Six real ways to measure social media

Like any zeitgeist, social media has attracted its share of charlatans and snake oil merchants, all peddling their mastery of this mysterious and complicated new medium. But when it comes time to measure the actual results, they pile on the jargon and then skip town with your fat cheque.

The truth is that social media, like the web, is highly measurable and no more inherently complicated than any other medium. If you keep your eye on these six sensible metrics, you will have a good idea of whether your social media efforts are soaring or souring.

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1. Reach

This most basic of metrics is analogous to your total social media “audience” across all the channels you’re active in. On Twitter they are called “followers” while on Facebook they used to be called “fans” and now they are “people who like your brand” (cumbersome, I know). No matter what you call them, they boil down to the same thing: people who have shown they are willing to engage with you by joining the channel which you control.

The definition above is for pure reach, but it’s also worth considering potential reach. When people engage with you on any of your channels, all the people they are connected to are (potentially) exposed to the same conversation.

Here’s a practical example: you post a sneak preview of your funny new advert on your Facebook page. Ten people enjoy it so much that they click the like button, and another five leave comments expressing their delight.

All the friends of these fifteen people are likely to see these updates (and thus your advert) when they log into Facebook. If each of these people has 100 friends, you have suddenly added 1,500 to your reach.

However, because you can be sure that a message will not be read by your entire flock, pure reach is a safer metric to rely on.

BENCHMARK: Take a small to medium-sized internet country like South Africa. Its total social media audience is around 2.5 million. A large reach is more than 25,000 people, while 100,000 would give you more social media reach than any other brand in this country.

2. Engagement ratio

It’s all very well to recruit a lot of people to your channels, but reach means nothing unless you can get these people to actively engage with your brand.

But what, exactly, amounts to engagement? The exact nature of the activities will differ from channel to channel, but the definition remains the same: any active contact with your messages and your brand.

This includes reading, replying to or forwarding your posts, flagging (aka “liking”) or mentioning your brand, visiting your channel page, clicking on your links, or inviting friends to your channel.

A practical example: you posted fifty updates on your Twitter account last month, and your messages were retweeted twenty times, and attracted thirty replies. One hundred people also clicked on your links. Your engagement rate is thus 150 for the month.

BENCHMARK: Your ratio of engagements to reach should be at least 1:1 in any month, and ideally above 3:1 if you can manage it. If each of your fans isn’t, on average, engaging with you once per month, then they’re effectively dead wood.

3. Influence

Where engagement is a catch-all measure of how many people interact with your brand, influence is much more specific. It measures how likely people are to actively pass on or promote any message you publish in a channel.

As with engagement, the jargon differs between channels, but the essentials remain the same: how many people, on average, promote or pass on any of your messages.

For example: you announce a new product on your LinkedIn group and fifty people click the like button. The next day, you announce a special introductory offer and twenty people “like” this new message. Your average influence for those messages is thirty.

BENCHMARK: Influence depends heavily on pure reach. At least 1% of your audience should be passing on each message you add to your channel, and you should be striving for 5 or even 10% if you can.

4. Referral rate

As powerful as they are, there’s only so much you can do to customise your social media channels. Your own site remains the best channel to present your brand in all its glory. And if you’re selling goods or services online, then getting people onto your own site is essential to closing deals.

Referral rate is an aggregate measurement of how much traffic a social media channel is sending to your site in any period. Google analytics is the easiest way to check this: just click on the “traffic sources” report and then the “referring sites” section. This will show you exactly where your traffic is coming from.

A practical example: you blog about a hot new range of products for which you have just won the distributorship. Within a few days four hundred people have clicked through to your ecommerce site and placed orders. The other ten posts you made for the month generated 100 clicks to your site. Your referral rate for the month is thus 500.

BENCHMARK: Your ratio of referrals to reach should be at least 1:3 (i.e. one in three people clicking through each month) but ideally it should be above 1:1.

5. Click rate

Click rate is a measure of how many times people click on the links you push into your social media channels.

But if we’re already measuring referrals, why bother breaking it down into individual clicks? Simple: we want to be able to see which updates are working (i.e. getting clicked) and which are being ignored.

For example: you post ten updates in a month about your big competition. Seven of the updates get a few dozen clicks, but three get more than 200 clicks each. Those happen to be the updates in which you mention the monetary value of the prize. Bingo.

BENCHMARK: Click rate is correlated to (and constrained by) both reach and influence. An acceptable click rate is 1% of reach, whereas 5% is exceptional.

6. Conversions

Often getting a punter to your site isn’t enough: you want them to perform a specific action, whether it’s signing up for a competition or ordering a product. Conversions are a measure of how many of your social media referrals achieve that goal.

The easiest and most effective way to measure conversions is to use a system like Google Analytics to set up conversion “funnels” which track how users progress through your pages towards the ultimate goal (I will be addressing this in detail in a future post).

An example: you tweet and blog about a giveaway you’re having on your site to build your newsletter database. You attract 100 referrals, but only 15 of those people actually complete the entry form, so your conversion rate is 15%.

BENCHMARK: This varies quite a bit depending on whether money changes hands. A conversion rate of 5% is good for ecommerce, whereas as you should aim for at least 20% for free stuff like sign-ups and competitions.

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