-all.

You have to pay for it. It’s just another tactic, alongside display ads, email marketing and everything else.

That doesn’t stop the hype cycles. Twitter growth is flat, but marketers still worry about it like it’s the same powerhouse as before.

Companies still measure by metrics like followers and “Likes,” when it’s obvious those don’t actually mean anything for the bottom line.

The only thing that changes faster than technology is mass popularity. Instagram has a bigger active user base than Twitter. Snapchat is catching up.

The blog home page and the website aren’t destinations anymore; people are coming in from individual blog posts. People are watching videos and GIFs and using messaging apps instead of email.

All of this is happening, but most marketers are so heads-down that they haven’t taken the time to look up and see what’s happening. They’re still sharpening their blades on the cutting-edge tactics of 2012.

“Mobile” and “social” aren’t channels anymore. They’re behaviors.

Seeking Permanence In Community

It’s 2016. There’s no such thing as “the Big Three” when it comes to social networks.

There are no linear paths for customers, and there is no defined set of channels you can connect with them. Today, there are dozens. In another five years, there will be hundreds ranging across wearables, the Internet of Things and virtual reality devices.

These channels will always be used by some, but never all of your customers.

The trend is not “Facebook” or “Snapchat” or “blogging” — it’s relationship-building and community-building.

So how can you adapt? By actively pulling in your community, not passively waiting for them to engage.

At Bitly, my employer, we’ve been doing that by ramping up our co-marketing initiatives with HubSpot, AdRoll, Buffer and others. We’ve started actively talking to our customers and featuring them in blog posts, social content and e-books.

We’ve also tapped into our influencer network. And this doesn’t have to be a Kardashian-level effort.

At Bitly, we recently interviewed 20 social media influencers about what they thought was going to happen in 2016. By featuring them on our blog, we helped promote their personal brands, and they helped promote the blog post.

At the rate of change today, there’s no way marketing teams will ever grow fast enough to scale for all of the different channels available to our audiences. That’s why we need to stop for a second and look around.

People aren’t tweeting the same way. They’re not using Facebook the same way. They’re constantly flipping through apps for 30-second blips.

Every moment is a moment to connect with them. But you’ll need help from other businesses, other influencers and other people to do it.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Blaise Lucey
Blaise Lucey is Head of Global Content at Criteo. Having worked both on the agency and brand side, he has built content programs from the ground up for Fortune 500 companies and start-ups alike and is passionate about bringing great content to life.

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