Social Media Success Metrics Must be Tied to Business Goals

One of the biggest challenges for companies using social media is understanding what to measure. This has nothing to do with the tools they are using, or the size of the organization. Companies can't quite get their heads around determining their success metrics for social media.

One of the problems is that everything is online and trackable, either manually or within a tool. People can get overwhelmed with all the data that is available to them and consequently, they can't separate the signal from the noise.

Many companies focus on the easiest numbers: followers, likes, comments, and shares. While it's important to keep up with thesenumbers to track growth of platforms, they should not be a measure of success. After all, you can buy followers or clicks very cheaply (not that you would do that).

Instead, develop a measurement framework that relates to business objectives. Your CMO isn't interested in how many likes your Facebook page has. You need to find out what's being reported to the CEO, and align with that. The big one is return on investment (ROI).

According to IBM’s Global CMO Study, 63% of CMOs want to measure ROI of social media. The challenge is measuring the return. If you aren't looking at leads or sales or something else with clear monetary value, it can be difficult to determine those numbers.

Another issue with social media measurement is that there are not yet standard success measurements that everyone agrees on. Brands publish statistics, marketing executives stand on stage at conferences and talk about their successes, but nobody says “here are the things to measure.” Oh, and there aren't really benchmarks for anything anyone does measure. You can see how many followers your competitors have but you don't know how many leads they drive, and more importantly, how their social media efforts contribute to marketing effectiveness and reducing cost per lead.

Following are four "levels" of social media measurement, from least effective to most effective:

Level 1: Not tracking
Even with all the above in mind, there are companies engaging in social media activities that just don't know where to begin measuring. So they wind up doing nothing. This really does happen. It can also be a symptom of technology. Early stage companies use a variety of tools, often based on personal preference, and some of the free tools have no metrics associated with them at all.

A company may track time related to social media so they can address the resource issues, but there is no connection to the business impact. They may also track volume of how many posts they shared as a measure of activity. This is not how social businesses operate.

Level 2: Tracking the basics
Once companies start tracking social media metrics, they are usually looking at optimization. These are the obvious metrics that are easy to compile: followers, likes, shares, comments. These tell you how your company is building its reach by growing an audience, and how the content you share is resonating with that audience. These numbers can help you improve what you are doing.

You can think of this as fishing for bait. If you catch a small fish that you will use for bait, you don't take a picture holding it. You reserve that for when you land the big one. These kinds of metrics stay within the team that is doing the work. Share reports with executives when you have something to share (and have progressed to the next stage).

Level 3: Tracking and analyzing
Social media success is determined by how it achieves company goals. Alignment here is very important. Companies that have reached this level of maturity in measurement don't have awkward conversations with others in their company where they try to explain how the siloed social media metrics are relevant. The social media team does not create their own reports, but the data is integrated into other reports. It's not about how social media drove web traffic, but how it contributed to web traffic along with pay-per-click ads, banner ads, and other marketing tactics.

Can social media support improving customer satisfaction and increasing brand awareness? Of course it can. If these are the goals that are important to the company, you start by looking at how these are measured in the traditional sense and develop a methodology from measuring this in social media. These approaches are not common, but there are companies doing them.

Level 4: Tracking, analyzing, and integrating
What does social media measurement nirvana look like? The importance of social media has risen to the highest levels within an organization. It is not just fully incorporated into regular company reporting, but the information is so valued that it is taken into account for business planning. The CMO gets the return on investment reporting that is so coveted.

One of the goals of becoming a social business is to put the customer at the center of everything you do. If you think of social media as one of the best ways to bring together the voice of the customer with the voice of your company, then this doesn't sound so unattainable.
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