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best social media marketing metricsInstagram and Facebook appear ready to remove like counts from public view.

Brands have long used like counts to evaluate their content and influencers’ content. Likes won’t disappear entirely. Content creators will still be able to see their like counts and who liked their content. But the demise of the public data on likes may upend social media marketing measurement and influencer marketing for some brands.

While media outlets largely regurgitated Instagram’s and Facebook’s reasoning that hiding likes will improve users’ mental health, some PR experts say Facebook actually hopes to boost its advertising income by quashing the use of influencers to promote brands.

Measurement experts welcome the departure of likes for other reasons. They criticize likes as a vanity metric that may be easy to report and may assuage egos but provides little insight into what helps increase revenue or improve a business. Research has shown that liking a brand on Facebook does not increase purchasing or change consumer behavior. People who like companies on Facebook may already be active customers. Consumers who like or follow a brand do not increase the brand’s reach on their friends’ news feeds. In addition, a like may not necessarily indicate approval as consumers like content for a variety of reasons.

Social Media Metrics that Support Business Goals

The demise of likes may prompt brands to track more advanced metrics. Marketers can consider multiple metrics to determine social media’s impact on business objectives and deliver information that marketing directors and CEOs really care about and want.

Brand awareness. Track the business profile’s fan/following growth, engagement growth, and mentions over a designated time period to measure increasing brand awareness, explains Ashley Ward, corporate speaker and evangelist for SEMrush. Increasing numbers indicate increasing brand awareness. If growth remains stagnant, brand awareness is not reaching a larger audience.

Customer contacts. Linking your CRM software to your social reporting software will help keep tabs on the number of customer contacts coming from social media, notes social media marketer Alex Sobal at Weidert Group. If you notice a spike in contacts gained, examine the posts you shared that day to find what content your audience prefers.

Incoming web traffic. Google Analytics shows incoming traffic from social media and the different social media networks. “This metric is one of the most important that you can monitor, because it tells you exactly what kind of impact your social media is having on your overall site traffic,” Sobal says. Analyzing posts by network or date/time can pinpoint the posts and social networks that perform best. If you notice a spike on a certain day or network, look at the posts you shared to find successful topics and strategies.

Video metrics. As video becomes more popular, it’s crucial to measure performance of the brand’s video marketing. Besides tracking video views, brands can gain insights by tracking more advanced video metrics, such as watch time, average engagement, play rate, and action completions.

Conversions. Conversions encompass those people who enter the lead generation funnel by completing an action such as completing forms for online lead generation, registering for webinars, or downloading white papers or e-books. Integrating Google Analytics into your website allows tracking of those activities. Many social media analytics dashboards, including Glean.info, also make it possible to track specific activities that originate in social media. Build trackable links into social media posts and monitor those links in Google Analytics, advises Swapnil Bhagwat, digital marketing expert with Orchestrate Technologies.

Assisted conversions. A Facebook post or other social media post may refer a visitor to your website, but the customer may not convert until weeks later. If you don’t track those multi-touches and report such assisted conversions, you won’t know the true value of social media marketing in lead generation, says Shelly DeMotte Kramer, CEO of Futurum Research + Analysis, in a LinkedIn post.

Sentiment. Establishing and maintaining a high-quality brand reputation helps create a successful business. While social media can help promote your brand, negative comments can quickly damage an organization’s image. “Thus, understanding the brand sentiment on social is vital for any marketer,” Bhagwat emphasizes. While social media platforms typically provide at least some level of analytics, organizations need a social media monitoring service to measure brand sentiment across all social networks, online forums and online publishers. Preferably brands will use human readers to fully understand and gain insights from both content and context of social media posts.

Set Business Goals before Selecting Metrics

Identifying the business goals to measure is the first step in effective social media measurement. Most often, the goals involve leads, sales, or positive sentiment toward the organization or its products. For non-profits, goals could involve increases in the number of persons using the organization’s services, donations, volunteers or attendance at events.

The ideal social media metrics vary from business to business, depending on their objectives. The best metrics are based on business goals, not social media goals. Marketers typically track their number of followers, engagement, impressions. While not completely useless, those metrics don’t reveal how social media achieves business goals. Accumulating more followers can help reach more customers, as long as followers are the brand’s desired audience, but then what?

“Brands need to shift their thinking around what they measure and take a more active lead in developing meaningful metrics,” agues Danielle Smith, managing director of Communicator London, in The Drum.  “Rather than measuring the newest fad and creating content on the back of that, they should be thinking about the role of their social media, while creating and measuring content that is based on succeeding in that role.”

Beware of Social Media Measurement Overload

Measurement experts typically recommend tracking three to five metrics consistently over time. Measurement is time-consuming, and more metrics won’t necessarily lead to any more useful knowledge or insights. As time goes on, PR and marketers pros can benefit from periodically reviewing their metrics and ditching ones that are no longer helpful.

“It can be tempting for social media professionals to try and track everything, but that’s a recipe for failure,” argues Amber Naslund, senior director of industry leadership at Hootsuite. “Complex measurement programs don’t often make that easy, so companies are much better off selecting a handful of measurements they can track with strong benchmarks, clearly and consistently.”

Bottom Line: Selecting the best social media metrics to track is a critical step for social media measurement. While follower growth and reach can indicate how social media efforts are faring, they don’t show how those efforts help meet business objectives. Marketers need more advanced metrics and the right social media measurement tools to show results that impress the bosses.

This post was first published on Aug. 9, 2018, and updated on Oct. 17, 2019.