Online Communities, is engagement weakening?

Is Social Media really helping brands to engage with online communities and generate revenue? As a tool for providing information, as a tool to communicate with your online community members or as a medium of advertisement?

As less as 48% of marketers believe that social media marketing results in a positive return on investment. Given the hype around it, the number seems glaringly low. If that wasn’t depressing enough, Forrester study found that top 50 global brands have a negligible engagement rate with their followers on social media with highest engagement rate being of 2.3% on Instagram (see table below for other social media platforms engagement rate)

forrester research

Where is the problem area?

According to a study by Heinonen (2013), factors weakening members’ online community engagement are; Irritation, Community Intimacy, Time, Community changes and Reliability. I believe the two most important ones amongst these are community changes (changes in the interface, change in the focus of online communities, etc.) and reliability mainly concerning to that of the information coming out of such communities or curated by users (maybe a bot) of these communities. Snapchat lost close to 3 million active users on its platform as it changed its interface. Users initially complained about the sudden change and when Snapchat didn’t react to it in time, users left. These indicate how brands lose community members and their subsequent engagement when social media platform unilaterally decides to make a big change to its interface. Imagine a brand having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, made a “Snapchat” strategy only to see its users leaving and a single celebrity tweet bringing down active users on the platform as well as costing Snapchat 1.7 Billion AUD!!

iphone with snapshot logo on screen
Photo by Tim Savage on

Reliability of information is perhaps the most stinging issue in current times. Time and again Facebook has been criticised for not vetting information that is published by individuals as well as brands thereby fast losing the trust of many of its users. Brands can buy fake reviews and ratings for their facebook page thus reducing the trust its members have in it. A simple google search reveals that agencies promise ‘organic reviews and ratings’; 200 5 star ratings for 60 USD. Another big issue with the reliability of information coming out of online communities on social media is fake news. Think fake news cannot lead to a catastrophe where innocents are killed purely on the basis of suspicion arising out of a fake video? Think again. In India, a fake WhatsApp video has resulted in more than 20 deaths so far. With this video being shared across groups (both personal networks and professional Whatsapp groups).

With such problems, it shouldn’t really be a surprise for brands when users curb their engagement in online communities because they are irked by the social media platforms where these communities are present. These are just 2 problem areas that I have discussed, as we dig deeper into other issues we realize that social media marketing and online communities engagement is nowhere as rosy/lucrative as it appears.

Do you see any tangible benefits arising out of your membership from such online communities?



Heinonen, K. 2013. “Consumer Engagement in Online Communities”, Service Excellence in Management, 13: 119-128.

5 thoughts on “Online Communities, is engagement weakening?

Add yours

    1. Thank you Devarshi. Even I was startled that fake news can lead to such consequences. It really is a case of misinformation being more destructive than no information at all.


  1. Good point about trust. Never thought from that angle. I always thought that people are just overwhelmed by so much information, so many pages, so many new feeds that it just affected the engagement.


  2. From brands’ perspective, social media engagement alone might not be giving exceptional results, but it is definitely a must-have medium in a brand’s communication arsenal. You surely want to ‘listen’ to what today’s socially active users have to say about their experience with you or your competitors, you need to engage even if it doesn’t translate into direct revenue – just because of the sheer reach and adoption that social media still has. It has become an essential tool which, at the least, has an indirect impact on your business metrics (by exploiting new opportunities or avoiding disasters).
    Though there is a decrease in user engagement but that is similar to other conventional mediums (mail, email, phone etc.). This could be viewed as the normalized trend after the initital hype.
    And lastly, a lot of brands still don’t have a proper social media strategy (its just putting out posts) which inturn is integrated to their core brand positioning and is consistent & evolving at the same time. A few brands that do this correctly continue to reap good results (eg. Netflix).
    Good to read about a different perspective! Keep writing.


  3. Interesting post! I agree that engagement is going down, do you think that this is also due to decreased attention spans that means people ‘lurk’ more and don’t stop to engage more and the number of fake accounts over different forms of social media that appear to increase reach but decrease the ratio engagement?


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