There are a plethora of social media metrics out there and platform dashboards grow more crowded each year. Which ones can be relied upon to help you track and measure your content success?
No metric is going to tell you everything. What’s more, each metric set will differ depending upon what you want your post to achieve – whether that’s form sign-ups, engagement, awareness raising or advocacy. When viewed and understood in concert however, they can give you an important picture of what’s going on. When paired with great stories, these measurement tools help organisations better implement, execute, track and fine-tune their strategy, paving the way for future growth and C-suite satisfaction.
Measure for insight
“Too much measurement, not enough insight,” declared Professor Mark Ritson – maverick buffoon-buster, Marketing Week columnist and renowned patron of allegories involving his nether regions. Talking at the Mumbrella360 event earlier this year with characteristic chagrin, he drew attention to the 220-plus audience measurements on hand to Facebook marketers and the growth of KPI metrics on other platforms too.
With this smorgasbord of available metrics, the natural impulse for marketers is to stuff their spreadsheets full of them. Data points are collected, sorted and perhaps built into a few pie charts for the next board room presentation. But for what purpose? If you’re measuring for a tailor-made shirt, would it make sense to look at someone’s glove size, perspiration rate and ankle thickness too?
More data doesn’t necessarily equate to better audience understanding. As such, marketers should chill some, exercise restraint and limit themselves to analysing only representative, actionable and informative data. Anything more, and you’re just obfuscating insight and wasting time better spent.
Know what you want your content to do
Another unimpeachable truth: there is no single, golden set of metrics that will serve every business in every campaign or any single content item. The metrics you choose will always depend upon what you intend to achieve with your content. Here are three hypotheticals:
- You’re publishing a for-social cartoon image series. You’re not too worried about click-throughs here, since this supremely snackable content has been made for the newsfeed. Instead, you’re all about reaping reactions and maximising reach.
- You’re launching your digital content hub for the first time. Currently, your Facebook fans comprise of your friends, your workers, your mum and a few mysterious personages which you suspect are bots. Reach, engagement, cost per click and page likes will be in this instance be top of mind.
- You’ve made a nifty infographic from a 5000-word ebook with the hope of driving audiences to the main site and getting them to download the gated asset. The infographic is distributed across several platforms and promoted according to where your highest potential leads tend to hang out. The metrics you’re going to be staring at most hungrily are going to be cost per click, form fills and file downloads.
Social media stats mean squat in isolation
Viewed alone, social metrics are just isolated pieces of a puzzle. They’ll give you an idea of what’s happening – a tiny window through which you glimpse a whirling matrix – but it’s never a substantial one. Even in conjunction, it’s next to impossible to determine exactly what’s going on (Facebook’s recurring admissions of metrics bugs aside). The best social media managers and their teams can do is make educated guesses, and inform every decision they can.
Perhaps the best advice we can give here is to always link social content with site behaviour. Sure, some posts are designed specifically for social media. But for content marketers, the aim is to get leverage social media to encourage people to travel to your website, interact with it and eventually convert to subscribers.
In these cases, social media metrics will spout wells of new insight when paired with website metrics.
Let’s say a blog has been written for the purpose of increasing sign-ups to a company enewsletter. With a gated asset at the end of the text article, it’s been promoted across LinkedIn and Facebook. The Facebook post shows the highest reach, engagement and click-throughs. Paired with a Facebook pixel uploaded to your website, it also becomes clear that Facebook is directing the highest amount of traffic to the page.
So far, everything indicates that Facebook promotion is paying off better than LinkedIn. But then you look past the volume of the leads and at the quality thereof. From this, you realise LinkedIn’s more refined audience targeting (enabling marketers to measure not just role, but seniority too) is providing you higher quality sign-ups. In this scenario, LinkedIn is at least an equal contender for social media budget.
As Chief Science Officer at AIG Murli Buluswar said at the recent 2017 ADMA Global Forum: “Data is data. It’s not strategy, it’s not decisions. It’s a capability. If translated into insights and manifested into action – then that’s a benefit.”
A basic metrics set
Still, there are a few metrics that many social media managers (such as myself) consider ‘old friends’. They might not always be reliable and you’d never heed their advice alone. Nonetheless, you include them in almost all social media metrics journey. Their names are engagement, reach/impressions, engagement rate and cost per click.
What it measures: The total number of actions people are taking in relation to your post – such as reactions, comments, shares, offer claims, photo views, video views or link clicks.
What it tells you: Generally, it will give you a quick indication of whether or not a piece of content is resonating.
Limitations: Engagement is often designated a ‘vanity’ category of metrics. This is fair. With each action undifferentiated and treated on par in terms of value, engagement is a very broad, generalised metric. As such, it lends itself only to broad, generalised conclusions.
Imagine, say, you are a film distribution company with a content hub devoted to everything to do with films. You’ve just published a story on the superiority of Godfather III to Godfather II, promoting it as part of a reach campaign. You check out of the office to grab a lunch-hour kebab. When you return to the post, you see that engagement is off your charts. Chomping down the last of your lunch, you hurl some more dollars behind it.
Then you look at the comments. Of the 500 reactions, 200 are ‘angry’. Many others are sad. The rest weep tears of malevolent laughter at you. In the comments, your post is being ripped to shreds.
The takeaway: when looking at engagement, it is imperative that you are always checking in and overlaying the raw numbers with qualitative data.
What it measures: On Facebook, ‘reach’ measures the total number of unique people who were shown your page and posts. LinkedIn’s equivalent metric is ‘impressions’ – which removes the ‘unique’ qualifier, and instead records the total number. This means that if a person sees just one post on Facebook 10 times, that’s recorded as one reach. If a person sees a post on LinkedIn 10 times, that’s logged as 10 impressions.
What it tells you: Reach tells you how far your message is spreading. It captures the three ‘push’ factors to this spread – organic reach (how far content spreads for free – which today, is very little), paid reach (the extent to which your budgeted amount is helping it connect with audiences) and viral reach.
Viral reach is an interesting one. Otherwise known as ‘storytelling’, it is when a post crops up in a person’s feed because of the action of a friend – whether through a direct share, a like or a comment. Whereas once viral reach could be viewed independently as a subsection of organic reach (if you manually downloaded a Facebook Insights report as an Excel spreadsheet), the platform has since lumped it back as an undifferentiated component of organic.
Limitations: Reach is strongly correlated with engagement. As such, it shares many of the same foibles.
What it measures: Engagement divided by reach, displayed as a percentage.
What it gives you: An insight into what gets the conversation going for your audience and how well something resonates with them.
Limitations: See above.
Cost per click (CPC)
What it measures: Cost per click is a measurement of the total amount spent on promoted content divided by link clicks on that ad unit.
What it tells you: If you’re pumping money into a piece of content on social media, you’re going to want to know if people are responding to it. As of July 2015, the ‘click’ in this metric would include any click on an ad unit – a like, a comment, a ‘continue reading’. Following an update, ‘clicks’ are now limited to the following:
- Clicks to visit another website
- Call-to-action clicks that go to another website
- Clicks to install an app
- Clicks to Facebook canvas apps
- Clicks to view a video on another website
Limitations: A low CPC is often read as a positive, as it tells you that the money you have invested is leading to a high number of people clicking on your ad. However, higher cost per clicks shouldn’t always be a reason for marketers to be disheartened or pull out entirely. LinkedIn, for instance, will generally have a higher CPC than Facebook, but – being a platform built around building better business connections – those engaging with your content may be better suited than someone who is reading your content via Facebook.
As with most aspects of content marketing, context is everything.