You’re Using the Wrong Social Media Metrics!

In my experience, I’ve found that the vast majority of practitioners measuring social media currently rely on the wrong metrics. Metrics such as fans, followers, +1’s, shares, likes, and dislikes are easily captured and readily delivered by social networks, but they represent merely the low-hanging fruit of social analytics. These are the “counting metrics” of social media because using them typically equates to counting up digital trivia. Effective measurers of social media go beyond counting metrics to create outcome-based metrics and ultimately report on business value metrics to senior stakeholders across the enterprise. In this column, I’ll elaborate on the minutia of counting metrics and where they can add value to your social media operations, as well as how to take the next step of creating outcome and business value metrics to ratchet up your social analytics game to the next level.

Testing the Social Media Waters

The temptation for businesses to experiment with social media is practically irresistible. And in fact, you’d be foolish not to venture into new and emerging channels if your target audience leads you there. But experimentation and ongoing participation in social media must continually prove out the potential for business value. Often times, this potential is demonstrated in metrics that are indicative of volume and activity. Counting metrics do just that because they are measures that tell you how deep the social media pool really is. These counting metrics are typically the freebies offered by social media networks that quantify the basic observational statistics of participation. The stats include: number of users, number of fans, number of followers, number of posts, number of comments per post, number of check-ins, number of ratings, number of reviews…and so on. You quickly see that there’s numbers on top of numbers.

Yet, stopping at this point and using only counting metrics to measure and manage social media is not only just plain lazy, but also detrimental to your business. These metrics are important for gauging the health and activity of your social media operations, but they fail to tell you if you’re achieving your business goals. Counting metrics can offer insights into how many people are swimming and if the water is too cold, or just right. They can also tell you how many people you are reaching with your social media messages and if your content is worthy of passing on to their friends and followers. But, what counting metrics cannot tell you is who the lifeguards should be watching, and where management needs to focus their efforts. Thus, it’s imperative that you go beyond the counting metrics offered by social media platforms to formulate outcome metrics that constitute real measures of success.

Identifying Outcome Metrics for Social Media Measurement

Stepping away from the pool for a moment, I ask you to consider why you’re participating in social media in the first place. Are you working to build awareness for your new products or services? Do you want to initiate a dialogue with your customers to solicit their input on what you could be doing more effectively? Are you building goodwill with consumers by giving back through social media and encouraging philanthropy? Or, can you increase your profits by selling directly through social media platforms? The answers to these questions reveal the business outcomes that you should be working towards when participating in social media. It’s only when you have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish with your social media efforts that you can develop truly effective measures of success. If you can’t pinpoint why you’re participating in social media today, or if your answers are flimsy and won’t stand up to the scrutiny of executive leadership, I strongly advise that you stop everything and rethink your efforts.

However, if you have a strategic vision of what you’re trying to accomplish with social media, then developing your outcome metrics will become a much easier task. For example, if gaining exposure is the outcome that you are after, then metrics like reach, velocity, and share of voice will be extremely helpful in determining your progress toward this outcome. Similarly, if you’re working to foster a dialogue with customers, focus on metrics like audience engagement, key influencers, and trending topics. Or if cold hard cash is what you’re after, then metrics like social referral source, cost per acquisition, conversion rates, and average order value will illuminate progress toward your stated social media outcomes. Each of these metrics tells you how well you’re doing according to plan and reveals valuable business information.

Demonstrating Social Media Business Value

Now that you’re straight on using counting metrics for sizing up opportunities and outcome metrics for quantifying purpose, the next step is tying all this together to communicate your fabulous progress. To do this, you need to detach yourself from the metrics that you use everyday to manage your social operations and translate these granular metrics into more generalized business language. Think carefully about the things that matter to your organization and the stakeholders that oversee the business and communicate in ways that resonate with them. In most cases, this means aligning your business objectives with corporate goals. Demonstrate which social media channels are contributing to new customer acquisition, which are adding dollars to the corporate coffers, or which are elevating customer satisfaction. This takes some skill and corporate savvy to indoctrinate non-believers into the world of social media metrics, but it’s an entirely worthwhile endeavor that will pay dividends for your organization in the long run.

I’ve found that the most effective way to present a strategic plan and communicate your successes using metrics is to leverage a framework for social media measurement. The one I use includes an inside-out strategy that begins with corporate goals, then aligns business objectives, maps these to measures of success, and then extends out to operational tactics. Using this framework allows me to solicit feedback from stakeholders by actually including them in the planning process of developing social media programs. This encourages participation and gives everyone involved a vested interest in the success of social media endeavors. Ultimately, your social media metrics should build from the basic counting metrics to outcome-based objectives that wholly support your corporate goals. Once you have a solid plan and a strategic roadmap for how you’ll stitch this all together, then you’re ready to dive into the deep end of the social media pool.

This column was originally published on July 14, 2011 on ClickZ.

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