Like most business owners, I appreciate data. More importantly, I appreciate useful, actionable data. I want metrics that give me real insights, allow me to make good marketing decisions, and take real action in the moment. I don't want fluff that doesn't tell me anything of value. Good information about social media marketing efforts can help me decide which social networks are best for a business to use, what kind of messaging will be most effective, how to reach and connect with their target audience, how to get their content seen, and so much more.
But when it comes to social media, so many snake oil salesmen are pulling the wool over business owners' eyes about what social media "success" looks like. They dupe these businesses into believing that having a large number of "Likes" on Facebook is good social media marketing. What a meaningless metric! Who cares if you have 100,000 likes on Facebook if no one is buying your products, using your services, engaging with your brand, sharing your content, or telling their friends and colleagues about your business? (Answer: No one. No one cares.) These charlatans treat every brand with a one-size-fits-all approach, and think they can cram social media marketing into a formula to hit these irrelevant numbers, when really, social media marketing is a completely custom process from start to finish. Social media marketing goes so much deeper, and can be wielded so much more powerfully, when we're measuring metrics that matter.
- Know Thy Networks
- Prep Thy Profiles
- Curate Thy Content
- Modify Thy Messaging
- Report Thy Results
- Shift Thy Strategy
It all starts with knowing your target audience, and who your ideal customer is. Figuring out who your target audience is and what is important to them, can help us find which social media networks they are choosing to participate in, and can give us valuable insights as to what kinds of content they appreciate, and when they like to consume it.
Not every brand needs to be active in every social media network. I am a firm believer that every brand should claim their brand name on social media profiles, even if only to capture that real estate so no one else can, and drive traffic back to their main website and connect it to their other social media networks. However, it is often unrealistic to be active, engaging and valuable across all social media networks. You are better off choosing the ones that will yield the most return for your brand, and putting most of your social media resources there, while simply maintaining the status quo on the rest.
Each brand is different, with different products and services, different marketing needs and a different target audience. For example, there are very few brands who couldn't benefit from being on Twitter. Yes, it's a constant blasting fire hose of conversation, but it has many subcultures and communities that users become a part of, and there is one for literally every niche you can imagine. But on the other hand, I don't necessarily recommend active use of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and so on to everyone - though having an optimized profile on most of them may be important, the target audience may simply not be there to justify lots of time spent publishing on those networks.
There are also numerous niche-specific vertical social networks, or sub-groups within the more famous social networking sites listed above, (like there are CTO social networking groups on LinkedIn, or there are whole social networks devoted to beauty bloggers, and so on). Yet they go largely unnoticed and unused because everyone puts all their eggs in the big social networks' baskets. It's important to find those spaces, and decide which ones you can have an active presence in that might generate some ROI or help position your brand as a thought leader in the industry. Some of this is just doing a little searching and paying attention, and finding where the most conversations are happening and the most thought leaders in your vertical are hanging out. And now tools like Klout for Business (now in beta) can also help you discover which social networks are showing the most engagement with our content so you can narrow your focus over time.
Social media profiles should be consistent with your brand name and contact information. It is imperative that each social media has all the contact information in the appropriate fields, and that it matches exactly across each profile. Inconsistencies can not just confuse customers, but they can also confuse search engines who are trying to match pieces of information across local directory sites and other profiles to pinpoint the most accurate, up-to-date contact information for a business. (True story: I once worked on one website that had made such a mess of local listings and social media profiles that the top 4 out of 10 results in Google contained varying past addresses of the business, and they all said "CLOSED" in big capital letters in the search results - but the business was in fact open at a new address.)
This may sound dumb, but one of the best ways to optimize social media profiles is to simply fill out all the fields, or at least all those that are applicable, and keep it up to date. So many times I see businesses skipping over most of the questions, possibly because they're in a hurry to just get it live. But not taking the time to go back and fill in the blanks can leave big holes that don't allow your social media profiles to perform optimally on the web, don't drive traffic back to your website, and don't help customers quickly find the information they're looking for. Do this right from the beginning when you set up your social media profile, always make sure you link back to your main website. Make sure you've got clear and consistent branding, you've got a keyword-rich description of your business, you have complete and accurate contact information, you've selected any "categories" for your business if the social network allows it, Also, do an occasional check to make sure everything is still accurate. If your business hours change, or especially if you change addresses, the social media profiles should always be on the list to update right away.
What do you measure at this stage? Not much. This is purely a visibility step. Sure, you can start keeping an eye on follower counts and growth, but the real goodies start in the next step - curating content for social media.
