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The No. 1 Social Media Mistake You're Making (and Four Ways to Fix It)

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Sophisticated marketers measure everything from website traffic and pageviews to form submissions and email click-through rates. But when measuring social media, most rely on fluffy metrics, such as "new followers" and "increased brand awareness."

Only 1 in 3 marketers can measure the ROI of their social media efforts, according to Social Media Examiner. In other words, most businesses have no idea whether their social strategy is even working.

That wouldn't have been surprising not too many years ago, when the world was still trying to make sense of Twitter and Facebook; as long as companies were present on social sites back then, marketing was doing its job. Today, though, these channels should be second nature for marketers, and not measuring their impact on the company's bottom line is a big mistake.

Marketers are expected to double their social spend within the next five years, according to the CMO Survey, so being able to prove the value of social media to your business is more important than ever. The C-suite doesn't want to hear that a good chunk of Marketing's budget last quarter was invested in social buzz; it wants to know how that buzz fueled real results—not to mention how you're using those results to influence and shape your marketing strategy.

Luckily, marketers today have tools, data, and insights at their fingertips to tie social efforts to hard metrics.

It's time for businesses everywhere to start thinking of social media as revenue-building, not just brand-building. Here are four ways to tackle your social efforts with a results-driven approach.

1. Set tangible goals

Measuring your social media efforts starts long before you even tweet, post, or publish anything. From the get-go, you should have clearly defined goals for what you want to accomplish with social. The trick is that those goals have to be tangible.

Most marketers make the mistake of saying they plan to "boost engagement" or "increase awareness"; such vague objectives make it tough to evaluate progress or analyze the final outcome. And if you want to effectively evaluate social, you need numbers.

To come up with those numbers, you need to figure out what matters most for your business and will have the most positive impact on it.

After that analysis, you might, for example, decide to boost engagement via Twitter 20%, increase the number of leads generated from Facebook three-fold, or reach 15,000 LinkedIn followers by the end of the year.

No matter how aggressive or modest the target, it has to be attainable.

2. Put your results in context

Remember getting an allowance from your parents when you were a kid? That $5 a week felt like winning the jackpot... until you found out one of your friends was getting $10 a week. Similarly, your social media results shouldn't be evaluated in isolation; you need benchmarks against which to measure your metrics.

For example, let's say you received 40 Twitter clicks this month, and that's a record for your business... so it's safe to say your Twitter strategy is in good shape, right? Wrong. You need data beyond your own to know what "good shape" actually looks like for businesses like yours.

Industry benchmark reports can help put your results into perspective, but to really know how you're social media efforts stack up you should be comparing your results to companies with similar-size followings. Choose a handful of companies to investigate on your own or look for social media tools that can whip up benchmark data that fits your social media reach. That way, you can discover whether 40 Twitter clicks is high, low, or standard.

To be able to set goals that will actually have an impact on their business, marketers need context around how they're performing on social.

3. Measure down to the dollar

Not long ago, some 41% of companies had no idea how social media was affecting their business financially, according to an eConsultancy survey from 2011.

Your Facebook efforts, for example, might be having a direct impact on your company's bottom line; you just need to prove it. Tracking leads from their very first interaction all the way through the buying process is crucial. If your Facebook page brings in 30 new leads one month, you should be savvy to how many of those become customers down the line.

Customers who initially found your business through Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn can and do bring in revenue, not just retweets or shares. Attaching a dollar value to social used to be wishful thinking, but now marketers can link their efforts directly to revenue.

More marketers need to apply closed-loop marketing across social channels to tackle ROI. If you haven't yet, identify the solution or tools that make sense for your business and can seamlessly tie your social efforts to conversions and sales.

4. Let results be your guide

Your social strategy should never be set in stone; it should be fluid and improved upon continually. But to be able to improve, you have to have insight into what's working and what isn't.

Marketers who aren't measuring social media results can't confidently say which channels need more attention or why one platform performs better than another.

If you've been pouring the same resources into both Google+ and LinkedIn for months, for example, and you are finding that one has much lower audience engagement than the other, don't keep doing the same thing you've always done. Instead, dive in to the analytics and reassess the investment your team is putting into each platform. Don't just track your metrics, analyze them so that your resources are always fueling growth. Your ROI will thank you.

* * *

Every business is different. As a result, each business will have unique social media marketing strategies. But all businesses should all have one, fundamental thing in common: a commitment to measuring their efforts.

By setting quantitative goals, comparing your metrics to a larger landscape, diving into closed-loop reporting, and learning from your results, you will make social media an even more effective marketing avenue for your business.

Not to mention... you'll actually be excited to present to the C-suite at your next meeting.

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Mike Volpe is the CMO of HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales software company with over 11,500 customers in 70 countries.

LinkedIn: Mike Volpe

Twitter: @mvolpe

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  • by Stephan Hovnanian Thu Jan 8, 2015 via web

    Thank you for the come-to-Jesus talk, Mike, these are things that need to be said. Time to stop "boosting engagement" and really looking at how your time and money are being spent. The one thing I find most difficult to qualify, though, is direct ROI from social, unless you're running ad campaigns that can track specifics. For example, I saw this article on four different social networks today, shared by both the MarketingProfs brand pages and members of their community. But ultimately I typed in to read it. So where did that referral really come from? Analytics will say "direct" but it was, in fact, social.

    Thoughts on how to approach those conversations with the C-suite? Or how to measure them?

  • by Printech Fri Jan 9, 2015 via web

    When creating and managing social campaign, it is important to always test and make sure your marketing message reaches the right audience. If campaign is not effective, you need to pivot and make changes fast. Use analytic to monitor campaigns and make the best decision for your brand!

  • by Valerie Levin Sun Jan 11, 2015 via web

    Mike, thank you for emphasizing how important it is for marketers (especially B2B marketers) to go beyond engagement and awareness, and start measuring the impact of social media on business. Conversions are the number one KPI that should be tracked to achieve this, and there are social media tools out there, such as Oktopost, that monitor this metric and bridge that gap between social media and measuring ROI.

  • by Gabriela Sun Jan 11, 2015 via web

    What a fantastic article!
    We're all sick of reading that we have to be interactive, post regularly, be interesting, engage readers, etc, but no one really explains the real deal and the main reason why most businesses should use social media for: ROI, financial growth, sales!
    Thank you, I have shared it already because this is a very beneficial read!

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