Engagement vs. Consumption: the Facebook Dilemma

Engagement vs. Consumption: the Facebook Dilemma


One of the mysteries that have been long unsolved in Social Media Analytics (and on Facebook marketing in general) is the difference between content consumption and content engagement, and the difference between Consumers and Engaged Users. It's been a matter of debate among big and respected consultants, analysts, and so-called 'gurus'. Now, I've had a look and thought, why not solve this mystery myself? Well, ladies and gentlemen - I have solved the mystery. Read through...

First of all, let's get clear on the definition of what Facebook calls a Story (to read more on what a story is, click here). Simply put,

A story is an item that is displayed in your News Feed or News Ticker.

So, when you see "Ben likes Paul's status", you're seeing a story that Ben created; when you see "Ben commented on Mark's picture", you're seeing another story that Ben created. However, not all interactions between Ben and your Facebook Page will create a story. For instance, if you publish a video and Ben watches it, none of Ben's friends will know; if you post the link to your website and Ben clicks through, none of Ben's friends will know.

Now that we're clear on that, let's get on the 'dilemma' bit.

If you own a Facebook Page (and I'll assume that most people who have read this far DO own a Facebook page), you're familiar with the word "Engagement", a word that's mentioned very often, as a metric, as a KPI, as a trophy if yours is higher than your competitors'. However, if you do export data from Facebook Insights, you'll notice that there's actually no such metric called 'engagement'. One metric that comes close, though, is Engaged Users, which is next to 2 metrics: Consumers and Consumption.

Now, the question is, what is the difference between engagement and consumption?

Up until mid-2012, the answer was quite straightforward: engagement was the number of interactions that resulted in a story being created; consumption was the number of interactions in total, regardless of whether they resulted in a story or not. Hence, consumption would end up being equal to or higher than engagement. This is confirmed by an article written by Josh Constine, a technology journalist currently writing for TechCrunch. In his article, Josh highlights that Consumptions is "the number of people who clicked on any of your content without generating a story", as defined by Facebook.

That was back in 2011. That is definitely no longer the case. Here's why.

Taking a look at a Post-level data export, you can see in the first tab (called 'Key Metrics') the definition of Consumption as "the number of clicks anywhere in your post. Clicks generating stories are included in "Other Clicks."".

We can find these "Other Clicks" when we open the "Lifetime Post Consumptions" tab. Here's what we get (click on the pictures to view full size):

facebook post consumptions tab

So this takes us to the conclusion that:

Consumptions = Link Clicks + Photo Views + Video Plays + Other Clicks (some of which do generate stories)

This is a great change for Facebook, which used to consider Consumptions as the sum of any clicks that don't generate any stories.

However, here's where the confusion ensues:

  • Facebook defines Engaged Users as "the number of people who clicked anywhere in your posts".
  • Facebook defines Consumers as "the number of people who clicked anywhere in your post".
  • While the two definitions are pretty much the same, the number of Engaged Users is always higher than, or equal to, the number of Consumers.

So, here's the dilemma:

  • What's the difference between Engaged Users and Consumers?
  • What's the difference between Engagement and Consumption?

Not a lot of people have noticed this dramatic change in definition, and I've only found one person who has done his best to break down the difference between the two: Jon Loomer, a digital marketing consultant with a unique perspective on social media. In his article from March 2013 he highlights this chance and tries to break down the (confusing) definitions that Facebook has given those metrics, while trying to give some clear definitions. However, there are quite a few inaccuracies in his article, which tries to break down these definitions with a best guess, as Jon himself puts it.

Till date, no one's been able to give a clear-cut definition of those 4 metrics, while explaining the seemingly paradoxical differences between them.

Until today.

Breaking Down The Elements

First of all, let's see the official definitions of the four metrics we're dealing with:

  • Engaged Users: the number of people who have clicked anywhere on your post.
  • Consumers: the number of people who clicked anywhere in your post (whether they create a story or not).
  • Consumption: the number of clicks anywhere in your post (whether they create a story or not).

The fourth metric is Engagement. By logic, Consumption is a produce of Consumers, the same way that Engagement is a produce of Engaged Users. That is the version that most marketers stick to when asked what the difference between the two is.

