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Don't Fall for Vanity Metrics When Measuring Social Media ROI

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Marketers know that social media is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to market their wares and bolster their brands. However, the effects of social media are often hard to quantify, and marketers can have a hard time explaining exactly what they have achieved using digital channels.

Unfortunately, often no direct link exists between a quality social media marketing campaign and improved sales and revenue. But that does not mean that an important (albeit indirect) link doesn't exist.

CEOs and other C-suite executives like to be confronted with cold, hard facts and figures when they assess the value of any marketing technique. And social media is no different. The trouble is that C-level executives often have a crude understanding of social media. So, some of the terms social media marketers like to use when explaining the effects of their campaign (such as "engagement," "online presence," and "click-through rate") are often dismissed as wishy-washy faux proofs.

Marketers who find themselves in this position can either:

  • Learn to translate their achievements into C-suite-friendly language
  • Help their superiors gain a better understanding of what social media is and how it is best assessed

In my experience, Option A is almost universally preferable. Bosses often don't have the time or inclination to learn about social media.


However, Option B, if possible, is important, too. By imparting a good understanding of what social media is and how it is advantageous, social media marketers can speak about what they've achieved in their own words. So, after you've wowed your boss, make sure you seize the moment and explain social media in general.

Vanity Metrics vs. Actionable Metrics

Vanity metrics make you feel as though you are succeeding when perhaps you're not. Therefore, what counts as a vanity metric depends as what you define as success.

For example, if the goals of your social media campaign are to raise sales and revenue, then vastly increased numbers of "likes," "shares," and "follows" may not be enough. However, if your posts are receiving lots of "likes" and "shares," and getting you many more followers, you may feel as though your campaign is effective—even if none of those likers, sharers, or followers purchases a single item.

We'll take it for granted that the overarching goal of your social media campaign is to generate more sales and revenue. After all, this is the primary reason businesses use social media.

Unless you're simply raising awareness (if, for example, you're running social media for a charity), vanity metrics often include...

  • Number of likes
  • Number of shares
  • Number of followers
  • Number of downloads
  • Number of page views

In short, a vanity metric is a metric that has no direct link with the overarching aim of your social media campaign to increase sales and revenue. That doesn't mean that those numbers are not important; it just means that they are not going to please your C-suite seniors.

Understanding Actionable Metrics

Actionable metrics are a slightly different breed. Though they may be harder to gather, actionable metrics are tied much more to your business objectives and goals than vanity metrics are.

The gold standard in regards to actionable metrics is the result of an A/B split test. For example, you may choose to split test a single promotional Facebook post (e.g., different copy for different geographies) and monitor which performs better at increasing traffic to your site. Do this on different days and you can monitor how many more sales you make in the immediate aftermath (an hour or so) after your post goes live. You have now connected a social media post directly to sales and revenue.

Better still, because you've monitored an actionable metric, you have data that shows you what you need to do to enhance your campaign.

Those two things—data connecting social media to sales and revenue as well as a clear idea about how to better it next time—is exactly the sort of thing that will get your seniors interested in your social media activities.

To monitor actionable metrics, you also need to be savvy. It often means going above and beyond what tools will automatically do for you. But the extra effort should pay off in spades. And this isn't to say that social media monitoring tools can't help you. In fact, they will likely be crucial to your success since many can be set up to help you divide posts for split testing and monitor relevant metrics.

The Power of Equivalents

Another great actionable metric, and one that C-suite will definitely understand, can be achieved using by equivalents.

If you know the value of a view or a click (if, for example, you pay for them) it is easy to convert clicks into a figure. This allows you to say, "social media gave us $X amount of clicks this month," which will certainly prick C-suite's ears. (AgoraPulse, for example, offers a tool that does exactly this for Facebook.)

Using actionable metrics will also give you a much clearer view of the role social media plays in your sales funnel. And by using high-level analysis tools, such as Google Analytics' advanced tools, you can see exactly what role social media is playing in the bigger picture. Putting your social media efforts into context in this way allows you to compare it with other marketing techniques, and prove its value.

Bear in mind that, if you're only using organic (or free) social media, you may not be seeing the ROI you want. A tip to boost ROI quickly is to assess the results of your organic campaigns and supplement the most successful of these with target paid techniques. This will get more eyes on your most intriguing content and, therefore, more people onto your site.

If the overarching goal of business social media is to increase sales and revenue, the best way to achieve that is to build an interested and engaged audience.

By using actionable metrics to link particular social media activities with targeted performance statistics, you'll be able to see exactly which types of post your audience prefer and respond too. This means that you should be creating actionable metrics for things other than sales and revenue—including engagement levels, click-throughs, and shares.

Though the C-suite may be less interested in those stats, they will be crucial to the ongoing improvement and development of your campaign.

* * *

By using actionable metrics, you can make the most important parts of social media tangible. Moreover, you can prove the efficacy of your campaign to yourself and to the C-suite.

Also, remember that social media is a long-term investment. The benefits of implementing what you learn by monitoring actionable metrics won't appear overnight, so be patient.


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Lilach Bullock is a social media marketing consultant, trainer, and highly regarded speaker.

LinkedIn: Lilach Bullock

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