The roller coaster ride of social media is starting to make me sick to my stomach. Keep your hands and arms inside the car, as we are about to bank hard right into a rant.
First, there was the promise of changing how we communicate with our customers. Social media was going to finally help us achieve one-to-one marketing. Before we reached that nirvana, content marketing suddenly dominated marketing, and social media became a distribution channel.
I’m going to avoid the obvious benefits of social media for customer service, because Jay has research to back that up. This is also not a rant about the decline of organic reach and the requirement to pay to get in front of people. I’m okay with that form of advertising because it seems to be working.
This is about how people still measure their success in social media marketing. Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of smart people managing social media programs and measuring success in ways that connect to their businesses. But when you read surveys of what people are measuring, so many marketers are headed down the wrong path.
Gaining More Followers Is Not a Goal
Vanity metrics are the worst part of social media. If there is one industrial social media complex pushing its unhealthy ways on society, this is it. It’s not just that all the major social platforms present followers, likes, comments, retweets, and shares front and center on profiles, pages, and posts, but the latest posts from leading “thought leaders” continue to promote this approach with their own content. “How to Get More Followers on This Channel,” they write. “How to Get More Followers on That Channel.” It’s even spilling over to networks like Snapchat that don’t even display follower numbers.
Yes, you want to build your audience to get your message, or content, in front of more relevant people, but relevance is more important. Growing your numbers for the sake of reporting higher numbers next month does not get you new customers. If more followers is your goal, just spend $50 each month to buy a few thousand fake ones and take the rest of the month off. Or you might want to take that time to create a plan to measure something that actually matters to your business.
Don’t Measure What You Can’t Change
Another measurement approach that is just as bad as vanity follower metrics are tracking metrics just for the sake of tracking metrics. Sometimes your boss may tell you what to track. You can track and report anything they want, but the point is really the analysis of those metrics, not the metrics themselves. What does it all mean? Did your metrics improve this quarter? Did something you did cause the improvement, or was it due to outside forces? It is this analysis that causes you to do something different to improve your metrics in the next period.
You shouldn’t be tracking metrics if you can’t have any effect on them with your actions. At the same time, you should be looking at metrics as your guide to what and how to improve in the future. You, not your boss, may need to determine the best metrics to track. For example, understanding where your blog traffic comes from should help you improve it. But knowing what topics resonate with your audience is also a part of understanding post performance.
ROI Means Tracking Money
Every marketer must answer the ROI question. This has been a part of social media metrics conversations since the beginning. The challenge of this request is that ROI means “return on investment,” and investment means money. Whether you are talking about a campaign, a social media program, or your entire marketing organization, the ROI formula describes how much money you earned (or saved) compared to the money you spent. So unless you are using social media in a way that drives sales, you cannot determine ROI.
If we go back to those follower metrics, there have been lots of estimates of what a follower is worth. Even this depends on your business and what you are using social media for. Can you calculate a number that represents awareness based on 10,000 people liking a Facebook Page? Maybe, but you have to compare that to some other monetary view of awareness in your business, and you have to understand what action those fans of the page can take. When these kinds of numbers are compared to the investment made, which includes the cost of employees, agencies, and technology, the ROI is not usually a positive number.
You Must Care Deeply About Your Metrics
If you don’t care about your metrics, they will not care about you. Metrics can be challenging to collect, depending on what tools you use, but many marketers use a variety of tools that don’t talk to each other. Excel often becomes the central collection point. This means that you could be spending a lot of time transferring your metrics into Excel. This takes time. It can be hard to spend this time on metrics that don’t matter or don’t help you do your job better.
Those PowerPoint decks you create from your Excel spreadsheet need to guide your way forward. So often, these reports are only a backwards-looking snapshot of activity. The pretty graphs and charts are not the point. The more you care, and the more analysis and meaning you can add, the more relevant this reporting becomes. This is how social media marketing can have an impact on your business.
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