Report: Rival IQ's social media industry benchmarks

Report: Rival IQ's social media industry benchmarks

A guest post by Seth Bridges, the founder and Head of Product and Marketing at Rival IQ, a social media analytics software company in Seattle, Washington.

By Seth Bridges

Earlier this year, my team at Rival IQ published our annual Social Media Industry Benchmark Report, an in-depth look at the performance of owned social media from 1,800 brands across 12 industries from around the world. Just as we have in the past, we analyzed the median engagement rates and activity levels for these brands on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Overall, we found that social media engagement for brands across all industries remains highest on Instagram, with Facebook and Twitter following much further behind. In past years’ reports (2018, 2017), we’ve seen the consistent performance differences between the three channels, with Instagram out in front and Facebook and Twitter continuing to fall behind in organic engagement.

Even though our results were generally in line with the engagement we’ve seen in years past, the community came out in droves to discuss the implications. Brands and agencies were surprised to see dips organic engagement across the board and were very ready to connect with their fellow social media strategists about it online.

Before I get too far ahead of myself with reactions, let’s jump into the data.

Understanding the numbers in this study

Before we continue, I want to clarify how we measure engagement rate and why we think it's important for brands to pay attention to. We define engagement rate as the average engagements (reactions, comments, shares, retweets, likes) per follower on a per post basis. Given that every single follower for a brand does not see every post, this engagement rate number is a combined measure of the content quality and reach, organic or otherwise.

Engagement rate is an important equalizer when measuring engagement from brands of different sizes: by dividing the number of engagements by follower count, you can compare performance against a group of competitors regardless of the absolute number of fans and followers.

Likewise, there are other ways to measure engagement that we didn’t include in this study, like post clicks, video views, and replies on Twitter. Sadly, we face some limitations as to what’s publicly available the Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter APIs. To make the most of these benchmarks, spin up your own engagement rate using the formula above (or a handy free tool) to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.

Facebook engagement declined

In this year’s report on Facebook, we see that the median brand’s per-post engagement rate has declined to 0.09%, down significantly from last year where the number was 0.16%. No other channel's engagement changed so drastically, and this drop in Facebook engagement from 2018 to 2019 was a huge source of the uproar we mentioned above.

In the graph above, we see the engagement rate broken down by industry, with an average of 0.09%. You’ll notice that about half of the industries are sitting around the 0.12% mark and the other half is substantially lower, at 0.08% or lower. From a posting volume perspective, the median brand posts about seven times per week on Facebook, or once a day.

Some of the top performing industries include alcohol, nonprofits, sports teams, and higher education, while the industries that performed worst were fashion, health & beauty, and media.

The low average engagement rate we see for brands on Facebook is certainly impacted by low organic reach (which is defined as the number of unique users that see a post). However, I do believe that it’s too easy to blame organic reach for the entirety of this number. Facebook has evolved its algorithm to prioritize posts that create engagement on Facebook rather than those whose aim is to drive people off of Facebook.

Brands that consistently produce high-quality posts that create conversation and sharing on Facebook will see higher reach. Posting high volumes of content will also reduce the per-post engagement averages, and that is certainly a driver for the low numbers we see in Media.

To see examples of live benchmarks from top-performing brands from the report, check out alcohol, higher ed, and nonprofits.

Instagram engagement is stable and relatively high

Instagram is a substantially different animal from Facebook, and we see that in the average engagement rate numbers. In this year’s report, the median brand’s per-post engagement was 1.60%, down only slightly from last year’s number of 1.73%.


Looking at the graph above, we see the by-industry breakdown of engagement rates for Instagram. Here, the distribution looks different than what we observed on Facebook: there is less of a high/low split, and there are a few clear outliers. The average brand posts about 5 times per week, about 30% below the 7 times per week we see on Facebook. Despite Instagram's dominance in engagement, brands are still focusing their efforts more on other channels.

Among the top industry performers higher ed is a clear standout, and their posts earn an almost 4% engagement rate. Nonprofits and sports teams are also well above average at about 2.40%.

The worst performers on Instagram look similar to what we see on Facebook, with Fashion and Health & Beauty bringing up the bottom with engagement rates under 1%.

There are a number of factors we see driving the higher engagement rates for brands on Instagram. First, organic reach for Instagram posts is still quite high when compared with Facebook. In a report on Instagram we published last year, we saw average organic reach at 20% or above for brands. Second, the platform has never had a way to drive users off platform directly from posts, so brands are rewarded for creating content on Instagram that focuses more on the quality of the posts themselves and not the off-platform landing page they were promoting.

