The Real Measure of Social Media Success: Going Beyond Likes and Retweets

If you have been involved in anything with a social media component this past year, then you have no doubt heard people talking about social media metrics, ROI, ROE, etc. These are basically different measures that people are using to define success, or failure, in the use of social media channels.

Not too long ago, digital success was measured in “clicks” and page views — now it is in “likes” or “RTs”. These are all handy numbers you can put in a report to justify your activities and claim (rightly so or perhaps not so much) that use of these channels is a successful one. But are they really?

I am of the opinion that true social media success must be measured using old school key performance indicators (KPIs).

For me, the only valuable measure of success when it comes to a social media campaign is this: did you achieve what you set out to achieve? Everything else is smoke and mirrors.

In the early days of web (yes, I realise I am dating myself with this statement), at web meetings I would hear people come in and boast that they got 10K clicks on the new program site they just put up. When I would ask if this had translated into greater adhesion to the program, I was either met with blank stares, or something along the lines of “well, its too early to tell..” 90% of the time they never would know — but it never stopped them from claiming resounding successes.

Fast forward to 2014. I see people presenting 50 page decks on social media campaigns that were resounding successes because they got reach in the 100,000s, added 2,000 followers, and got 14k likes and retweets. But if I ask about real life impacts on programs or services, I get the same blank stares.

People are getting caught up in the numbers of social media and are forgetting the true yardstick: the impact of social media on your activities.

Now, before someone gets on their high horse about me saying social media metrics are useless, let me just state that I do believe these metrics are useful and needed. It would be hard to identify the impact you had on your target audience without first knowing if you even reached them at all. Social media is getting really good at that — far better than traditional media channels I might add. They allow you both to target your audience more precisely, and to some degree, to gauge what impact you had on them.

In some cases, social media metrics are in fact a main indicator of success assuming you can back them up. Campaigns build around increasing awareness of an issue or a brand are just such an instance where these types of metrics are very useful. If a 10K strong conversation builds up around your campaign hashtag then I think it is safe to say you have raise the level of awareness to some degree. But even then, I would follow up with some sort of polling to determine if:

  • The people using the hashtag were already aware of the issue and whether your campaign improved their knowledge or perception of the issue.
  • These same people now have a more positive, negative or neutral view of the topic?
  • There are two ways of knowing this: old school polling, or in-depth social media analysis before, during, and after the awareness campaign, with a bit of sentiment analysis thrown in there for good measure.

If, on the other hand, your campaign objectives were more along the lines of influencing consumer opinion, reducing phone and email enquiries, increasing program applications, etc, then you need some real world KPIs in place before you can claim success. One of those KPIs is $.

I have seen several case studies from the private sector lately where they can basically tell you how much money each individual tweet generated down to the cent. Of course, some people will discard this because “…that’s the private sector, it doesn’t apply to us!” True, most of us are not in the $ generating game. Still. there are still a myriad of situations in which you can add, if not a dollar value, at the very least a savings value to a campaign. For example:

  • If you can reduce overtime for a select group of employees because of social media, you can put a $ value to that!

  • If you can cut your traditional advertising budget in half by using social media and still achieve comparable results, you can put a $ value to that!

  • If you can increase any type of paid service (licensing fees for instance) then you can put a $ value to that!

Of course, for the public sector, there are many more factors to consider. Public behavior is one of those. In other words, has my social media campaign affected public behavior in the way I intended. Again, this can take many forms but it all boils down to one thing: did the public change their behavior following my campaign?

  • Did your can safety campaign result in more people buckling up and less overall fatalities?

  • How many people quit smoking after my lung cancer campaign?

  • Did citizen reduce their energy consumption at peak times as was the object of your energy saving campaign?

As a public sector organization you have to take not just success but also accountability into consideration. As the public sees more and more public sector organizations taking up the social media challenge, they will want to know what they are getting from our use of their hard earned money and they will want that answer to be something more than how many likes you got on your Facebook page!

One last thought. Social media is the “in” thing right now and it comes with its own shiny new stats we can trot out to justify its use. Insix6 month from now we may be talking about mobile instead, or wearable tech even. “Likes” may be replaced by how many eyeballs you managed to get for your smart glasses campaign. Whatever the new platform is, the old measures of success will remain: Did your use of the medium help you meet your mandate? Did you reach your communications goals? Did you make the public’s life better? You should be able to answer yes to at least one of these and be able to back it up, especially if you are presenting a 50 page deck at a meeting that I am attending!

Alain Lemay is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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