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Measuring the value of social-media programs is a hot topic right now. Anyone who works in this space will tell you that's a very good thing.

Unfortunately, many companies are not tracking the right metrics and so aren't properly assessing the true value of their social-media efforts. Or they are tracking the right metrics but aren't applying those metrics to effect change in their business.

Here's a look at four metrics that companies use to assess their social-media efforts and how you can improve the process.

1. Visitors

If your company has a blog or a community site, the number of visitors is probably one of the metrics you track to determine the success of your efforts.

But why is simply getting people to visit your site or blog important? It's great to show your boss that traffic to your new blog is up 20% per month, but, eventually, your boss is going to want to see more than just traffic.

What you need to improve: Don't just track visitors; track what visitors do on your site or blog. What action do you want them to take once they arrive? Do you want them to sign up for your email newsletter? Do you want them to send you an email? Do you want them to leave your blog and head to your main website to check out your products?

Figure out what you want visitors to do once they arrive at your site or blog, and then measure metrics associated with that action.

If you want visitors to sign up for your newsletter, then you need to track not only visitors but also how many of those visitors convert to newsletter sign-ups. If you want your blog to send traffic to your website, then you want to track referrals from the blog to the website.

Don't measure just "numbers"; measure the visitors who are taking the desired action on your site.

2. Followers and Friends

The number of followers and friends is another very popular metric that companies use to measure the effectiveness of their Twitter and Facebook efforts. But is it what you should be measuring? How will 5,000 Twitter followers help your business more than 1,000 followers will?

Here is where I have to get on my soapbox a bit. While social-media consulting, I see no shortage of companies that hire social-media consultants or firms that "guarantee" their clients a specific number of Twitter followers within a specified amount of time.

Do not give money to those people. If all you want is a specific number of Twitter followers, then keep following people on Twitter till you hit that mark.

Notice that most people on Twitter who have more than 50,000 followers are following more than 50,000 people. It's not rocket science.

But as with tracking website visitors, having more followers or friends is fine, as long as they are taking some other action. The metrics associated with that action are what you should be measuring.

What you need to improve: First, avoid the mentality that having more friends or followers is better. Is it better to have 50,000 followers who never buy from your business, or 50 who are passionate customers? Again, a large number of followers is fine, as long as those followers are taking the actions you want them to take.

Let's say you are on Twitter. What reason do you have for being there? What action do you want the people you meet on Twitter to take? Do you want them to buy your products?

Then you need to track referrals from Twitter to your website and what those referrals from Twitter do once they arrive at your site. If they don't purchase a product, do they at least sign up for your newsletter or contact you? Or do they just arrive at your website and immediately leave?

Measure metrics associated with the action you want your friends and followers to take.

3. Comments

Many companies like to track comments as an indicator of the success of their blogging efforts. And this can be a useful metric if your larger goals for the blog are aligned with tracking comments.

If a company wants to grow online awareness of itself and establish its expertise within its industry, then a blog can be a great way to achieve those goals.

And, to that end, tracking comments is an important indicator that the company is achieving its goals. But, again, you should be measuring comments only if they are truly an indicator of what you want to accomplish with your blog.

What you need to improve: Make sure that the number of comments is the right metric to be tracking. For example, if your primary goal for blogging is to send traffic to your website, then the number of comments isn't the metric you need to be tracking; rather, you should be tracking referrals from the blog to the website.

That's not to say that getting more comments isn't a good thing, because comments are definitely a sign that your blog posts are resonating with your readers. But simply getting comments isn't the main goal of your blog.

You want to accomplish something larger with your blog, and it's significant to track comments only if having more comments feeds into the larger goal for your blog. If you want to establish your expertise in your industry, then, yes, comments per post is a meaningful metric for you to be tracking. But if your chief goal for your blog is to boost email-newsletter sign-ups, then getting more comments is likely not a good measure of that goal.

4. Links

Links are a great metric to measure because they give you an idea of what content is popular; moreover, if your site or blog gets links, that helps it rank higher in search-engine results, which helps your company boost awareness.

But even with that metric you need to be careful that you are getting links for the right reasons.

What you need to improve: Don't measure total links only; also track what content is getting links. It's great that your company blog got 50 links last month. But drilling down and seeing what content was being linked to is vitally important to track.

If posts about one particular product line always gets more links, that's a good sign that readers are interested in those posts and want to learn more.

But if your CEO likes to talk politics every Friday, and those political posts are accounting for 80% of your blog's links, that's not a good sign. Tracking only total links would, in that case, give you a distorted view of your blog's effectiveness.

The Bottom Line

When you decide to start tracking metrics to determine the effectiveness of your social-media efforts, make sure those metrics count. Whatever metrics you want to focus on, they must be tied back to a larger goal for your social-media efforts.

Think about why you are using social media and what you want to accomplish. Once you determine the goal of your efforts, measure the metrics that help you reach that goal.

Don't be fooled into thinking that having 1,000 Twitter followers is a sign of a successful social-media effort. But if having 1,000 Twitter followers helps you reach a larger goal for your Twitter presence, then that's a good thing!

Looking for new ways to improve your marketing strategy and boost revenue? Get inspired by case studies, which are a great way to see how other companies handle the same challenges you face. For example, our case study collection, Twitter Success Stories, shows you how 11 companies are achieving their marketing objectives via Twitter campaigns.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier