Two schools of thought dominate the social media analysis landscape.

The More-the-Merrier group tracks, analyzes, and reports nearly everything because each social metric might have value. Shares demonstrate engagement. Reach shows brand awareness. Network size reflects influence.

The Social Skeptics group brushes off social signals as vanity metrics, demoting them as second-class citizens in the hierarchy of digital marketing analysis. Shares have no dollar value. Reach has no dollar value. Network size has no dollar value.

Both perspectives are incredibly dangerous.

Moreover, organizations that subscribe to either are at risk of being swayed by misleading data. Finding a middle ground with an open and analytical mind is the only way to succeed with social signals.

Here are some tips to help you find the middle ground.

  • Let the cream rise to the top. Social data should earn a seat at the decision-making table. Blind faith or total aversion to any metric or traffic source leads to analysis oversight. Marketers must let data prove themselves.
  • Think bigger than social. The lines between digital marketing channels are blurring, often working together in ways that sometimes are not easy to see. Thinking bigger than simply social, PPC, or SEO helps marketers gain perspective.
  • Always catch and release. The most successful marketing analysts accept all data, use some, and reject most of it. Before ignoring data, however, consider that social metrics tap information that other marketing channels cannot.

The Social Media Savior

The most important step to using social data is segregating everything into hard metrics and soft metrics. Hard metrics directly influence core business objectives, such as the organization's bottom line, while soft metrics indirectly contribute.

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Andrew Garberson is search marketing manager at LunaMetrics, a data and traffic analysis consultancy.

LinkedIn: Andrew Garberson

Twitter: @Garberson