On Tuesday 26 July 2016, we held an illuminating event to shine a light on emerging social media trends, looking at how, by embracing change, organisations can better equip themselves for the road ahead. #TheSocialStandard was held at The Rooms in Browns on St Martins Lane, where one of the speakers was Andy Sitta, Social Media Consultant at Organic.
In this fascinating article, Andy follows up his talk on understanding social metrics with further advice for social managers.
The idea for a presentation on the importance of understanding social metrics came to me by two routes. Firstly, I’ve always had an affinity with numbers. I like to play with them and get to know what they all really mean. Being able to do this allows me to run effective paid campaigns and get to grips with what is really happening.
Secondly, you would be surprised how much confusion there is – even among social media managers – when it comes to this topic. Amongst marketing directors and people outside marketing (say, in general management roles) the situation is even more acute.
Just to illustrate this point, in a room full of circa 40 marketing professionals, only two of those present were confident that they could tell difference between reach and impressions. Over half of the audience didn’t even know there was a difference! And these are just two of the many metrics frequently used to monitor social activities.
So the main reason for choosing this topic is that there’s an important knowledge gap in many organisations. Filling it could be the first step towards delivering higher ROI from their social channels.

So what’s stopping brands from understanding their own social performance?

Getting a handle on an organisation’s social performance is about more than digesting the key terminology. Two other factors are worth mentioning.
First, there is a lack of consistency among the different platforms. This could be because the formats or metrics of different social channels aren’t always amenable to straightforward, head-to-head comparisons. Comparing social with other marketing channels (e.g. search) presents even more of a challenge.
Second, hence the motivation for my talk, it’s close to impossible to analyse your performance without first knowing what you want to achieve. There are tens of different metrics and you can’t possibly measure everything. People need actionable insights and they need them quickly. An A4 sheet full of arbitrarily compiled numbers won’t do it. It’s quite alarming that “88% of marketing professionals didn’t feel they could accurately measure the effectiveness of their social media campaigns” (Fast Company).
The truth is, you can provide measurable outcomes of social activities only when you know what you were trying to do in the first place. In fact, as one of our attendees pointed out, the results from social can often be more tangible and accurate than the results from other marketing activities, such as TV advertising, billboards or PR.
But the fact remains that there is a persistent myth that social can’t be measured. Unfortunately, this often translates into ‘social is not effective’ thinking, which then puts pressure on social departments. This misapprehension can make it difficult for these departments to grow.

Social metrics and day-to-day pressures

Managers and marketers within pressurised social departments may agree with much of the above. Whether they feel empowered to implement effective change can be another matter entirely.
Many brands continue to post large quantities of content on their social channels without thinking about their objectives first. Predictably, the result is often the wrong content and formats, coupled with inaccurate measuring. It is a responsibility of the heads of social media departments to make sure that everyone is aware of what is the brand trying to achieve on social. Yes, it will take some time at the very beginning to form a sound strategy. And it will take more time to put the right content plans in place, in order to ensure that all objectives can be met during each week and month.
But once it’s done, it should actually make the lives of social media executives easier, as the process of selecting the right content and the right platform will become more natural. This will also ensure that your social activities are getting you closer to achieving business objectives. Moreover, it will save time when doing reporting – rather than collecting all numbers that are available, executives can just focus on metrics that actually matter. This process will then also inform their future activities. Furthermore, once executives know what they are trying to achieve, they may start coming up with some creative solutions.

‘Quality over quantity’ applies to measurement too

Hopefully, everyone would agree that quality should trump quality when it comes to content. But the same thinking should be applied to the quality of metrics used and the goals that go with them. Most brands are still obsessed with likes and numbers of followers. But this simplistic approach could hurt them in the long term. Both their reach – largely determined by algorithms – and their customers’ experience will suffer.
I realise it’s tempting to get the numbers up quickly, and it’s quite easy to boost likes and followers. But there’s often little value when you’re not targeting the right people or producing irrelevant content. Focusing on quality is the best way to build engaged communities, boost engagement rates and get real results that would actually benefit your business. To give some straightforward examples:

  • When building communities, it is better to have 1,000 engaged fans out of 5,000 than 500 out of 100,000.
  • When raising awareness through video content, it is better to generated 1,000 complete video views than 5,000 3-second video views.

The way forward

Every business is different, and therefore social will play a different role for each of them. Not everyone needs a Twitter account or to be on Snapchat.
Similarly, simply ‘to engage your fans’ is not the only possible objective. Social can be employed as a traffic driver or a means for customer service. On the latter, this could and should be the major objective for many brands, yet remains underestimated. Customer care on social can make a massive difference: turning unhappy customers to brand ambassadors or, as KLM proves, creating a new revenue stream.
As long as a brand knows what its key objectives are, its activities on social should present themselves naturally. Putting the right objective in place will also ensure a brand’s ability to measure ROI. However, it’s hard to measure social activities accurately without knowing the metrics first. I hope through my talk at #TheSocialStandard and this article that I’ve encouraged people to think differently about social metrics and measuring social in general.
I would also like to remind everyone that these are just numbers after all. We need numbers to back up our decisions. (This is a universal fact, not just in marketing.) But as professionals we have a duty to make sure the numbers we are using represent reality, or at least the aspect of reality we’re most interested in understanding as accurately as possible. Ideally, we should be using numbers to inform our decisions, not just to boost our egos or cover up our mistakes.
Let’s finish with a simple process: Start with defining your objectives -> Understand the metrics -> Choose the right metrics -> Go for quality over quantity -> Look at social from a wider angle -> Use your head and test hypotheses using a test and learn approach.
It was a privilege for me to be involved in #TheSocialStandard, an Organic event at which a range of interesting and important social topics were raised and discussed openly and honestly. It would be great to keep the conversation going on #TheSocialStandard.
You can see Andy’s presentation in full here
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