Social media metrics have laid unchanged for the past decade; yet, we are finally entering a time where they not only can change but they must change. No longer will the impressions or engagement numbers rule. Fans and followers in sheer numbers should not be a singular focus of the social media practioner. Instead, practioners must begin to define their key performance indicators based on the business goals of the company they serve.
Throw out: impressions, engagement, followers – the metrics used to validate social within the industry — and grow up. Now, social metrics must be closely aligned to the business needs of our clients and our companies. We need to focus on metrics that go above the narrow confines of the social media sector.
When I teach social media 101 classes, I begin by asking the students what the businesses (or nonprofits, etc) that they work for want to achieve in the year ahead. I have them define the goals of the company in the near term and the vision of the company in the long term. Then I have them look closer at the audience the company targets, the strategy for engagement and the metrics that the company uses to determine success. That final metric needs to be the same key metric for the social media team.
At the end of the day, most entities need to either make money or raise money. Arguably, there is the Silicon Valley brand of business which focuses simply on user growth above a sustainable business model but like (ahem!) Twitter, they find themselves eventually in crisis. So, simply put social needs to serve the end goal of the business which means that social, like any lever, must ultimately pull through to a sales goal.
When we see current metrics: impressions, engagement, fan growth they are abstract. How many impressions does it tack to drive incremental sales life? How many times does a fan engage with a brand before purchasing? What does fan growth matter if your fans aren’t actually buying your products?
The flaws in the current measurement system lay in the fact that most social media practioners are thinking within their funnel of practice and based on the systemic growth of their channels – first, it was experimental, then content driven, now its having to wrap more clearly into the larger marketing function. In short, social is growing up.
Ad campaigns are not measured based on the merit of their humor or people who may have seen part of it but based on their ability to create sales uplift. Social must ultimately do the same. To get there, we need better technology that not only tracks what people are doing on our channels, but how they move from social channels to digital channels, to retail locations and beyond. Only then will we prove sales and the true relevancy of social media.
(I’m curious if people are creating tools that can do this, if so please reach out on Twitter with more details @kristinalibby)