Social Media Metrics That Actually Matter

Social Media Metrics That Actually Matter

Let’s start off with a little startup heart-to-heart: building a business is hard work. It often involves long hours, thankless grunt work, and very little in the way of an immediate payoff. Moving the needle on the ‘big things’ -- customer acquisition, user retention, lead generation, etc. -- can take time, leaving you to go for long stretches without the satisfaction of immediate validation that comes from seeing your numbers move ‘up and to the right.’

For that reason, I’m not terribly surprised to see startups falling into the trap of using vanity metrics to measure their marketing -- but I am disappointed.

Looking at these sneaky metrics (ex: follower count) can really make an entrepreneur feel good -- “progress at last!” they think, as they eagerly plug these shiny new numbers into their latest investor report. The problem is that they're not actually a real indicator of progress or success. They merely give the illusion of success.

In this article, we’re going to help you cut through the BS and come out on the other side, equipped to measure and track the social media metrics that matter with precision and put a game plan in place to leverage the power of social to achieve tangible business goals.

Bonus! Download our exclusive list of 10 free tools to track the social media metrics that matter here.

The Ugly Side of Social Media Metrics

A few years ago, TechCrunch ran a piece titled Don’t Be Fooled by Vanity Metrics, which had one of the best and the simplest definitions that I’ve seen of what a ‘vanity metric’ is: “[metrics that] are easily manipulated, and do not necessarily correlate to the numbers that matter: active users, engagement, the cost of getting new customers, and ultimately revenues and profits.” These include:

  • Number of followers
  • Number of ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’
  • Page views
  • Comments and shares

A perfect example is the great Instagram shakedown of 2014, when spam accounts were removed from the platform, causing a near-universal drop in followers. Sure, a higher follower count might look great on paper, but if your goal is to promote sales of your product through the platform, and most of your followers aren’t real people with real money to spend, those inflated numbers don’t do anything for you.

Like I said, I understand the desire to lean on them when measuring the results of your social media marketing -- it can feel great. (And, it’s easy.) But remember that what feels good isn’t always what’s best for you, and sometimes what feels good can actually hurt you. These inferior metrics are particularly insidious, because they take your focus away from the real task at hand. Unfortunately, I believe that many startups get distracted by these ‘shiny objects’ precisely because they don’t know quite what the task at hand -- the ‘why’ and the goals behind their social media efforts -- is.

When you’re not clear on where you’re going, it’s awfully easy to get wildly lost.

Start (Over) With Why

If you have been relying on vanity metrics -- in whole or in part -- to measure the effectiveness of your social media presence, and have come to this article in search of a few new tactics that you can tack on to your existing measurement systems in the hope of making them more effective, I’ve got some bad news for you: it’s not going to work.

Why? Because you will be building on a shaky foundation, one that will not be able to support you as you grow. No matter how many tools, tips, or meaningful social media metrics that we share with you in this article, if you’re just tacking them on to an outdated strategy that emphasizes quick wins over real ROI, you’re not going to get very far.

Useful measurement starts with having the right mindset -- and that might require you to start (over) with why.

Social media is not an end, but a means. Vanity metrics is the ultimate case of losing the forest for the trees: focusing so closely on the success of the tactic that you forget that you’re working towards a bigger goal. In order to avoid this trap, it is essential that any new campaign or strategy be grounded in a specific business objective. That objective -- or ‘why’ -- becomes your accountability framework, forcing you to measure success against something clear and tangible.

At Onboardly, we’ve found that startups who come to us looking to grow their social presence have one or more of the following objectives in mind:

1. Awareness
2. Customer Acquisition
3. Relationship Building

Within these broad objectives, they often have smaller goals like establishing thought leadership, building relationships with influencers, or collecting customer feedback for development purposes. When you are identifying these goals and putting measurement systems in place to monitor your progress, it’s important to remember where social media falls in your broader sales funnel, and set realistic goals based on that. To illustrate, let’s use an example of a B2B business selling bookkeeping software with a sales funnel looks like this:

Tweet link to product webinar --> Sign up for webinar --> Take webinar --> Follow up with sales link --> Purchase

Social media falls pretty high in that sales funnel, so making the goal of your social efforts to increase sales by X% is a recipe for failure. Instead, a more reasonable goal would be to increase webinar signups by X%.