Twitter engagement is stable but low

In this year’s benchmark report, the median brand’s per-tweet engagement rate increased slightly to 0.048%, up from last year where the number was 0.046%.

In the graph above, we see most industries clustering around the average performance, with a few notable outliers. Once again alcohol and higher ed are among the top performers along with nonprofits and hotels & resorts. Media’s engagement rate is well below average, certainly owing to the high level of posting in that industry, at 75 tweets per week. As a point of comparison, the median brand in our study published only six tweets a week.

Though the average engagement rates for Twitter are the lowest in this study, I believe that Twitter isn’t a lost cause for brands. Twitter is still a powerful place where individuals can interact with brands of any size, and customer support has certainly become a common use case for Twitter as well.  But perhaps more than anything, encouraging your leaders and employees to engage your community using their own handles can be an amazing way to create real connections between people.

Top industries from this year’s report

Looking across the three channels we studied this year, a few industries stand out as top performers, including higher ed, nonprofits, and sports teams. Though the specifics for each industry are slightly different, in each case, we see that the best social media teams in these industries are focusing on telling stories that connect with our emotions.

Top examples posts from higher ed

Top examples posts from higher ed

In our Higher Ed landscape, we see that the best teams are publishing content about on-campus milestones and celebrating the successes of students/staff. Both of these kinds of content resonate with students, alums, and staff, creating huge engagement.

Top examples posts from nonprofits

Top examples posts from nonprofits

As mission-driven organizations, nonprofits create connections with their communities by publishing content that shows their behind-the-scenes efforts to make a positive change in the world. Like higher ed, nonprofits create high levels of engagement by showcasing the stories of the people who are doing the work and the outcomes they achieve.

Top examples posts from sports teams

Top examples posts from sports teams

It’s perhaps no surprise that the sports teams in our study generate huge social engagement among their fans. From covering recent wins to endless loops of big plays, the social teams that support these professional athletes and their organizations know what their fans like.

There are a few more industries that earn honorable mentionsa including alcohol and hotels & resorts. When we look at what drives top performers in these industries, it’s the content that isn’t product-focused. Hotels & Resorts do best with images and stories that evoke the feeling of being somewhere else, of traveling, and of enjoying the food, weather, and surroundings. Similarly alcohol brands find the most success when trying to evoke a positive feeling you might associate with their products, like the relaxation of a beach and a drink or a night out with friends. Other types of successful alcohol-related content include indirect product usage, for example sharing recipes that include their products as an ingredient.

Since brands of any size can benefit from seeing top-performing example content, check out up-to-date examples of top-performing content from these industries and more using Rival IQ’s collection of live social media benchmarks.

Opportunities for organic social media engagement

As we’ve discussed, organic reach has a huge impact on impressions and engagement on social media. Given that Instagram’s organic post reach is still above 20% and that Instagram continues to add and adjust formats such as Stories and IGTV, investing in and experimenting with Instagram is key.

With Facebook and Twitter, the organic reach numbers are lower than on Instagram, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find social media success there too. However, your strategy on both of these platforms needs to have a heavy focus on publishing native content that is meant to engage your audience while on platform. As Facebook continues to evolve their formats like Stories and Watch, keep your eye on new ways to publish that might be a match for your brand. Since your aim should be to match

On Twitter, it’s time to focus on contributing to actual conversations and engaging with customers and fans who are talking about you. And since so many Twitter users head there first when looking for support from brands, being quick to help a customer in need is an ever-present opportunity to create a positive brand interaction. As I mentioned above, any member of your team can support and advocate for your brand on Twitter. The more you encourage this kind of participation, the more your customers and audience can get a feel for real the people behind the brand which will ultimately help boost engagement and trust.

For even more benchmarks, read and download the full 2019 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report. If you’re looking for more ways to benchmark your social performance, check out live social media benchmarks from each of the industries we studied, and compare your social performance on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using our free social media analytics tools.

About Rival IQ

Rival IQ is an easy-to-use social media analytics tool that helps you understand your social landscape, gain competitive insight, and simplify your access to data. Social media marketers from hundreds of brands and agencies around the world trust Rival IQ to track their social media efforts, monitor competitors, and benchmark their performance.

About the author

Seth “Doc” Bridges is the co-founder of the social media analytics provider Rival IQ where he leads Product and Marketing. He’s focused his work over the past decade on helping others make sense of data, and he’s right at home helping digital marketers use data more effectively. Follow him on Twitter @seth_bridges or send him a note via email.

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