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GUEST POST: Showing the Value of Social Media: Selecting the KPIs that demonstrate real results

If you participate in digital marketing, you’re used to having a wealth of data at your fingertips. While measuring SEM campaigns is fairly straightforward, social media is slightly trickier. Sure, you still have access to a nearly unlimited supply of data (and as a self-professed data enthusiast, I must say that’s awesome), but there isn’t a clear way to show how it’s directly benefiting your business.

“But, Kate, my brand’s [insert intentionally misspelled measuring tool du jour] score is through the roof!”

So what?

The abundance of measurement tools has created endless ways to quantify your brand’s influence/engagement/etc. and, in some cases, spit out a neat little number that tells you how you’re doing. While they’re certainly not without merit, they do lack meaning and context. For instance, inexplicably hilarious spambot @Horse_ebooks has a Klout score of 76 and is, apparently, a Thought Leader, while @Zappos’ score is 67. I realize this is comparing apples and oranges, but it also shows why it’s so important to go deeper than superficial scores to examine the deeper, more meaningful data. When it comes down to it, no one knows your business quite like you and your company’s stakeholders; it’s more than a little misguided to report performance numbers that don’t take into account your actual priorities.

So how should you go about providing the bottom-line numbers that clearly demonstrate the value of online participation? You’ll be glad to know that I’m here to tell you … it depends.

Like these tools, I can’t presume to know your business; while I’m unable to provide prescriptive steps, I can share a couple of tips for developing measurable KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that will go a long way toward showing the results of your social media efforts.

Define your objectives

First things first: how will social media support your overall business objectives? Depending on the industry you’re in and exact details of your business, this will vary.

A couple of high-level examples:

  • Generate demand / drive sales conversions
  • Build meaningful relationships (After all, it’s called social media for a reason.)
  • Increase downloads / usage

Develop your strategy and identify tactics

Once clear on business priorities, it’s time to map out how you plan on meeting your goals. Your strategy will serve as the foundation for your approach to social, while tactics will include the channels where you’re active, the platforms for managing day-to-day social activity, and the content you’re sharing.

Select your metrics

Now it’s on to the fun stuff! With a clear view of what you’re trying to achieve, you just might be able to make sense of all the data that’s out there. Once you’ve stated your business objective and have developed a strategy to help meet it, you’ll want to define the KPIs to measure your progress against. To throw an additional acronym out there, make your KPIs SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and temporal.

Let’s continue with the previous examples:

Objective: Generate demand / drive sales conversions

  • KPI: Increase referral traffic from social media by X% in Y months
  • KPI: Increase conversions stemming from social media by X% in Y months
  • KPI: Generate X leads in Y months

Objective: Build meaningful relationships

  • KPI: Significant channel growth (quality and quantity) of X% in Y months
  • KPI: Minimum of X interactions (e.g. retweets, likes, comments, etc.) per Z posts
  • KPI: Increase positive sentiment by X% in Y months

Objective: Drive downloads / usage

  • KPI: Increase referral traffic from social media by X% in Y months
  • KPI: Increase conversions stemming from social media by X% in Y months
  • KPI: Increase share of voice by X% in Y months

Notice that the above isn’t wishy-washy—there’s no “noticeable anecdotal increase in brand perception” or similar fuzzy language because you have the tools to get the hard data, so go out and measure it!

Protip: Standardize when possible

If you’re part of a larger organization, or plan to run multiple, short-term campaigns on your social channels, it would behoove you to standardize KPIs when possible. Developing benchmarks and measuring against past initiatives will help you optimize your approach, ultimately leading to better results for your business.


Kate Donahue is a San Francisco-based digital marketer. You can connect with her through Twitter: @Kate_Donahue

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