Social media marketing is not about blasting out your promotional messaging to whoever will listen. We have got to get out of this backwards mindset. Social media marketing is about discovering what your connections want and need, and fulfilling it. Do not delude yourself into thinking that you are your target audience, and that you know what they want. Take the time, do the research, ask the questions, and produce content they would find valuable, useful, interesting, relevant and so on. Social media will be of no use to your business if you aren't creating content that speaks to your audience. Whether the content is the status updates you post, or articles on your site that you are driving traffic back to, it needs to be high quality - every time. The types of content that are most shareable tend to be extremely useful, wildly funny, highly controversial or especially interesting. Think to yourself, "Is what I'm sharing of high value? Is this something my audience would share with their family, friends or colleagues?" If not, spare everyone who is already getting blasted with marketing drivel all the time from having one more piece to clog up their feeds.
When digging into social media marketing, you will of course want to find or create your voice, one that reflects your brand well and also resonates with consumers. But once you've found that, you have to try curating new and different kinds of content, and try different approaches to delivering that content. What are the different kinds of content you can try? While that depends on the brand, just a few kinds of content you can consider sharing are: photos and updates about internal company happenings, team events, new employees; inspirational or moving quotes within your vertical; commentary on headlines or relevant subject matter (positioning as a thought leader); links to the newest articles on your website; special discounts or promotions; awards and recognition; upcoming events or speaking engagements; company news and announcements; links to articles on other people's websites; awesome video content. This is only a tiny fraction of the types of content you could be sharing from your brand's page to provide a rich, balanced experience to your followers.
Modify Thy Messaging
This is one of the most important parts that will enable you to decide which types of content to keep producing and sharing, and which to discontinue. The most simple way to measure this is to look at which types of content are getting the most clicks, comments, likes, plus ones, shares, traffic to the website, conversions/sales, etc. Facebook does this within their Page Insights section. Klout does this by highlighting your most influential posts. Twitter does this in an especially cool way in Twitter Analytics, allowing you to filter your posts by "best" and "good" performers, and even telling you how much more reach your post got than normal if it was a great performer. Facebook and LinkedIn are starting to incorporate this feature into their Page Insights sections as well.
Review the types of content that tend to perform the best. What do they have in common? Do more of it. Look at the ones that chronically get ignored. What do those types of content have in common? Do less of it. I'm oversimplifying of course, but you get the idea.
The first way to modify your messaging is the actual content itself. If your users happen to love images (hint: this is common), ensure that you have a fantastic image in every piece of content you write for your website that will show up when you socially share those articles, try to use powerful, attention-grabbing images more often in your posts. If your users love weighing in on polls, do more Q&A posts asking for input from your followers. Rather than trying to shove content down people's throats, figure out what they really want and deliver on it.
Another way to modify your messaging is changing up your timing. If you notice that you get more visibility and engagement when you post less, but post more strategically, scale back publishing. If you find that your followers happen to be online and looking at Facebook, Twitter or whatever social network more on certain days of the week or times of day, start shifting more activity to this time. Beware the articles you often see about the best times of day to post things or do e-mail drops, because they usually fail to consider that your target audience can be dramatically different from the general population when you segment it out. Look at your own real data instead of these generalities!
What kinds of metrics can and should you be monitoring when it comes to your social media efforts? This usually depends on the goals you're trying to achieve (see "Curate Thy Content" above), but there are some steadfast starter KPIs that can be very helpful.
By the way, segmentation is your friend to make the most of this information. You could segment by network, by type of post, by whether or not the user clicked to your website, and many other ways. For example, your Facebook impressions by day could be dramatically different than Twitter impressions by day, and there are countless other ways this data could be split between networks.
- Demographics - Some platforms give you insight on to who is following your brand, such as male/female, average age, city or country of origin, language spoken, and so on. This can be helpful to craft your messaging so as to appeal to the largest segment of your audience possible.
- Behavior - Some platforms aggregate data on what days of the week and what times of day your followers are most active, so you can try to be visible when they're online.
- Interests - Twitter Analytics, Klout for Business and Facebook Page Insights have all been good about bringing this on board. Now Google Analytics is also rolling out affinity categories, and you can filter your traffic source down to "Social" and get more information about those users that way.
Awareness & Visibility Metrics
- Reach - The most simple unit of measurement is the number of followers and the rate of growth. The more legitimate followers, fans, connections and circles the brand has, the more reach and visibility the brand’s content theoretically acquires.
- Impressions - This gives you an idea of how many people are seeing your posts. Chances are these numbers are inflated regardless of the software. Just because your post was visible to that number of users doesn't guarantee they actually saw it in their feed or read it. It's more valuable to know which days and times are generating the most impressions to increase the likelihood people actually see and read it.
Interest, Engagement & Influence Metrics
- Engagement: Track the number of engagements by monitoring comments, likes, shares, re-tweets, @ mentions, +1s and other signals of follower interaction. Note the types of interactions you're getting on different types of content, when they're happening, and so on. Twitter Analytics, LinkedIn Analytics, Facebook Insights, Klout, Sprout Social Reporting, Moz Analytics and most others can help you monitor this. In your measurement software, look for "Best Posts," "Most Engaging Posts," "Most Influential Moments" and the like. Again - look for things that produce a lot of positive engagement and do more of it. Look for things that get the most negative engagement, or worse, no engagement at all, and do less of it.