The actual answer is on the new Facebook Insights. When you click on the Posts panel, you'll see a breakdown of reach, clicks and more details. When you look at the options for Engagement, you'll see the following...

engagement in facebook insights

Engagement: the sum of post clicks, post likes, post comments and post shares.

But that's not all: when you click on the dropdown to select what to show under the Engagement column, here are the options you have:

facebook post engagement

So, that means that the actual definition of Engagement (according to Facebook) is:

Engagement: the sum of post clicks, likes, comments, shares, post hides, hides of all posts, reports of spam, and page unlikes from a post.

Now, after reading the definition of Facebook Engagement, you can see that it sounds very, very similar to Consumption ("the number of clicks anywhere in your post (whether they create a story or not)."). This makes it hard to differentiate between the two.

To get to the bottom of this we need to look at the numbers - time to delve in the Facebook data exports.

Looking at the Data

Let's look back at how Facebook defines Consumptions in the data exports:

"The number of clicks anywhere in your post. Clicks generating stories are included in "Other Clicks.""

The latter part is what we're going to focus on for now:

"Clicks generating stories are included in "Other Clicks"".

Here's what we find in the Consumptions tab:

post consumptions

Now, let's add the number of stories generated for each of those posts as a separate column and let's make things visually clearer.

breakdown of consumption

graphical representation stacked area graph

Here are a few observations that we can safely make:

  • 'Other stories' does not equate to post stories.
  • Post stories are just a percentage of Other Clicks (using the sample in the table and the graph above, post stories only constitute to between 10% and 30%).
  • Most Other Clicks are not interactions that generate stories (so no likes, comments and shares) or photo views or video views or click-throughs.

So, the question is: now that we know that some of the Other Clicks are interactions that generate stories, what are the remaining 'Other Clicks'?

The answer is not in the data export but in the new Facebook Insights (again).

When you open up a page post in the new Facebook Insights, you get this post view, with a breakdown of people reached and how people consumed your content:

post view in facebook insights

You may have noticed an "i" after Other Clicks. Hovering over it you get this pop-up:

other clicks

So, besides clicks that generate stories, what makes up the Other Clicks are clicks not on the content of the post, such as page title clicks, or clicks to "see more".

What does that mean?

These are the Other Clicks that are not on the actual post content but on the post layout. Look at the following Facebook post:

facebook post

While you're the one who controls the content that goes in the post layout, the actual framework/layout  is controlled by Facebook. Any clickable link within this framework makes up the rest of the Other Clicks. So, with the example above in mind, that includes (working our way from the bottom to the top):

  • clicking on the date link ('last Wednesday' under the link preview), which takes you to the unique URL of the post
  • clicking on the number of likes, which gives you a list of people who have liked the post
  • clicking the number of comments, which gives you a list of people who have commented the post
  • clicking on the number of shares, which gives you a list of people who have shared the post
  • clicking on 'see more', which opens up the remaining texts (unless you're on mobile, where tapping on 'see more' takes you to the actual post)
  • hovering over the top right corner you'll see a 'v' - clicking that gives you the options to hide the post, mark/report the post as spam, embed the post or follow the post
  • clicking in the comment box without actually commenting (commenting will turn that click into a story)
  • clicking on a user profile's link
  • clicking on a link that's part of a comment
  • clicking on the page title (clicking on 'Treehouse')
    • Bear in mind that when you hover over 'Treehouse' and you get the hovercard, clicking on any items on the hovercard is not part of consumption as it's not a click on the original post.

treehouse hovercard

Still, that doesn't answer our last question:

If Consumers do much more than Engaged Users, why are there more Engaged Users than Consumers?

Let's look at another post, this time from Simply Measured.

simply measured post

Now, if I asked you "how many comments did this post get?", what would you reply?

If you answered 5 then I take it you added Dorrit's comment,'s comment, and since there are 3 hidden replies, perhaps you added those 3.

Let's take a look at another post, and this time let's look at how Facebook answers that question too:

bt post on facebook insight

You can see 2 comments and since at the bottom you read "view 38 more comments" you'll choose to add 38 to 2. But then you also see "3 replies" and "2 replies". So is the answer 45?

