This article by John Murphy is part of our Blogtober event, which features blog posts written by industry influencers in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Those of us in the social media math game have been going through some growing pains. Up until recently, we were excited to provide all types of social media data and metrics to our social media publishing team, as well as to other departments that benefit from the information, like marketing and sales. All that information was received with open arms and excitement.

Now, we have begun to turn a corner. We’re learning more about which metrics really matter, why they matter, who cares about which metrics, and which numbers may not matter much at all. Numbers can be deceiving. When you’re studying your social media analytics, the data you’re seeing is most likely correct; some numbers, however, mean more than others.

Healthy Social Media Statistics, But Little Business Benefit

In a hypothetical example, your most recent social media strategy or recent campaign was planned and executed well. You look at your Twitter analytics and at Facebook’s Page Insights for your page, and the numbers look pretty good. Let’s assume this trend continues for months. However, even with social media campaigns that go well and numbers indicating campaign success, business is not changing. Sales are not up, consumer sentiment is flat, and traction in the community to your brand or message is the same as it has always been.

If our social media analytics and business metrics are not in alignment, we may be looking at the wrong numbers to evaluate our performance. Social media channels provide tools and analytics, but which numbers matter the most? That is the question and our challenge.

We cannot just depend on or look to Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media channel alone. Instead, we must have industry standards of measurement that enable us all to define real success. How else would we know how we are doing against our competition?

Find Your True Engagement Rate

It is crucial to have loyal advocates of your brand. Whether you’re a small, medium, or large company, it is more important to have loyal advocates who share our messages than it is to have thousands of “fake friends.”

To learn how many loyal advocates you have on a social media site, you need to look at your engagement rate. It does not matter how many followers you have or how many people like your brand’s Facebook page; all of those people are not necessarily your friends or loyal brand advocates. The content they receive from you on their Twitter or Facebook feeds are more than likely largely ignored. The odds of the majority of your followers engaging with your content are slim to none.

If you invite 100 people to your party, and 100 people RSVP that they will come to your party, these are your followers. 5 invitees show up: These are your loyal brand advocates, and your engagement rate is 5 per cent. This statistic—5 per cent—is what is important, because that is the percentage of people who cared about your party. You need to work on improving that number. The other 95 people are not promoting your brand.

Analytics that tell you what your true engagement totals are will help you figure out what you need to do to gain better traction with consumers. Do you need to improve our product or service? Focus on better social media content? What actions can you take to improve engagement?

How to Find Your True Engagement Rate

So where do we get numbers that matter? I suggest, in most cases, we should get them from a trusted independent standardized source and not the social media channels themselves. True engagement rate is one of the most important numbers you can glean from your social media analytics, but it’s not the same engagement rate formula that many social media sites use in their free analytics tools. True engagement is when the consumer actually does something with your content to promote it—they share, like, comment, re-tweet, or otherwise disseminate your content. These are true actions promoting your content.

Twitter, for example, will count expanding a tweet to see the full conversation as an action. This action is still important, and is part of a statistic worth counting for other purposes, but not as an engagement rate or as an action promoting your brand. Retweets are another good example of a good number to know, but not necessarily a measure of true engagement. If I wanted to measure the performance of a social media campaign, I would want to know how consumers are reacting to my brand’s content much more than how consumers are reacting to my brands re-tweets of someone else’s content.

ROI of Social Media is Important

For us, it’s about social media measurement maturing. We need to think along the lines of ROI. This demands better numbers—numbers that matter. When we look at TV ratings or movie ticket sales, we have standardized numbers and organizations such as Nielsen Ratings that provide this information to us. When we look at political candidates who need to stay in a race by raising money, we have organizations such as Quinnipiac University providing trustable poll data to us. Social media needs the same, and it’s starting to get it.

“Believe it or not there isn’t a standard calculation for Engagement Rate. There are in fact numerous iterations that provide significantly different end results—a highly dangerous thing for the decision-making marketer.” Klood breaks down the engagement rate calculations for Twitter and Facebook to show how wide-ranging these calculations can be. How do social media analysts compare campaigns accurately?

Companies such as Shareablee are making significant headway providing all of us with new industry standards. The key here is that they are independent and neutral, just like the aforementioned organizations for TV and political polling. Their goal is to provide standardized methods of measuring a social channels performance in a mature way that enables everyone to compare themselves to each other fairly.

Executives want to know what are they getting for their social media investment. We all know that every brand, no matter the size, has to be participating on social media to survive. Our challenge is to do this intelligently and effectively.

Think of the company executive now as the new version of a movie or TV studio executive. They have to decide how much to spend on the production of a movie or TV show, and how much to devote to the ad campaign promoting it. If the movie looks like a winner, backing it with large commercial ad campaign money makes sense.

In our marketing world we have to decide if the content we created for our new social media campaign was well done and worthy of additional promotional spend. It’s no longer good enough for a company to just promote every piece of content on social media or assume every piece of content is wonderful. Industry standardized neutral data will give us that answer and make us all better at what we do.

We are still working on the ROI numbers that matter. Regardless of which math we choose for now, the hope is an industry standard is adopted soon.

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