social media

How To Measure Social Media Success

Over the past six months, I’ve consulted a handful of people on launching and maintaining a social media presence. From how to develop a social media plan to managing communities both large and small, I have spoken with people in all stages of their deployment schedule. The one unifying question that each and every client and friend has had is “how do I define success?” Many of those new to space (even those that truly understand the value of social media) are still unsure how to properly measure a successful social media campaign from a dud.

There’s no one way to measure a successful campaign, as each business has an entirely different and unique model. Still, whether you’re selling $100,000 business contracts, working entirely off of an ad-based revenue or are a band looking for new fans, there’s a way to measure success and ROI in your social media marketing campaigns.

Though social media marketing is one of the cheapest forms of marketing in terms of dollars spent (in most cases it can be an entirely free campaign), it does take time and dedication to build a successful social media campaign. It is of the utmost importance that you define goals, and understand how you will measure your own success. Here are a handful of metrics you can use to measure that success, along with a key example, where these techniques work, and where they fail. I also added a few methods to measure these metrics.


1. Sales:


Clearly, the most important metric to measure to any organization is sales. If a campaign can drive or increase sales, it has succeeded. If you are a product-based business and can measure sales and correlate it to your marketing campaign, this is easily the most important measurement of your success.

Key example: The best examples are sales organizations. Companies like Woot or Amazon who use Twitter (or other resources) to push their sales. These are obviously not the only people that can measure their success using sales, but the ones for whom sales are really the only metric of success.

Where it works: If you are a product-driven business building a campaign to increase sales, this is the only measure you should care about. Everything else is secondary to the sales that are generated by your campaigns.

Where it fails: Many web businesses and service-based revenue models won’t see a large increase in sales due to their social media campaign. For example, ESPN’s Twitter account will not be likely to drive sales for its ESPN Insider accounts or for subscriptions to ESPN The Magazine. Those are just not important metrics to measure. If your website is entirely based on ad revenue, measuring sales really won’t help you at all.

How to measure it: Accounting for seasonality and possibly doing A/B testing, you can quickly do a back-of-the-envelope calculation to see how your sales respond to various social media campaigns.


2. Traffic

Traffic (unfortunately) tends to be what many marketers look at as their first definition of success. Traffic is a metric that is incredibly easy to track but also happens to be an exceptionally misleading statistic.

Key example: Insert any SEO campaign here. As a website’s ranking in search engine keywords changes, its traffic can (and likely will) change dramatically. A successful campaign that brings a Google ranking from 10th to 3rd can drive significant amounts of traffic, all of which can be tracked using tools like Google Analytics.

Where it works: Traffic always works as an easily measured metric to track. Nearly every online campaign will drive traffic somewhere, which can be measured. The most important thing to consider is how important traffic really is to determining success for your campaign.

Where it fails: So you just got 1,000 hits because of your recent email marketing campaign. Now what? How many sales did that actually create? How did that change the impact to your brand? Unless your revenue model is based on CPM advertising, web traffic isn’t as important as you think it is.

How to measure it: Google Analytics, Omniture, email marketing software, links, Mint; there are a number of free and (even more) paid solutions to track the traffic of your social media marketing campaigns.


3. Engagement

Engagement shows that a specific user is not only willing to click-through, but one that is willing to actually interact. Engaged users are extremely useful because they can easily become brand ambassadors if they’re (positively) passionate about your brand. Though engagement will never be a focal point of your campaigns (only 1-3% of users listening to radio stations call in, and the same rubric seems to apply to online), they can give you a pulse on a) what your user base is feeling, and b) how passionate your users actually are.

Key example: Coca Cola’s Facebook Fan page is fueled by an engaged and passionate community. With thousands of user-submitted photos and thousands of user posts to the discussion board, Coke users are finding a fantastic way to engage their brand.

Where it works: Engagement is great for a brand where increased exposure will likely increase sales. Large consumer brands like Coke and Budweiser rely on brand awareness and engagement – the more a user engages with their brand, the more likely they are to purchase and promote it to their friends. A website looking to increase its traffic can also benefit from engagement, as it can create passionate users willing to stick around and will ultimately grow the user base.

Where it fails: Many social media campaigns are not measurable by engagement, as they drive users to purchase or to add traffic. Plus, it will always be a much lower sample size of users participating (just 3,000 photos have been submitted by users out of nearly 4 million fans). If you have a really small campaign or a brand that will not benefit from community engagement (i.e. it won’t increase sales), then this is not an important metric for you to focus on.

How to measure it: In any campaign where you want users to respond and interact, you can measure engagement. Engagement can be measured by tallying comments, user submissions, or responses (e.g. @replies to your Twitter account).


