Social marketing has become an integral part of the marketing portfolio ... at least in theory. One of the biggest challenges social marketing faces is the remaining confusion on which metrics are truly important for marketing success and which are more decorative in nature.
Luckily, we have 20 plus years of experience in seeing what works and what doesn't in the social world. (Yes, 20 plus years. If people tell you that social media is new, it's only because they weren't using proto-social tools such as Internet Relay Chat where hashtags originated from or community groups such as USENET with its metadata and language-structured communities.) In general, social interaction and sentiment are defined by the level of effort that somebody else puts into speaking with you. If you only need one click, that is a weak interaction by default. If somebody actually writes back to you, they have put time and energy into thinking about your social posts.
In this context, it becomes easier to understand which metrics truly matter in a world where marketing is no longer just about simple brand impressions, but focused on the educational journey of the potential buyer and the personalized relationship that companies seek with each customer.
To get a better idea of what actually works in the social marketing world, here are the key metrics that you need to track in the social world from least important to most important:
People get very caught up in the pure number of followers associated with a particular account or social group on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Google plus and other networks, but the number of followers you have is probably the least important number. There is a critical mass of users that you need to have in place, but this critical mass is lower than you may think. It may be possible to run a very valuable social network with only a few hundred followers as long as there is good mutual interaction and education achieved through being social.
The flip side is that companies with tens of thousands of followers may actually have very poor social marketing capabilities if they acquired these followers through a one-time event (such as a contest or --even worse -- a purchase of users and followers) and then never successfully followed up with an ongoing dialogue. Or the brand or individual itself may already be famous and the social followers represent the success of legacy branding and loyalty efforts rather than the added value that social media can provide. These "followers" represent a single click on your account and are a starting point. They represent the potential of your social accounts, but do not represent the successful use of social media in and of themselves.
2. Likes and Favorites
Everybody likes to be liked and favorited. How can you not? Sally Field's admission that "you like me, right now, you like me!" still resonates. But these likes and favorites similarly only represent a single click and a one time recognition of a specific social event. Individuals that provide multiple likes and favorites over time represent potential allies, partners, brand advocates or customers, but individual likes and favorites often simply reflect that a specific message has resonated. This is great, unless this message does not align with your own core products and services.
If you can't follow up an initial message with a second message that also attracts significant numbers of likes and favorites, you end up being a one tweet wonder. And if your messages end up not being aligned with your services, you end up creating a marketing channel that does not lead to ongoing sales or loyalty. So, likes and favorites are useful, but only when they are aligned to your company's messaging and when they are repeatable.
3. Shares and Retweets
Once people share your thoughts and insights with other people, the value of social comes into place. These shares are often still just one click, but these clicks are now expanding the reach of your actual message. From a social perspective, shares and retweets should be the minimum threshold of metrics that matter since these behaviors actually expand the scope of your brand rather than simply verify individual impressions and preferences.
4. Click Throughs
In the web-based world, click throughs and conversions are treated as the end-all and be-all of interaction to drive consumers to an end goal. Although this works in a process-driven world, the end result of social media is not a website visit, but a conversation. Because of this, click throughs are definitely helpful in creating a revenue-creating transaction, but they do not define friendships and alliances.