There is a scientific method that can be applied to monitoring social media. Businesses must first learn about their efforts and then fine tune them to prove their time and money is well spent.

Determining how much of an investment social media is worth is a topic that comes up again and again. I wrote recently about how, in my view, calculating social media ROI is missing much of the point of social media. I realize that not everyone agrees with my opinion that social media is more about engagement, customer service and developing brand loyalty.

I also realize that some people who invest in social media, or who must answer to a CEO or CFO about social media efforts, need certain proof that their time and money are well spent. There are companies that can do this (including Radian 6 and Eloqua), but for those who don’t have access to analytics, beyond what can be gleaned from something like Facebook Insights, YouTube or Twitter’s analytics tool (available to business accounts) I have a challenge for you: try using the scientific method -- or a version of it -- to see first what you can learn about your efforts and then how you might fine tune them.

Here’s my abbreviated version of the scientific method, amended for social media. I think Bill Nye the Science Guy would approve.

1. Establish a Baseline, aka a “Control”

This should be easy. What are your numbers today? How many Likes do you have on Facebook? How many do you average per day and per month? How many followers on Twitter? How many new followers do you average per day versus per month? How many subscribers to your newsletter? How long has it taken you to get to these numbers? How many hours and/or money do you spend on social media? How long did it take you to get to these numbers -- or are you starting from scratch?

Set up a Google Docs spreadsheet or simply jot the numbers down on a piece of paper, and note the date. One of your goals with social media should be to increase daily numbers and reduce the amount of time it takes you to reach specific numbers.

2. Create a Hypothesis


Let’s say your gut feeling is that when you post humorous content you get the best engagement and Likes or followers go up. Your hypothesis would be, “I believe that my audience likes humor.” Or maybe you sense that your audience likes tips or other informational content. In this case your hypothesis would be, “I believe that my audience likes ‘How To’ content.”

This is sort of tangential, but when you are creating content, think outside the box. For humor, don’t just tell knock-knock jokes. If you’re a company that makes fitness or sports gear, look at what GoPro does: post funny crash videos (where no one gets hurt, of course). If you’re a bakery, post footage of kitchen disasters -- and ask your users to send you theirs while you’re at it. If you’re a dentist, perhaps some dental disasters that you’ve fixed? A car dealer might post photos of cars that should be traded in. You get the idea.

3. Test

Now comes the more difficult part. You have to divide your content into categories -- e.g., Humorous, Promotional, Informational and so on -- and keep track of the dates on which you post, tweet, etc. various types of content. Then you have to watch what happens, and make note of it. Be as specific as you can. If you are experimenting with humor, for instance, make note of whether memes do better than jokes. You might notice that industry-specific humor is better for your audience than general humor. During this phase remember to compare apples to apples.

Another important note: stick to your plan. You might have a day or two where nothing much is happening but resist the temptation to tweak your message or your content during a test, or your results will not tell you much. In order to run a clean test, focus your content around a theme. For one month, run only humor. For the next month, focus on tips, the third month, videos and so on.

4. Analyze and Crunch the Data

If you put up a “$5 off” offer on your Facebook Page or Tweet a similar offer but don’t see as much activity -- in the form of Likes, Sharing or re-Tweeting -- as you do when you put up a funny GIF or meme, then you now have some numbers backing up your hunch that humor is what gets your users going. If your company sells beach gear and surf boards, put up a few big wave surfing videos on your YouTube channel and your fans will share it like crazy, then ... more Kelly Slater!

5. Finetune

Basically this step comes down to acting on what you have learned. If your analysis confirms your hypothesis that your audience likes and shares Do-It-Yourself home-improvement tips, for example, then spend your time and energy creating this type of content. If kooky memes drive traffic to your Page or get shared a lot, then make more of them (or at the very least, find more of them), just keep it relevant to your service, product or industry. And if contests and sweepstakes boost Likes, then ... more contests! If the data is inconclusive, consider doing a second test. The follow-up might need to be longer, or you might have to push it out via multiple platforms.

The bottom line: social media is a science AND an art. Throw on a lab coat, go forth and get creative, and experiment!

Image courtesy of Everett Collection (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Interested in reading more by Jim? Try 6 Ways to Repurpose Content -- Even if You Think You Don't Have Any