4. Brand Health

Whether you’re a small business promoting a product, a social media expert publicizing his expertise or a band seeking local recognition, you could use an increase in brand health, awareness and recognition. It is unfortunate that not all marketing campaigns are conducive to measuring brand health for an individual campaign. Still, using brand health to measure a campaign’s success indirectly can often be just as useful.

Key example: Chris Brogan’s Twitter account and blog are all about building his brand. Sure it’s about many other things, but most importantly it’s about his personal brand as a social media consultant and expert in his field. Chris has built up a great brand for himself using numerous social media tools, and that can all be measured by the engagement (see above) on the various platforms.

Where it works: Large-scale businesses that rely on not only brand recognition but brand satisfaction, rely on social media as a customer service and support tool. It’s extremely important to measure how a creative marketing campaign affects a consumers view of your brand and your product.

Where it fails: Most small brands do not have enough recognition for their brand health to really matter too much. Though it is still important to see if a brand is being mentioned/recognized, a 20% increase in brand recognition or positive brand awareness may not be crucial to the success of a small business.

How to measure it: Focus on where your campaign is being targeted. If you’re creating an intensive Twitter campaign, use Twitter Search. With a Facebook Fan page, read your own discussion boards. After that, use all sorts of tools to search for link backs and mentions of your brand and see how its reputation has changed. Measure your brand before your campaigns, during and then afterward, and see if the buzz about your brand has changed. Even if it’s as simple as “before nobody was talking about us… now there are a handful of people talking about us”, that’s significant.


5. Conversions

Even if you’re not selling a product, conversions are an extremely important metric. Measuring conversions can be useful, as it can show how many users are driven to a certain page of your site (for example, subscribing to your blog, reading your Services page). For product-oriented businesses, however, sales conversions should be extremely important when measuring your social media campaigns. Don’t worry just about the traffic that comes to your site, instead worry about whether that traffic is creating sales or leads.

Key example: Do you get emails from Amazon or J Crew? Macy’s or Xbox? Most likely they’re happy to measure metrics such as open rates and click-throughs, but one of the most important metrics for them is conversions. A high open rate is ultimately unimportant if it doesn’t convert into sales.

Where it works: If the focal point of your email newsletter is to sell, then the bottom line is this: How many of your customers can you convert? An open rate of 30% and clickthrough percentages of 10% are much less relevant if none of those people opening your newsletter or clicking through to your products are buying them.

Where it fails: Conversions have to be taken with a caveat. If you run an advertising campaign or even link to an item in an email newsletter, a user might not buy the product immediately. Though their awareness may grow, they might not buy until weeks later. Solely measuring conversions can easily downplay the importance of a marketing campaign. Additionally, if you’re pumping an enormous amount of traffic to your website through your marketing campaigns, your conversion rate may be artificially low.

How to measure it: Conversions are the measurement of sales to users. If you have any sort of advanced analytics software installed on your website, you should be able to track the path of your users and recognize whether their initial click-throughs are driving them to an eventual sale. Unfortunately, it’s more difficult to track a user’s motivations if they made the purchase organically (i.e. not through your targeted social media marketing campaign). You can also track how many/what percentage of users are being driven to your product page or to learn more about your services. Though they may not be a sale today, these users can qualify as leads for future sales.


6. Public Relations

Though similar to brand health, here I’m referring to the success of promoting and publicizing your agenda. If there’s a ton of great press about your product or about your social media campaign, you’re succeeding. That means you’re not only self-promoting but having other people advertise what you’re doing for free.

Key example: If you want to see public relations success in action, just take a look at the job done by @ComcastCares. Frank Eliason’s customer support/twitter help staff has done an outstanding job of building and maintaining a premier customer service brand and receiving a positive PR response.

Where it works: Any sort of viral marketing campaign can greatly benefit from a PR success. Think of the Skittles marketing campaign. If you can come up with something new and creative that captivates an audience, you can find PR success.

Where it fails: If you’re doing search engine optimization or an email marketing campaign, this probably won’t help you. Also, on the flip side of where it works, it is very easy to garner the ire of the media if you execute a campaign poorly, or fail to use best practices. Be warned.

How to measure it: Scour news aggregators like Google News and blogs for mentions of your brand. However, if you’re being either a) praised, or b) lambasted for your campaign, you’ll probably find out about it very quickly.

These methods relate to any type of social media campaign you deploy, whether that’s using Twitter or email marketing. Feel free to consult this list as you develop a social media plan. Please leave your feedback in the comment section below.