BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
Social media plays an important part in how organizations build brands, engage with customers and support other marketing efforts to drive sales. But mature organizations know that the biggest returns go to those who track their efforts with robust social media analytics data.
"Social media is one of the most effective marketing tools out there," said Sarah Scott, founder of marketing intelligence firm Amboxie Analytics. "However, if companies don't measure their results, it's often ineffective and a waste of money."
The tools and methods that can support effective social media analytics data initiatives are numerous -- some better than others. According to experts, it's crucial to first determine specifically what an organization wants to achieve with social media, which can then guide the direction of the entire social media analytics program.
"Before taking any measurements of any kind, one must have their goal defined of what they want to get out of the social media marketing platform," Scott said.
1. Pick metrics that track to goals
Ultimately, most goals will center around establishing a clear ROI on the money sunk into social media activities, said Ruben Ugarte, founder of marketing analytics firm Practico Analytics.
"This doesn't mean that you need to prove that social media is leading to purchases or conversions directly, but that [it] is helping in some clear way," Ugarte said.
He explained that the trick is getting stakeholders to agree on which social media analytics data points can track to specific goals and start finding ways to gather the appropriate measurements.
"Many companies don't get that far," Ugarte said. "It's important to discuss the pros and cons of each metric that's a candidate for [a] key metric so that everyone understands how measurement can affect perception of the initiative's progress, and so that those doing the work can navigate their way to better results."
Picking metrics that suit goals will take some critical thinking. For example, while every company says its goal is to improve sales, there will be numerous measurements and interval goals along the customer journey that show how social is getting them closer to that ultimate goal. This could include website traffic, customer engagement rates and conversions.
"These goals all contribute to the sales process, so it's good to monitor these results," Scott said.
2. Know your medium
It's also important to understand the medium in which you're dealing to comprehend whether a goal is appropriate for the channel and if the social media analytics data metrics are suitable.
"In our case, we expect very different things from Facebook and Twitter then we do from LinkedIn or even Pinterest," said Kris Hughes, senior content marketing manager at ProjectManager.com Ltd., a project management software firm.
For example, his company uses Facebook and Twitter solely for driving traffic and exposing audiences to blog articles in order to start filling ProjectManager.com's sales and marketing funnels, which, in turn, should drive trials of its software.
"Given this, we're looking to measure visits to the site, time on site from those visits and how many pages each person visits when they first arrive on an article," Hughes said. "Each of these things allows us to craft better content for our audience that will be more engaging and shareable."
Marie Lamondecontent marketing specialist, DashThis
In the meantime, he said LinkedIn audiences are more formal, and efforts around that medium are more about building communities around the topics that matter to its core buyer personas.
"Here we're not always looking for traffic but instead overall growth that can help continue to build word of mouth," Hughes said, meaning engagement metrics on the platform are most valuable for measurement.
Pinterest is solely about brand building, which means that ProjectManager.com isn't as concerned about traffic analytics.
"We're more interested for now in building out boards related to our primary blog topics and taking things as they come," he said.
3. Let analytics be your improvement guide
The whole point of any analytics initiative is that the data is meant to aid in decision-making. Social media analytics data can help organizations choose what to post in the future, who to target and where to funnel their dollars for maximum return.
"With the right data on hand, you can improve pretty much everything," said Marie Lamonde, content marketing specialist at DashThis, a marketing reporting tool vendor. "[The] possibilities are endless, but as a general rule, analytics helps you find out what's working and what's not, where to put more efforts, and where to stop wasting money. Every move you make as a company is a lot safer when you back it up with data."
According to Yaniv Masjedi, chief marketing officer at voice over IP company Nextiva, social media analytics data can also help marketers create more effective and extremely detailed ways to test theories. Organizations can also utilize social media metrics to discover trends that are most likely going to affect progress toward goals.
Masjedi added that increasing click-through rates (CTR) is what matters most to him at the end of the day.
"Every post should be monitored over the long term to discover trends in your user engagement and CTRs," he said. "If your tracking is detailed enough, take it one step further to track different types of posts to time spent on page, time spent on website, and whether or not that visitor resulted in a sales call or conversion.
"Just because a post doesn't score a click-through doesn't mean it's a failure -- but, over the long run, I want our social media engagement to translate into click-throughs to our web domain -- and, ultimately, conversions -- not just continued conversations on another company's social media platform."