The Engagement Illusion: When Likes Lie and Shares Deceive

Are your campaigns getting plenty of likes, shares, and comments but not changing anyone’s mind? You’re not alone. In the digital age, it’s easy to mistake online engagement for effective persuasion. Any campaign or advocacy effort needs both, but you must measure them differently.

Since platforms for delivering advertising like Facebook or YouTube report engagement metrics like views, clicks, and shares, it’s tempting to consider those the sole signs of the success of your communications campaign. After all, these are easy to track and report, and they show that your content is getting attention and interest from your audience. But are these metrics really indicative of persuasion? Do they reflect how your content is changing the attitudes, beliefs, intentions, or behaviors of your audience? Or are they just measuring the popularity or reach of your content?

In this post, we’ll demystify the concepts of engagement and persuasion, show you how they intersect, and most importantly, guide you on how to measure and enhance the persuasive power of your communications.


What is engagement?

Engagement is about capturing people’s attention with your content. Do they want to interact with your content? Do they care about what you’re saying? Do they feel like participants in your story? 

People often find content engaging if it aligns with their existing beliefs. Maybe it aligns with their identity, makes them laugh, or activates their sense of right and wrong. Once engaged, they find it easy to sit and watch your video, click through, share, or comment.


What is persuasion?

Persuasion is about changing people’s minds. Does your message shift their attitudes or beliefs? Do they integrate something from your message into their worldview?

Persuasive messaging must include points that the target audience doesn’t yet agree with. Since the goal of persuasion is changing minds, we need the audience not only to engage with the content, we need them to consider it and integrate its message into their views. 


Why persuade?

Engagement takes people who already agree with you and encourages them to take action. Persuasion is about increasing the number of people who agree with you or support your cause. Typically, a winning campaign needs to both engage its current supporters and also grow its number of supporters. Even with existing supporters, you may often need to persuade them to take action. They may support your cause passively, but your job is to change their mind and get them to support more actively.

If your message simply engages without persuading, you risk stalling out on the progress you can make and simply deepening the existing dividing lines.


The relationship between engagement and persuasion

Engagement and persuasion are linked but distinct. You need to engage your audience to have a chance of persuading them. If your content is something that people immediately look away from, skip over, ignore, or otherwise reject, you’re not able to deliver a message at all. But the fact that people engage with your content doesn’t necessarily indicate that it’s successfully persuading them. 

Effective persuasion captures attention and delivers a compelling message that aligns with the audience’s values, emotions, or beliefs. Persuasion also often requires a deep understanding of the audience’s needs, values, motivations, and barriers. This is where Grow Progress’s tools come in handy.


How to measure and improve

To understand what’s motivating your audience on a given issue, research is often necessary. There are many ways to conduct this kind of research, like using focus groups, online journaling, or public opinion polling. 

Grow Progress offers affordable Audience Understanding surveys to help surface the values and feelings people have about your issue, candidate, or content, helping you focus on what’s holding back the people who don’t agree with you. Audience Understanding surveys give you a first-hand view of how people think, feel, and talk about a given issue, and surface ideas on how to connect with persuadables.

Rapid Message Tests are purpose-built to measure the persuasive impact of your content. These tests reveal which messages or ads are truly effective at shifting opinions. Before launching any campaign, you can use Rapid Message Tests to gather solid evidence of your messages’ persuasive power.

These tools are used for message development research and complement traditional engagement metrics—such as views, clicks, and shares—reported by your ad platforms. Campaigns and advocacy groups should ideally deliver messages that are persuasive and engaging, so that they can successfully reach as many people as possible with messages that change minds. 

Using Audience Understanding surveys and Rapid Message Tests allows you to go beyond surface-level engagement, equipping you with the actionable insights needed for effective persuasion.



Understanding the nuances between engagement and persuasion is more than just academic; it’s a vital part of running effective campaigns and advocacy initiatives. While engagement metrics like views, clicks, and shares give you an idea of the reach and visibility of your message, they don’t necessarily translate to persuasion—the ultimate goal if you aim to change minds.

If you’re serious about maximizing the impact of your campaigns, you can’t afford to overlook the power of persuasion. It requires a deep understanding of your audience’s needs, values, and barriers, and often necessitates rigorous testing and research. Grow Progress’s Audience Understanding surveys and Rapid Message Tests offer actionable insights into what truly resonates with your target audience.

Ready to take your campaigns to the next level? Don’t leave your persuasive power to chance. Click here to schedule a demo of Grow Progress’s suite of tools and start measuring the real impact of your communications today.