How to: Use Social Media Metrics


The most prominent number on most social media accounts is the reach, number of subscribers, number of followers, or number of likes. But this number doesn’t tell you if you’re achieving your goals with social media. Why? Because social media is about engagement – not about broadcasting or just showing up. This post will walk through one example of a social media goal, the best key performance indicators for that, and how to pick and use other metrics to work towards achieving a goal on social media.


If reach isn’t a KPI for Social Media, what is?

How are you doing on social media? Facebook insights, Twitter (and the many applications that use it), Pinterest, Google+, and even YouTube will give you numbers of followers, people in circles, influencers, likes and dislikes, and views.

But what’s most important? Which numbers will show you whether you’re achieving what you’re trying to do with a specific social media account? Which numbers are the most important ones to tell your peers or your boss? Which are the most useful for helping you improve? This post will address social media metrics from a very social perspective, to help you focus on what you’re really trying to do, the number you want to move or maintain, and what information will help guide you towards success.


What’s a KPI?

A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is the most important number that demonstrates how well you are achieving your goals OR how well you are doing towards your objectives that support your goals. To start thinking this way, you’ll need to define your social media goals and your approach to achieving them.

Decide on your primary goal

  • How will you know you’re achieving your goal?
  • Identify the best metric or metrics parallel or provide evidence to support your answer to this question.

Determine what you’re going to do to make it happen

  • Identify smaller objectives contribute to achieving your primary goal – these should result from the actions you plan to take.
  • Identify metrics that demonstrate or explain whether you’re achieving these contributing objectives.

You can have more than one big goal. If you do, you should treat them as different goals, because you will be doing different things to try to achieve them.


Social Media is not Broadcast

Social media is, quite simply, a social medium. It’s all based on connections and communication. If you have no friends and like no pages, your Facebook newsfeed will be empty (save for the stray ad). If you don’t know anyone on Twitter, and don’t look for a specific topic, Twitter sounds like a lot of people shouting with no unified purpose.

Social structure – relationships and acts of communication – shape social media from noise to something with logic, something you can engage with. Similarly, with more than 7 billion people on earth, listening to or having a conversation with all of them at once would be a mess. So we organize into cities, communities, mailing lists, and topic groups. A simple example of organized people is a party. Like social media, parties are a social medium. To show how to use social media metrics as key performance indicators – and as usable insights – I’m going to use the example of going to a party (or any social event) with a purpose.


Goals for Social Events and Social Media

When you go to a party, you probably have a few specific goals. Some of your goals might be to have fun, hang out with your friends or eat delicious food! But sometimes, you go to a party with a more purposeful goal, like making new friends, spreading the word about a project you’re working on, or finding out what people think about things.

Social media is like that, too. Sometimes you’re on it because everyone else is, because you want to hang out with your friends or see your niece’s baby pictures. Other times, particularly for branded account or as a professional, you have a bigger purpose to engage with social media – to promote something, to talk about something, or to broadcast something you want people to see, react to, and share.


Example of Goals, Objectives, and Metrics


At a Party On Social Media
Provoke interesting conversations, so everyone in the room is gathered around you. Provoke interesting conversations to engage with young people (18-35) in your target part of the world, particularly about a few key topics.

You know you’ve succeeded when:

At a Party On Social Media
Most of the room has something to say, and even the wallflowers are straining to eavesdrop on the conversation you’re moderating. You have many people participating in conversations regularly, starting their own, and bringing their friends. These people come from your target part of the world and are about the age range you’re targeting. Importantly, they are engaged, bringing in new ideas, asking questions of you and each other, and sharing their insights and experiences.

Key metrics:

At a Party On Social Media
If you did this at a party:# of total people at the party you engaged in your conversation Facebook: # of people talking about this, # of weekly engaged users
Twitter: weekly # of @replies, weekly # of new followers
YouTube: weekly # of video replies, weekly # of comments
You can extrapolate this to any other social platform, including blogs, forums, Google+, Vkontakte, etc


Some Objectives, and How You’ll Know They’re Happening

Objective 1: Get at least one person to talk with you – you have to start the conversation somewhere.

At a Party On Social Media
You know you’ve done this once you’ve found a person to talk to who will talk back. Look for posts with 1 or more comments, Tweets with an @ reply.


Objective 2: Invite other people to join in the conversation.

At a Party On Social Media
To do this, you’ll need to open the conversation for others to participate – ask questions, invite them to join, even just scoot over to open up enough space for another person to mingle in. You’ll know you’ve done this when you see the number of people participating in the conversation grow from just 1. Look for response to calls-to-action: # of likes in response to “like this!,” # of comments or replies to a question or survey.


Objective 3: Keep the conversation going so many people are able to join.

At a Party On Social Media
You’ll need to keep stimulating the conversation with new ideas, angles, and information. People go to where the action is, but if the interest is over in 5 minutes, many people won’t make it there. You’ll know you’ve done this when you see steady growth in the number of people participating in the conversation. In the short term, look for the time between first and last comment on a post or @ reply velocity (# of @ replies / hour). In the longer term, look for an increase in the number of people commenting, liking comments, and sharing the post, increase in the number of retweets, favorites, and @ replies.


Objective 4: Make sure that the conversation stays relevant to the people at the party/your target audience

At a Party On Social Media
You will need to moderate the conversation, politely aligning irrelevant comments towards the theme, and redirecting people who are detracting or offending. Great conversations include many perspectives, but do revolve around a core theme. You’ll know you’re doing this when more people say things and react to each other. This is a subjective measure, but the indicators that you’re doing a good job are that your number of engaged people does not decrease, and the number of comments/likes remain at expected levels. A decrease in these indicates that the post or topic is no longer relevant, no longer interesting, or has become offensive. Sometimes, a huge increase in engagement indicates that something IS offensive or incorrect…and everyone is showing their friends. Be suspicious of huge changes and try to figure out why they happened.


Objective 5: Encourage people to involve their friends.

At a Party On Social Media
You may need to direct people to invite their friends to participate, but you’ll know this is happening when people come from across the room, not to hear what you have to say, but to see what their friends are up to. Similar to the response to calls-to-action, this should focus on seeing that people do involve their friends (RT with comment, or share of post), as well as the outcome of more people engaged (people talking about this).
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Rebecca Shakespeare

Rebecca Shakespeare

Rebecca Shakespeare is the Senior Digital Media Analyst for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow her on Twitter: @Shakespearean.
Rebecca Shakespeare

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