The Right Social Media Metrics Are Different For Every Business

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Amber Naslund, senior director of industry leadership at Hootsuite.

Many businesses struggle to measure their social media efforts. For most, the trouble starts right at the beginning: What, exactly, should we be measuring?

The right metrics can make or break a company’s measurement discipline since they’re the backbone of the story it is trying to tell through data. Metrics can show whether social media programs are effective and the investment justified. And, most importantly, are these programs contributing to businesses’ success?

The best metrics for measuring social media are difficult to define because they’re going to be different for every business. Strong, useful metrics can only be derived from clear, measurable goals. And the best social media metrics aren’t based on social media goals – they’re based on business goals, with the social media programs aligning underneath.

For example, a company’s business goal may be to increase the sales of a business unit by 15% by the end of the third quarter.

In contrast, a social media goal might be to execute an organic and paid social marketing campaign across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that drives 4,500 marketing qualified leads by the end of the third quarter.

Notice the social media goal supports the business goal; we’re using social media as a demand generation mechanism.

Having clear goals and objectives is critical to determining the metrics companies need to track their progress.

But measurement and tracking is human-resource intensive, so companies must also ensure they have people they can dedicate to set up and regularly assess measurement frameworks and stay on top of changes to social network data, technology integrations and infrastructure that may impact their measurement capabilities, such as security and data privacy requirements.

Think Compound Metrics, Not Linear

If companies are frustrated that their social media metrics don’t seem to be providing real insights, chances are they’re looking at them in a bit of a vacuum.

It’s not true that “vanity” metrics, such as followers, views or downloads, don’t have value. They do, but to realize it, they must be paired with business KPIs to draw correlations and patterns.

Social media has the greatest impact in three key areas of business: brand awareness, sales acceleration and customer service and satisfaction. Social media programs should reflect that, as should the metrics.

For example, the number of followers a company has on its Instagram account signals the potential audience reach for a single post, though algorithms make it such that only a fraction of that audience is ever realized. But once a company reaches these followers, so what?

Here are examples of some metrics a company may use depending on its business goal:

Brand building: tracking if followers engage elsewhere; users’ email subscriptions or content consumption on other platforms; likelihood of followers attending offline events.

Sales acceleration: tracking which followers initiate a purchase or decision-making journey; number of followers who ask for more information or download coupons; followers’ purchases.

Customer servicetracking followers’ satisfaction with a company’s products and services; followers’ use of social media channels to reach a company; improved net promoter scores.

Any or all those correlations can be valuable to a business, depending on what it is trying to achieve. But the potential reach metric on its own is just a number that says nothing. Turn them into compound metrics, however, and we have something interesting. For example:

  • Number of followers that alsowatched a webinar
  • Number of post shares that alsoresulted in demo requests
  • Number of podcast subscribers that alsoreturn high net promoter scores

Keep It Simple And Iterate

It can be tempting for social media professionals to try and track everything, but that’s a recipe for failure.

It’s labor-intensive and complex, and the shifting data landscape make it nearly impossible to keep up. It’s also not necessary to get strong business insights.

For each strategic-level goal, no more than three to five core metrics need to be tracked to evaluate progress. Those metrics will vary, but if the goals are clear and actionable, it will be obvious which metrics should be tracked for success.

However, remember the cardinal rule of measurement: Measuring something is not the goal. The report isn’t the destination. Measurement is merely a tool to determine what companies need to do or stop doing to make progress.

Complex measurement programs don’t often make that easy, so companies are much better off selecting a handful of measurements they can track with strong benchmarks, clearly and consistently. Over time, they can determine whether they need to adjust those metrics, get more granular or track something entirely different.

With some careful consideration and alignment to business goals, any company can find the right social media metrics that lead to success.

Follow Hootsuite (@hootsuite) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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