Which are the most important social media metrics? (Hint: they’re nothing to do with social media)

I could write a book on this one. But there’s little point because a) I don’t have time to write a book, and b) other people have already written them.

So, I’ll be brief, not least because this is a blog post and not a book: the most important social media metrics are nothing to do with social media.

I’ve done a LOT of thinking about measurement. There are many, many things you could measure, but most of them are totally worthless. I guess the most frequently used measurements that are worthless are the obvious ones, such as followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook. OK, so they’re not completely worthless because you can gain insight from them, especially if you compare them with competitors. So, you can argue that the number of fans on Facebook is your reach, which is the equivalent of good old circulation, and that by comparing your page with the competition, you get an idea of how many people you potential reach in the ‘marketplace’ of conversation.

You can also do the same with other metrics that represent reach for other platforms, so, followers on Twitter, subscribers on YouTube, and so on.

So maybe not totally worthless. But certainly not unique to social media, and not a viable business KPI either. So let’s look – briefly, again, this is a blog, remember – at both of these.

First up, what can you uniquely measure in social media that you cannot measure anywhere else? Well, that goes to the heart of what social media offers that other media cannot. My take on this is two metrics that, as with all metrics, have plus points and minus points, and they are sentiment (how people  feel) and engagement (how they interact).

Sentiment analysis can hurt. Click image for source.

Sentiment is important because if you find lots of people are talking about you, but they all hate you, then you have a problem. But sentiment is tough to measure. If you leave it to machines, they can do lots of analysis but get it wrong (try getting a sentiment measure for  Black Friday on SocialMention for example – go on, try it, you’ll be surprised). If you leave it to humans, they can do less analysis and on the whole maybe get it more right, but can still differ between individuals (ie the person who just got married, got a pay rise and ran their first 10K the previous weekend might have an overall brighter outlook than the person who just buried the pet rabbit the night before). It’s also a difficult metric to action. How, exactly, do you improve sentiment?

Engagement is important because it’s pretty much what social media is for, that is, the two-way conversation that you just cannot do with any other medium. Here, you really can measure it, not least because Facebook’s new public-facing ‘People talking about this’ metric is measuring almost exactly that, and you can tie this in with, say, Twitter replies, comments on YouTube channels, and comments on blogs. Plus, you can do something about engagement, simply by encouraging people to interact. You could even argue that engagement affects sentiment, in that the most engaged brands tend to have the highest sentiment.

But as soon as you really analyse engagement, you start to see that most brands score dreadfully. And perhaps this is why people don’t measure it!

So sentiment and engagement are key social media metrics, but sentiment is tough, and engagement exposes the weakness of most social media programmes. And they don’t key into what your business is about.

And what is your business about? Well, generally it’s going to be one of three things: raising revenue; cutting costs; or increasing customer awareness. If you can do all three then you’re laughing, but really, everything your organisation does should address at least one of these imperatives. Communications generally, and social media specifically, should not be exempt.

So these really aren’t social media metrics at all. They’re business metrics that you apply to social media.

The question is: how do you measure them? Actually, I’m going to stop here and leave this as a question. I have some ideas, but I’d like to know: how do you measure whether you’ve improved revenue streams? How do you know if your social media has cut costs at all? And whereas raising awareness is probably social media’s natural home, how have you measured this?

If you don’t know, then you’re not really measuring properly. For every objective that you set in social media, comms or any other aspect of your work, you need to ask yourself which of these three imperatives you’re addressing. If none of them, then stop. Which is what I’ll do now.

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