Even the most abstract objectives -- like ‘build relationships’ -- can be broken down into progressively smaller goals, each with its own ‘conversion’ point. That is where the meaningful metrics can be derived from.

From Goals to Measurable Metrics

“Okay,” you’re probably thinking at this point, “I can set goals, but with tools that can measure almost any data point I want, how do I pick the right ones for me?”

Enter a 2011 blog post written by Digital Marketing expert, Avinash Kaushik. In this article, Kaushik proposed a universal set of metrics that can be used across social platforms that would allow brands and businesses to better track and measure their engagement on social media. Although it’s ‘old’ by internet standards, it is still being used today by respectable companies like Buffer and Moz. While you may need to go deeper and add additional metrics to your measurement system as you develop your social presence, Kaushik’s system is a great jumping-off point to get you used to meaningful numbers.

Here is a breakdown of the four “engagement metrics” that Kaushik suggests monitoring and how they relate to the three most common social media goals for startups (awareness, customer acquisition, relationship building).

1. Conversation Rate

Although this might be a simple metric to track (Conversation Rate = # of Audience Comments (or Replies) Per Post), it is tremendously useful for measuring your progress towards the abstract objective of “building relationships.”

I would encourage you to go a step further than Kaushik’s metric and monitor your Conversation Rate separately for two different groups: your general community, and your influencers. This will likely require some manual measurement -- starting with an influencer list -- but it will be worth it when you can quantify your progress towards building relationships with influencers.

Your Conversation Rate is also indirectly tied to your customer acquisition goals, as social platforms are an important tool for nurturing your leads, answering questions about your product, or providing the kind of support that leads to user retention.

2. Amplification Rate

Much like Conversation Rate, Amplification Rate is a great metric for measuring something intangible like brand awareness. Simply put, it is the number of times a piece of content is shared (retweets on Twitter, shares on Facebook, reposts on Instagram, reblogs on Tumblr, etc.). As Kaushik explains, this is valuable information:

“As you post and tweet and you rock and you roll, measure what pieces of content (type) cause amplification (allow your social contributions to spread to your 2nd, or even 3rd, level network). Understand times and geo locations and topics and things. Then do more of the type that increase amplification.”

Amplification Rate is also good for monitoring the ROI of your relationship-building work with those influencers. Remember: an influencer is only an influencer for you when they share something of yours to a group over which they have influence.

3. Applause Rate

This is pretty much what it sounds like: the number of ‘endorsements’ that your post receives (‘likes’ on Facebook and Instagram, ‘favs’ on Twitter, ‘+1s’ on Google + etc.)

And now we need to acknowledge the elephant that just entered the room: you are probably thinking “hey, isn’t this a vanity metric?” The answer to that question depends on what you do with your Applause Rate. If you give it an occasional quick glance and use it as an ego boost, it’s definitely a pointless metric. But if you use it as a research tool to gather insight on what your community likes and doesn’t like, it becomes more valuable.

I will acknowledge that the Applause Rate was probably a truer indication of community sentiment when Kaushik first published his theory -- when organic reach for Facebook posts hadn’t yet been decimated and there were less people on Twitter, but it can still be a helpful gauge.

4. Economic Value

Hold on to your hats, because this is the most complicated of the four, but also the most exciting. This is where the objective of customer acquisition comes into play. Or, as Jay Baer says, the metric that measures the conversion from eyeballs to action.

Essentially, Economic Value is the sum total of the value of conversions that come from your social efforts. Kaushik breaks them down into two types of conversions: macro (sales, essentially) and micro (lead generation -- signups, downloads, etc.). For best results, create Google Analytics goals for each of your macro and micro conversion points. You’ll be able to measure your performance by referral source and more.

