There's no silver bullet for the big, bad social media measurement wolf

Marta Strickland
Marta Strickland

Despite the fact that Facebook and Twitter have become household names, social media measurement continues to elude marketers. While most marketers point to low-hanging fruit such as the number of Twitter followers or the number of times a video was viewed on YouTube as key social metrics, these numbers don't really mean anything without context. Number of Facebook fans – or any other simplistic metric out there – is not relevant to every brand's social media goals. That's the dirty little social media secret: the magic metric doesn't exist.

Do 1,000,000 Facebook fans make your brand a social media success? How about 100,000? Even if this number is in line with a brand's expectations, it doesn't give marketers any information on how they can adjust or optimize their program or how their social presence stacks up against their competitors. Too often, marketers become stuck in one of two ways: either they focus too much on influencing their community's day-to-day activities without a bigger-picture objective or they steer their communities toward singular goals or behaviors. Social media is not a one-off campaign or a one-way channel. It is a living, breathing communications platform that requires daily maintenance, strategic vision and benchmarked metrics to cultivate long-term success.

Rather than searching endlessly for a silver metrics bullet, brands need to first find a way to tie specific business objectives to the daily health of their social media campaigns. Tying business objectives to metrics also allows brands to know what tools they need to deploy to measure their social media success. If marketers' business objective is to influence brand perception, then conversation sentiment – rather than conversation volume – is what should be monitored and measured. The size of the online community is only as useful as the effect they have on overall online chatter about your brand. In this case, a listening platform with sentiment analysis would be an important tool in a marketer's social media tool belt.

In another example, if a brand's objective is to foster and empower brand advocates then the number of fans is important but only when coupled with the measurable influence of those advocates. Content tracking tools and techniques are critical for this objective because they will allow marketers to tell the story of where and how their content travels throughout the Internet.

Connecting the dots from number of fans to daily engagement to the spread of viral content is not impossible, it just takes work, which is why most people aren't measuring ROI.  Avoid cultivating a mob of fans simply because that's what marketers are “supposed” to do and instead tailor your social media plans with business objectives. Start with the metrics that are easiest to connect back to your objectives and then work slowly out from there, testing and optimizing along the way.

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