Yet, if you look at the top, Facebook says this particular post received 38 likes and 40 comments. Facebook Insight confirms this:

facebook insights

So, why are those replies not counted? Simple - because those are not comments. Those are not even 'threaded comments', though they've been unofficially labelled that way by most websites and marketers alike. Those are replies.

So, Facebook only counts comments, not the replies that they get. And it also looks like (dare I say) Facebook has forgotten to include replies as part of engagement in Facebook Insights. That's a more obvious omission, but you may also notice that likes of comments and likes of replies are NOT included as part of engagement either.

This brings us to our conclusion - what we call engagement is not what Facebook calls engagement, and while consumers seem to do more than engaged users, engaged users actually do a LOT more, though unfortunately Facebook doesn't currently provide that data.

I'll explain:

Facebook looks at what you post and looks at two aspects of it: the consumption of the post and engagement of the content:

  • Consumption: how was the content you posted consumed?
    • Consumers consume the content that you publish, by clicking on any items on the actual post; these clicks, Consumption, may result in Stories, depending on what is clicked (video play versus post comment).
  • Engagement: how did users engage with your post?
    • Engaged Users engage with your content - some of them engage on your content, by clicking on items on the post (passive engagement) or  while others go within, performing actions such as posting a reply to spark conversations, while others just like a reply or a comment, or click to see more replies.

By adding another layer, Facebook is telling us how it looks at what you publish - it's a post if you want to take a look at the quantitative side of things, and it's content if you want to take a look at the qualitative side of things.

Perhaps this is why Facebook doesn't give us the full number of all the engagement that goes on around your content, while giving us a full picture of how that post is being consumed. (More on breaking down your posts and content in another article...)

The Definitions of Consumption, Consumer and Engaged User

In a nutshell, here are the clear-cut definitions of Consumption, Consumer, and Engaged User:

  • Consumption is any click that takes place on the main post layout/framework, whether it creates a story or not; those who create such Consumption are called Consumers.
  • Engaged Users are those users who engage with your content, be it by clicking on the main post layout/framework (Consumers) or by clicking below it, in the comments section.

Here's the answer to the dilemma in one simple Skitch illustration, showing you where the clicks come from for Engaged Users and Consumers:

engaged users versus consumers


While this solves the mystery that we've solved after over 1,850 words, it brings up a question: what IS engagement?

While Facebook makes available data on consumers and consumption, Facebook doesn't give us the full picture (or at least a number) when it comes to real engagement - not just people who consume, but also people who act with the new features they've introduced, such as replies and liking those replies (let's not forget commenting with pictures etc.).

In my opinion, this is an oversight on Facebook's part, who should've had tools and metrics ready for marketers to measure the performance of the new features they rolled out to Facebook Pages. Additionally, it's misleading for Facebook to group all clicks that make up Consumption and list it under Engagement, especially since it doesn't list all the other clicks that constitute "Engagement" - what about the replies? What about the likes of comments? And what about the likes of replies?

engagement in facebook insights

Having said that, I'm noticing the new refined and polished Facebook Insights, which is miles ahead of the older version, and this is constantly being refined. However, the data exports remain the same, while the change in metrics aren't explicitly communicated (e.g. the change of definition of the Consumers and Consumption metrics in mid-2012).

It would be easy to blame it all on Facebook (in all fairness, giving the same definition to two metrics that are oh so similar isn't very helpful). However, at the same time it's the responsibility of each Page Owner to keep abreast of what goes on not only on their pages but also behind the scenes - are you personally familiar with Facebook Insights? Can you accurately measure the engagement rate if you were asked to provide that? [If not, click here.] Are you familiar with the meanings of the various metrics you see in the data exports? Do you know what's the latest in the EdgeRank? Or do you think EdgeRank still exist? [If you replied no the first question and/or replied yes to the second question, read here.]

I guess what I'm saying is - challenge convention. As an analyst, challenging convention is not a part of my job - it's the whole attitude I take on my job. This shouldn't be an analyst-only trait, but the trait of anyone who works in digital marketing - Social Media, SEO, eCommerce, you name it. Challenge convention and get  the real data - or as Jon Loomer would put it,

"This is real data here, people. This is actionable data that means something."

Reach, Audience and Impressions - on Twitter and Beyond

Reach, Audience and Impressions - on Twitter and Beyond

Definition of Facebook Story