Continuous testing, benchmarking and learning is a cornerstone of all social media activity. It will help you identify areas of relative under-performance, potential risks and opportunities to generate better results.
It is therefore important to audit the effectiveness of your social media activities and investments on a regular basis – once a quarter is ideal – in order to:
- Measure the overall return on investment generated by social media;
- Review the effectiveness of individual activities and channels;
- Identify investment needs;
- Highlight skills/knowledge gaps and training needs;
- Highlight potential missed opportunities.
This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the problems I tend to encounter during a client audit:
- Social media investments and activities are not aligned with company priorities or stakeholder needs;
- Results are underwhelming and/or considered irrelevant by senior management;
- The teams responsible for delivering social media activities are frustrated and feel under-supported;
- There is a lack of investment in tools, training and resources;
- The mix of channels and accounts lacks any strategic logic, and many are under-performing.
Before leaping into measurement, you need to be clear about the objectives you are trying to achieve and, in particular, how success is defined by the senior management team.
Why should they get excited by abstract metrics such as likes and views if these appear to have little impact on the performance of the business?
It is helpful to think about five categories of social media metric:
1. Reach – impressions, views
2. Engagement – likes, mentions, use of campaign hashtags
3. Advocacy – shares, retweets, comments (positive), follows
4. Action – website visits, downloads, registrations
5. Impact – sales, customer satisfaction, brand metrics, cost savings
Reach is a measure of the size of the audience reached or exposed to your social media activity. It could include metrics such as reach, impressions or views.
These are all fairly blunt measures of social media performance and come with a health warning. Social media measurement can be opaque and occasionally leads many to question the legitimacy of the data.
The social media companies jealously guard their proprietary tools and algorithms from the prying eyes of auditors, although they have begun to make more positive noises about opening-up their platforms to verification by third-parties.
The best approach is to treat the figures for reach, impressions and views provided by the social media companies as broadly illustrative rather than definitive.
This has become the most widely used metric to measure the performance of social media campaigns, although it does have its limitations. A basic level of engagement tells you whether an audience has actually responded to the content that has been produced.
The simple act of clicking the ‘like’ button is a good measure of whether a piece of content is considered relevant or approved of by the recipients, although it is not a particularly reliable indicator of subsequent behavior – studies have shown that there is little correlation between ‘liking’ and actively supporting a campaign.
Advocacy is a higher form of engagement that provides a good indication of whether the content that you have created is valued or useful and whether the recipient is open to receiving more of the same.
When we share or re-tweet a post or article it represents, in effect, an implied endorsement of that content. Advocacy is the reason why things become ‘viral’, with an item of content being disseminated through multiple shares and retweets.
I also include the act of following as a higher form of advocacy. Most of us do not follow indiscriminately. We choose the follow people, brands or organisations on social media for specific reasons, maybe we admire them, value what they say and share or because they offer us incentives, such as ‘free stuff’ or ‘discounts’.
Advocacy also includes positive endorsements of a product or service in a social media channel, from a positive tweet to a five-star rating on TripAdvisor.
Comments can be a form of advocacy, although analysis of social media posts, especially in the political arena, indicates that people tend to add comments when they want to say something negative. This means that generating a high volume of comments can actually be seen as a measure of unpopularity.
This tells you whether your social media content has resulted in a measurable action by the recipient. This might include people:
- Visiting a website
- Downloading an item of content
- Subscribing to an email database
- Helping another customer, for example providing advice on a discussion forum
- Joining a social media group
- Generating their own (user-generated) content as part of a campaign
- Sharing a campaign hashtag
By creating ‘gated’ content that can only be accessed or downloaded by users registering their personal details (such as email address and phone number) companies can gather a prospect data-base.
This establishes whether the actions generated by social media have actually resulted in a measurable benefit. This could include:
- Increasing awareness
- Gaining a more favourable reputation or improved satisfaction scores among customers, employees or other stakeholders
- Generating high-quality sales leads
- Attracting a strong shortlist of potential recruits
- Gaining actionable intelligence on audience behavior, needs or expectations
- Reducing business costs e.g. lower call-centre costs
- Generating actual sales. Most ecommerce businesses track sales through the use of a UTM code, which they attach to every individual item of content. Using marketing automation or analytics software this allows the tracking of the subsequent behaviour of anyone who clicks on that content, allowing a sale to be attributed to a specific item of content.
Establishing impact measures will often require the use of primary research, for example, tracking studies in order to establish improvements in awareness or reputation.
Isolating the specific impact generated by social media can be a challenge, especially where companies are using multiple marketing communications techniques.
Analysing the data
Once you have captured the data you can start asking some serious questions:
- How are individual channels performing? This will give you the opportunity to decide whether to address the relative underperformance of a particular channel or simply close it down.
- How does your performance compare with that of your competitors?
- What activities are proving to be most effective? I would focus on the engagement rates being driven by individual channels, formats and messages. In simple terms the aim should be to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
- Is there any evidence that content issued at certain times of the week/day is more effective? This will help fine-tune the scheduling of activities.
- What evidence do you have that you are engaging key influencers within your sector? This tends to be a qualitative measure, analysing whether your social media has been effective at engaging influencers within your sector – for example, securing a retweet from someone considered an expert or opinion former in your sector.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Martin Thomas, author of The Financial Times Guide to Social Media Strategy: Boost your business, manage risk and develop your personal brand, out now on Amazon and in good book stores, published by FT Publishing International.
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