When considering Economic Value, I’ll remind you again to keep in mind where social media falls in your funnel. More often than not, social media lives near the top of the funnel, so setting goals that have specific dollar amounts attached to them doesn’t make much sense.

Where does social fall in your funnel?

You know the saying “what gets measured, gets managed”? That’s only true if you have a plan in place for managing what is getting measured. Metrics are not just a tool for observing what is, but for exploring what could be, with a few changes.

When setting up a goal-oriented measurement framework for your social media marketing, it is imperative that you put a plan in place for not only pulling and reporting numbers, but also for making decisions based on what you find. Decisions to tweak a landing page, to focus on image posts, to post only in the mornings, to alter your influencer strategy, and so on. Do yourself the favor early on of putting a formal feedback loop in place that includes scheduled periodic check-ins where you look over your numbers and decide as a team if anything needs to change, and what that change should be.

Once you have that in place, the next step is to create a plan for how you will nurture the leads that come in from social channels at the top of your funnel. For example, if you tweet a link encouraging people to sign up for your weekly newsletter, do you have a welcome email in place set up to greet them and encourage them to check out more of your content?

Playing the Social Media Long Game

It really all comes down to one question: are you on social for the quick win, or are you on social for the long-term growth opportunities?

Since social media sits so high in most sales funnels, the key is to promote repeat engagement with your community. This consistent contact is what will build the trust in your brand, the awareness of your offerings, and the sense of connection that is necessary to inspire your followers to convert and become customers. For this reason, it is important to base all your short term goals on a long-term vision and commit to actively honing your social media efforts over an extended period of time.

One of the best examples of a goal that needs a long-game strategy is influencer engagement. Influencers -- individuals or organizations with a large following who see them as a reliable source of information -- are an integral part of any social media strategy, because they are the gateways to new networks that can exponentially increase your reach...if you can get them to amplify your content. This absolutely will not happen overnight, at least not in any consistent ways.

The reason influencers are so trusted and respected is that they have carefully curated the information that they share with their followers, ensuring that each message is relevant and useful to them. For an influencer to be willing to share your content, they need to be comfortable with you, believe in the value that you provide, and they need to feel certain that you will be able to deliver on your offerings. In order to establish that trust, you need to be regularly in their field of view, which can be done by:

  • sharing their content,
  • mentioning them in blog posts (and the tweets promoting them),
  • engaging them in conversation,
  • and taking part in their Twitter chats.

The key is to break down the long-term vision (ex: having a strong relationship with five key influencers who are happy to do you a favor and share a link when you ask by the end of the year) into short-term goals that will help you stay on track towards that larger objective (ex: have the influencers follow you, have each influencer retweet one post of yours per month).

Influencer marketing is a great way to develop your long-term vision/short-term goals mentality, which can then be applied to the rest of your social media efforts.

Bonus! Download our exclusive list of 10 free tools to track the social media metrics that matter here.

Don’t Be Scared, Social Media Metrics Are Your Friend

I’m sure that many of the folks out there who clicked on this article found their way here because they aren’t quite sure where to start when it comes to metrics and reporting for social media. They might be marketers who feel more confident crafting messages than pulling analytics reports, or entrepreneurs who don’t yet have the money to hire a social media person and are trying to teach themselves a new skill as they go. I’m willing to bet that lots of them have not yet put any real measurement systems in place because they feel confused and overwhelmed in a sea of data.

If that sounds like you, I hope you have now realized that metrics aren’t just a meaningless array of numbers that only data specialists can make sense of. At the end of the day, each one is simply a human interaction, quantified. And I truly believe that it is those who see metrics through that lens -- as human interactions, not as numbers to be played with -- that will have lasting success with social media.

Ready to take the Official Onboardly No-More-Vanity-Metrics Pledge of 2015? Tweet the message below to let your community know that you are taking a stand against meaningless metrics!

[Photo credit: Scott Akerman]

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