- Influence: High quality content that people frequently share and interact with can lead to expert positioning and higher influence in the social media space in your vertical. Klout score is one tool often used to estimate influence in the social space. Klout has become less and less "arbitrary" over time, and it bases its analysis on the amount of engagement you get with your posts, number of followers and categories in which you are an influential part of the conversation.
- Traffic: Using Google Analytics or another web analytics platform, track inbound traffic to the official website from each of the social media networks. Using this tool is a critical component if you're attempting to use social media to drive traffic back to your main website at all, and it's critical that you are properly tagging URLs so that data can be tracked as accurately as possible. This can help you determine which sources are driving the most traffic so you can invest more resources in those. But a word of caution - just like "likes" and "followers," "traffic" does not necessarily translate to "conversions." I urge you to go a level deeper and figure out which sources are providing the most conversions and conversion assists (see below) to provide the most overall value in your marketing mix.
- Conversions: If leads or sales generated through the website can be shown a confirmation or thank you page, goals can be set up in Google Analytics to attribute lead conversions to referral traffic from social media sites. As long as you are properly tagging your URLs as mentioned above in the "Traffic" section, you can directly attribute conversions to social media sources and figure out which provide the most actual monetary ROI for your site. You can also figure out where social media falls in the funnel as an "assistant" to a conversion through Multi-Channel Funnels in Google Analytics, which gives a more accurate picture of the impact social media marketing has on your business. For many brands (not all!), social media tends to be more of an assistant to conversions, rather than the source of many last-click conversions, and the new multi-channel funnels feature allows you to see all the leads or sales that your social traffic is contributing to.
- Revenue Per Visitor: If leads or sales generated through the website have an average dollar value or can be calculated exactly through the direct sales of products or services with Google Analytics for e-commerce sites, an estimate of Revenue Per Visitor (RPV) can be used to gauge the value of the visitors from each of the social networks.
There are several tools that I find useful for measuring various social media metrics. First of all, Facebook, Twitter and many other social networks are all enhancing their analytics capabilities within the platforms themselves. Start there. Sprout Social has some handy reports with lots of demographic data, and their pro-level accounts break down which types of content are getting the most engagement - ones with images, links, etc. The new Moz Analytics allows you to connect social media profiles to campaigns, and will show you the "Most Engaging Posts" - but I'm having trouble getting reliable data to pull in so far (all 0s in both columns, when I know that's not accurate). Klout for Business is a free tool that tells you which posts were the "Most Influential." HubSpot has some really powerful and useful tools within their enterprise-level inbound marketing softwares. HootSuite has some robust reports in addition to their scheduling and stream-following capabilities, but the reports can be costly to run. (Note that many social media marketing platforms have trouble with LinkedIn business pages right now, which doesn't like to play nice yet, apparently.) You can also use information from your web analytics software, such as Google Analytics which is expanding its social media data offerings, to draw some important conclusions about your work.
At the end of the day though, all these tools can only provide you with the hard numbers - you have to actually use your brain to discern which stuff is performing, and which stuff isn't. Decide up-front what your goal for social media is. If it's simply building brand awareness and visibility, then measuring vanity metrics like number and growth rate of followers may make sense, along with how much your content gets shared and spreads. If the goal is positioning your brand as a thought leader in your vertical, engagement metrics like shares, comments and likes can be valuable. If the goal is making sales on your website, you need to ensure you're using proper tracking parameters, and can connect transactions on your website back to the social media source.
With all the social media reporting data at your fingertips nowadays, you can quickly determine what's working and what isn't. After you begin monitoring and set a baseline, you will get the hang of identifying when things are performing abnormally well or abnormally badly. All of these measurable KPIs should be reviewed regularly and evaluated on a regular basis, and be sure to measure everything possible - you never know what opportunities and ideas are going to arise from data you weren't necessarily focusing on with your strategy. Social media is a flexible, fluid environment and you need to be equally flexible in order to keep up.
Now that you are analyzing more information than just how many followers you have on Twitter, you can make confident decisions in how you should move your strategy one way or another to better achieve the goals you set earlier in the process. Whether it's spending more time on certain social networks more than others, changing the content of your messaging, adjusting the tone, shifting the frequency or timing of your posts, or some other adjustment, use the data to your advantage.
This article is a (ridiculously verbose) general overview of the most core principles of successful social media, but as I mentioned in the beginning, every single marketing plan must be custom-tailored to your business from start to finish. Need help with your social media marketing? I can help. Learn more about our social media marketing services, and don't hesitate to contact me with questions. I can help you get the most out of your business's social networking efforts.