7 Ways to Measure Engagement (in a World of Fake Followers)


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The digital world is filled with opportunities to buy fans, followers and empty engagement. For brands trying to determine where to put limited paid social dollars, it’s tough to cut through the clutter and reach actual humans in a meaningful way. So what do you do?

To assuage these fears that are draining the advertising budgets of marketers across every industry, I will be writing a series of articles that offer practical, actionable advice on how to measure and increase engagement with key audiences. If you’ve been struggling to calm your director of marketing, convert warm leads to customers, or even just deepen your relationships with the customers you have, this series is for you.

Simply put,

We need a new way to measure engagement.

To set you up with some action steps, I’ll be guiding you through the method that my agency, CatalystCreativ, uses to improve engagement for our clients.

We had countless brands coming to us, asking us to “improve engagement” or “engage new audiences”. But what does that even mean?

Judging the depth of someone’s relationship with a brand can hardly be done via quantitative methods alone (your standard calculation using likes, shares and comments). It became clear to us that our clients were using the wrong methods to understand an aspect of audience engagement that was entirely qualitative (audience sentiment, value alignment, integration of that brand into their everyday lives and conversations).

So we set out to build a new tool.

We wanted to create our own tool for measuring and improving engagement: one that had already proven wildly successful in an education setting. I originally developed the system during my thesis year at the University of Connecticut, based on the methods of renowned educational researchers Bangert-Drowns and Pyke.

Once firmly planted in the marketing space, I found that this approach to engagement was powerfully positioned to help brands understand:

  • Where their audience is
  • How to meet them there
  • Then, how to further engage them

That’s how we developed the Seven Levels of Engagement, a tool that CatalystCreativ has used to bolster the digital presences of brands who stake their reputations on customer relationships. Brands like Zappos, WeWork, the Oakland Raiders, Google, Sonos, NPR, New York City Ballet, Life is Beautiful Festival and more.

Judging the depth of someone’s relationship with a brand can hardly be done via quantitative methods alone (your standard calculation using likes, shares and comments).

Try it out for yourself

Whether you’re working to deepen your own brand’s engagement, or you’re looking to impress your agency’s clients, I invite you to test out the Seven Levels of Engagement method outlined below, and let me know the outcome.


While we always focus on the top four levels of engagement, understanding the bottom three is essential for figuring out why part of your audience is disconnected from your brand, and what might help move them up the pyramid.


This is indicated when the audience member is idle, avoiding the entire task or interaction with the brand.

What’s the gist? 

Contrary to popular belief, disengagement is actually a level of engagement. It’s definitely easier to ignore the disengaged person than try to get their attention, but if you connect with them in the right way, you can save that customer relationship.

What does it look like?

All too often, disengagement starts from the inside-out. We have worked with brands whose ENTIRE audience was in the Disengagement level because of a disconnect between their story and their offering, because their team was not properly communicating the brand narrative, or because their marketers were siloed from the rest of the organization.

What can you do?

Disengagement stems from foundational issues, and can’t be resolved by the most creative marketing campaigns or limitless ad dollars. It’s crucial to start by pinpointing the source and doing the internal work to face it head-on, instead of running away from a disengaged audience. They might just uncover issues that you didn’t realize are holding you back. To help clients do the difficult work of aligning their organization internally before marketing it externally, CatalystCreativ developed our Brand Acupuncture Workshop. This workshop gathers your team in the same room and creates alignment by correcting pain points that impact your marketing efforts. Learn more about our workshops here.


This occurs when audience members are confused about your organization’s values or messaging, and so have not decided to make an effort of setting a personal goal to connect with you more deeply.

What’s the gist?

This may seem obvious, but brands are all too prone to projecting a brand image that isn’t cohesive across channels, and the result is a confused audience in the Unsystematic Engagement level. If each piece of content you share across every digital channel doesn’t perfectly align with your brand’s greater image and values, your audience will see you as disconnected in your approach.

What does it look like?

The vitamins and supplements market is crowded with brands that use lofty language to describe their processes, so when we worked with SmartyPants Vitamins, CatalystCreativ developed a narrative around the “premium process” that was straightforward and easy to connect with. This ensured that no one left their social pages with a furrowed brow thinking, What were they talking about?!”

What can you do?

One of the best ways to ensure cohesive content and brand image is to use language that is easily understandable instead of jargon, and employ the “Unsystematic Engagement litmus test.” If an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old would both understand your message, you’ve passed the test. All else needs a rewrite.


Frustrated engagement is expressed when your audience understands the brand’s messaging and has a personal connection to the content, but is unable to complete the task (i.e volunteering, sharing or purchasing) due to distractions.

What’s the gist?

According to the American Marketing Association, we are exposed to 10,000 ads a day, and this fact alone can explain the third level of engagement. Frustrated Engagement has never been more of a challenge than it is today, with multitasking becoming the norm. We have our smartphones, iPads and computers all out and ready to simultaneously talk to our friends and family, read the news, share our most recent meal, etc, etc, etc. Of course we are frustrated! It is crucial to recognize a person in this state, because they care about your brand, but are being pulled in too many directions to follow through.

What does it look like?

When working to revitalize the website of WildAid, the world’s leading anti-poaching organization, we knew it was crucial that site visitors quickly recognized them as the industry leader among many competing nonprofits, understood their work and felt compelled to donate in a seamless UX. To set them apart from the competition, CatalystCreativ developed an experience that worked like a news platform, communicating their message so that visitors who wanted to go deeper with the brand would be pulled into further levels of engagement.

What can you do?

When working on a campaign or digital property, put all of your eggs in one basket. Develop creative campaigns that utilize all possible tactics (such as influencers, paid media, micro-influencers, organic content, PR, events), but most importantly, stick to one core message. By creating an experience that pulls numerous levers with one clear call to action, you can navigate the murky waters of too many marketers going after only so much mindspace. 

Now that you understand the bottom three levels of engagement, you should have plenty of work to do before moving on to champion the top four levels. Look out for my next article, which will give you more resources to start knocking it out of the park with your most engaged audience members.

Amanda Slavin

Amanda Slavin

Amanda Slavin (listed on Forbes 30 Under 30 for Marketing/Advertising and Levo 100) is an engagement and marketing expert as well as the CEO/Founder of CatalystCreativ, an experiential marketing agency that's focused on helping brands and institutions flourish by developing educational and inspirational experiences. CatalystCreativ is funded by Zappos CEO and venture capitalist Tony Hsieh as part of the Downtown Project. Slavin and CatalystCreativ have worked with brands such as NPR, Dell, Coca Cola, The New York City Ballet and Starwood Hotels. CatalystCreativ’s most recent project includes bringing the NFL Raiders to Las Vegas.