When many business owners and marketers first start social media marketing, they are shocked to see how hard it is to get people to like and comment on content. Some can become discouraged that their posts don't have the hundreds of likes that larger brands have. The secret is... the major brands have low engagement rates too. Engaged fans usually make up around 1 percent of a brand's audience on social media. This isn't as bad as it sounds and though engaged fans are rare, they are important. 

To say the largest brands have low engagement rates isn't conjecture. According to a report from AdAge, the engagement rate for the top 200 brands on Facebook was an average 1.4 percent. The same holds true for Twitter. Though more anecdotal than empirical, a quick analysis of one popular channel found that the engagement rate on their World Cup tweets were between 1.4 and 2.6 percent. The best place to see this 1 percent in action is on YouTube, since everyone can see the number of views and the number of likes. A 1 percent engagement rate is the average for most videos, with extremely popular videos doing better than 5 percent. The reason why large brands seem to have so much engagement is that they're paying to have their content shown to a lot more people.

Though 1 percent may seem low, it's important to remember that all mass media channels have relatively low engagement rates. The simple truth is that even when people enjoy the content they've consumed, few are willing to take the extra step to tell the content creator how much they enjoyed it. Of all the people who read a newspaper, very few will write a letter to the editor. TV and radio advertisers would tickled pink if 1 percent of their audience told them they liked a commercial. Social media does make it easier than ever for people to engage with the content they consume, but there's no reason to think that making it easy will make people more inclined to be engaged with brands and advertisers than they were before social media.

Business owners and marketers shouldn't be too worried if their engagement rate is near 1 or 2 percent, and they should be thankful when the rate is greater than 3 percent. That said, there are ways that marketers can encourage more engagement on their social media channels by using the best mix of content and using some information on consumer habits online.

For most social media channels, at least all the ones that have been studied so far, images drive the most engagement. Earlier this year, Statista released a distribution of user engagement with brand posts on Facebook in the fourth quarter of 2013 which found that images were by far the most popular kind of post, followed by videos. An analysis released by Twitter also found that images and videos drive retweets. This isn't to say that other types of posts aren't effective, or that every post needs an image. A mixture of high-quality content is always the best tactic for social media marketing.

Engagement is important but what matters most is how much reach the content gets. Like other marketing channels, the success of a social media campaign isn't determined by the number of people who say they like the content but by the number of people who see and internalize the message. If a post is seen by 2,000 people and 20 people like the post, the large increase in brand awareness is what marketers should be noticing.

There is a value to courting the elusive 1 percent that make up engaged fans. Multiple studies have noted that modern consumers use things like reviews and likes to gauge the value of a product or brand. In the above example, the 2001st person to see the post would be more likely to view the brand favorably since they can see that 20 other people had already liked the brand's content. Additionally, on platforms like Facebook, consumer engagement exponentially increases the reach of content. Since Facebook began reducing the organic reach of business pages earlier this, engagement is the only way to get any large number of people to see a post besides using paid promotion.

In the end, engagement is an important metric that marketers should pay attention to, but they shouldn't have unrealistic expectations for the engagement rate of any content on a social media network. As wonderful as social networks are for marketing, they don't change the nature of consumers. Even when people see content they like, only a certain few will make the effort to engage with the content through liking, sharing or commenting. Marketers must be careful not to let an obsession with engagement blind them to other priorities. There are good reasons to pay attention to the less than 10 percent of fans who are engaged, but not at the expense of the other 90 percent.