Professional social media is hard work.  

Practitioners have to come up with new posts for their brands every day and then report the results upwards to justify the social media team's budget.

The lack of universally accepted performance metrics, however, makes this difficult to do.

To help, here is one approach to organising social media results to help management understand the value of social channels.

On one hand, social media is one of the most transparent marketing activities. Everyone can see a brand's strategy in one place and, in many cases, can see how well its posts are performing.  

Comments, likes, and shares are all public so brands cannot hide a viral success or an idea which has bombed.

But on the other hand, it's surprisingly difficult to know how well social media is performing for a brand, even to its own management.  

The figures, or metrics, used to gauge performance seem to be different from team to team and there is little agreement about what social media success truly looks like.

One approach to making social media performance clearer is to have a look at what a similar discipline uses to measure success; public relations (PR).

The PR industry categorizes results into what is commonly known as the three O's: Output, outtakes, and outcomes.

The definitions of each are well-documented elsewhere, but for the sake of helping the social media professional to start organising his or her results, they are summarized below with relevant examples. 

Outputs

Figures which are used to measure success purely based on a team's activities are called 'output metrics'. They answer a simple question, did the team do their work on time, within budget, and on message?

Though this sounds like a rather basic way of measuring social media success, it is still a major part of the strategy for many brands.

Social media teams are routinely tasked with simply producing a certain number of pieces of content per day.

For example, look at Toyota Malaysia's Facebook posts.  The brand typically has one post per day about its cars and additional posts when there is a special event.

Though it is, of course, likely that the team has broader strategic goals, it would not be surprising if one of their targets was simply 'post at least once per day'. Achieving this is an output metric.

Output metrics can usually be managed by the members of a social media team unless global coordination is required.  

In these cases, management of output may be done by using a content marketing platform such as Percolate, Divvy HQ, or Kapost.

Output metrics are the easiest to report, yet the least satisfying to management.  

Sure, the team is following orders and producing regular content but the question remains, how does the output benefit the brand?

Outtakes

Instead of just measuring production, social media teams can also measure the direct results of their efforts, or the 'outtake metrics'.

Outtake metrics will tell you things like: 

  • How many impressions did your post get?
  • How many people watched the video?
  • How much engagement did you get?

Social media platforms typically provide this data. Facebook has reported organic and paid reach for some time and Twitter now offers extensive analytics of tweet performance.  

Other platforms are also starting to provide these metrics via dashboards.

The reach of a single post, however, is rarely the goal of a social media team. Instead, it is more interesting to look at outtakes in context.

One tool which provides this data is Socialbakers. It not only tells you the reach of your posts, but will also give you engagement metrics per number of fans (example: Mini Thailand)...

...how well posts are performing against one another (example: Honda Philippines)...

...and how well posts are performing against other brands in your industry.

Outtake metrics are preferrable to output metrics for a number of reasons.

First off, outtake metrics give management much more information than simple output metrics.

They offer a glimpse at how much of an impression you are making with the brand's market. Outtake metrics with industry context are even better.

Also, social media engagement figures encapsulate a lot of other information about your posts which is useful for improving your content.  

How many people reacted to your post, without promotion, is a good guide to the overall quality, relevance, and 'shareability' of your team's work.

Finally, outtake metrics are typically underrated by social media teams and so using them to improve could give your brand a competitive advantage.

Outcomes

The most important metrics for the lasting success of a social media team, however, are outcome metrics

Outcomes are figures which report on the actions people took as a result of your social media posts. That is, what change did your social media efforts make in the real world?

Some people use outtake metrics, such as likes and shares, as a proxy for outcome metrics.  

That is, if your fans are sharing your post then you can infer that it has had a positive effect on how they view your brand.

But outcomes also go much farther than whether your fans liked your posts or shared it with their friends. 

Outcomes also ask questions like:

  • Did customer loyalty for the brand improve?
  • Are your leads more qualified?
  • Did more people buy something after seeing a post?

These questions are much more difficult to answer and, as a result, are much less frequently part of a social media team's KPIs.

In order to measure customer loyalty, brands should gather customer experience (CX) metrics such as net promoter score (NPS).

Then, following a particular campaign, if the NPS score has increased you can attribute success to social media, to some extent.

For lead quality, social media teams need to agree a 'lead score' metric with sales and aim to improve that through targeted social media campaigns.

And finally, the most controversial topic. Do social media campaigns actually increase sales?

To answer this question, companies need to implement attribution modeling so that social media views are taken into consideration when giving various media credit for sales.

Attribution modeling, however, is still quite difficult to do and accuracy might not meet expectations.  

Though it is still worthwhile to try, it may be better to start by targeting campaigns to a specific region or demographic group and look for large bumps in sales for them.  

The results and the outcome metrics for a significant result will be more obvious and more meaningful to management.

So...

Social media metrics are important for teams who want to improve performance and report upwards to management. 

Though many social media teams are still using output metrics, such as successfully completing a post per day, there are other ways to measure success.

Outtake metrics will let you know whether your posts are reaching the intended audience and tell you something about the quality of your work as well.  

These should be looked at closely by teams as they are an underrated metric.

Output metrics, which link social media to business objectives, are the most impressive figures for management, though.  

They are typically more difficult to extract but once they become part of your reporting framework, it will be much easier for you to justify the social media team's budget.

Jeff Rajeck

Published 16 August, 2016 by Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck is the APAC Research Analyst for Econsultancy . You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.  

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Comments (2)

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Ellen Ward, Project Support and Database Executive at ICAEWEnterprise

Hi,
I don't know if you are aware, but there is a typo on the link to Toyota Malaysia (Toyota Malayasia)

over 1 year ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

Well spotted - got it. Thanks!

over 1 year ago

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