Social media measurement is a tricky subject, not least because not everything can or should be measured, and in some ways social measurement is a bit like measuring the impact of TV ads on brand awareness: it’s a slightly softer area than, say, paid search.

But there are lots of things that can be accurately measured, which – when seen through a wide-angled lens – can really help you make sense of what social media can do for your business.

That said, you might want to implement a social strategy but perhaps you haven’t yet won the necessary budget? And it’s getting harder, right? It has been a difficult year for many firms and a focus on ROI may now be mandatory.

So how can you prove that an investment into social media is going to be worth it? How can you persuade the boss to make some budget available? How can you convince your colleagues that the cultural shift required is a smart idea? And how – and what – will you measure, should you be given some resources?

The following pointers on social media measurement and social media metrics should help you prove that there are lots of things to measure, and can help you outline what the likely effects on the business are likely to be. Good luck!

Step one

Read my article on social media measurement to understand that social optimisation is really all about the bigger picture: satisfaction, engagement, loyalty and ultimately profits. The past decade has been largely about customer acquisition, whereas the next one will shift towards retention. Social optimisation strategies will certainly help you to delight your customers, in order to increase customer lifetime value, referrals, the frequency of repeat business, and therefore profitability.

Step two

Get a grip on the things you can look at, to figure out whether your efforts are helping to make a difference. Social media metrics come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I recently compiled a list of 35 social media metrics to help you figure out the various things you can look at, to help benchmark where you’re at and to monitor progress. Over time you’ll be able to optimise your site to increase stickiness and engagement rates. And at certain intervals you will be able to correlate sales and profits with your social media / user-driven performance.

Step three

See how other people are measuring social media success. It is perhaps too early to properly measure the results of fledgling social media strategies, but if you cast your eye around you’ll be able to work out how others are approaching this. 

For example, UK retailer Marks & Spencers’ Sienne Veit says:

We don’t think anybody has really cracked this one, and certainly not us. We thought it was as important to start engaging in social media because this is where the conversation is now happening (and it would with or without us).

“For us, the true strength of social media is engagement so we also look at which discussions, posts, videos and events get the most comments and the level of detail of those posts. What we also need to do is quantify the value of the insight we receive about our products, services and brand through social media.”

If you ask me, Sienne has the right kind of perspective. Insight and engagement will lead to better service, higher levels of satisfaction, and increased sales and profits somewhere down the line.

We’ve also published some other interviews about social media measurement, including:

Step four

Take a look at some presentations. I compiled a list of 10 excellent social media slideshows, but here are two that are specific to measurement:

Move beyond social media metrics

How to measure Social Media ROI

Step five

Figure out what social media measurement tools are available to help you. Here’s another slideshow by Laura Lee Dooley, which will point you in the right direction (remember that while some tools may be free, people power is not):

Social Media Metrics: Free tools to help you measure your success

Step six

Check out our social media strategy guidelines (subscriber access) to put your house in order. Before embarking on a social media strategy you need to define some goals, and to benchmark where you’re at. Our social media template files can help you figure this stuff out. In order to measure in the future you need to make note of some numbers right now. You should also take a snapshot of things like search rankings and also – importantly – the various costs of achieving those rankings. This applies generally across your marketing efforts: benchmark the costs and effort involved in acquiring customers across channels, and let’s see if your social strategy can help to reduce these costs over time.

Step seven

Remember that there is a big difference between a social media campaign, and a company-wide and long-term social media strategy. The strategy bit comes first. Try to measure campaigns independently, in order to make sense of the overall picture, and to compare – and learn from – a variety of approaches. What works for one campaign may not work so well for another. Experiment, monitor, measure and tweak.

Step eight

Focus on quality not quantity. Measuring traffic sent from social media sites is all well and good, and traffic is some kind of indicator, but there is much more to life than growing traffic. What you really want is engagement (in the form of user activity on – and off – your site). Measuring engagement seems to me to be better than simply measuring the big traffic numbers. Not all visitors are equal. Focus on growing your engaged user base. Measure what matters.

Step nine

Educate your boss and any stakeholders. When it comes to the internet there is a general feeling of ‘it can be measured accurately, so measure it’. But social media can also be measured using some of the metrics applied to traditional channels such as TV and radio (e.g. brand metrics, which are typically much harder and costlier to measure, especially with any degree of accuracy). You can tune into the chatter on social media sites to potentially help evaluate these softer brand metrics. Yet even the best automated and paid-for tools are not 100% accurate when it comes to measuring sentiment, so try to convince your colleagues that we’re not just interested in the black and white, but also the 40 shades of grey that we can learn from. 

Step ten

Do the multichannel thing. You can use social media to measure the performance of your brands, products, services and marketing campaigns. Social media is a real-time feedback loop, and one hell of an echo chamber. For example, TV ad campaigns can be added to sites like YouTube and Facebook in order to accrue feedback and fans (and sometimes spoofs / blog action / viral activity).