The Evolution of Social Media Metrics

As social media strategies and methodologies have evolved, we’ve seen a similar evolution in how brands and agencies develop their social measurement frameworks. In the first few years, a lot of the focus was around ‘Fans’ and ‘Fan growth’ reflecting the ‘gold rush’ ethos that organic reach was relatively generous, and simply by having a large fan base, it would provide free exposure to a large part of the customer segment.


As the volume of content from brands increased, Facebook realised that people’s News Feeds were at risk of being dominated by brand content through sheer volume, rather than their friends’ content which is often far more relevant for a user. So, Facebook adjusted its algorithm a number of times to ‘rebalance’ the weighting of friends vs brand content. As a result, the value of the fan base decreased for brands; organic reach had been throttled and there was now more of a focus on not only media spend, but also content quality in order to get ahead of the competition. As the focus on content increased, metrics such as engagement rates and share rates became front of mind for the social teams.

Since then, a more forensic approach has been adopted for measurement, with brands becoming more experienced and sophisticated in their understanding of social media and its role in their business. As technology has developed, we’re now in a more grown up phase of social, with better ways to help achieve the holy grail of measurement: value attribution. There is still a long way to go, but it is moving in the right direction. Similarly, a focus on what the objectives of social really are and how they align with marketing goals are generating a bigger demand than ever for increasingly elaborate measurement frameworks and custom metrics. Where are we right now? 

Eight key social metrics currently being used in the industry.

1. Reach/Impressions 

Over the past years, many studies have proved a correlation between exposure to social content and key value drivers such as propensity to recommend and propensity to purchase. In some ways, people feel this goes against the need for engagement, as the focus is more about getting your content in front of as many people as you can. However, in Facebook’s case at least, the opposite is true; engagement is now more important than ever, as the tech giant’s algorithm identifies naturally engaging, high quality content and attributes a higher relevancy score, which in turn results in increased reach. So, engagement drives reach.

2. CPC/CPM 

Ultimately, with the majority of verticals, paid media is a critical part of social media. And, of course, brands and agencies are looking to get the biggest bang for their buck with the available budget. Analysis shows that there is a strong correlation between Facebook engagement rate and CPC. The higher the engagement rate, the lower the CPC; once again a crucial pointer as to why content must be as relevant and engaging as possible. It will get you more for your money.

3. Conversions 

One of easiest ways to help articulate the value of social at the moment is to measure how much traffic is being driven from social to a website. Today, it is possible to follow the complete journey, from ad spend, to impressions, to engagement, click throughs, and finally to specifically defined goals, to which a monetary value can be attributed. So there is an ROI model there but it’s important to mention a significant caveat here: this is only a small element of the true value social can deliver, and there is a danger that if this is the only value measurement model within an organisation, internal stakeholders may compare the overall investment in social to just the revenue generated from this one behaviour. Therefore, education and expectation management are key during the communication of this part of social media performance.


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4. Interactions 

This metric not only relates to the ‘footprint’ you’re achieving in terms of volume of engagement but there is also a very close relationship between engaged users and impressions; the more engagement the more impressions you’re likely to be provided with. Why is this important if you can see reach for your own pages anyway? Well, apart from the fact that it’s another indicator of content performance, it means that this metric (amongst others) can give brands a rough idea of how their key competitors are doing in terms of reach. It is only a clue, but given this is a common ask by marketers it is certainly better than nothing. It needs to be used in conjunction with other metrics to help make an assessment of what their competitors are achieving in terms of this key metric.

5. Engagement Rate 

There are a number of different ways of measuring the engagement rate, but essentially it’s about understanding the traction each separate piece of content is achieving in relation to engagement. As there are a number of variables that influence this metric, it should no longer be analysed in silo, but rather amongst other metrics that paint a more complete picture. However, it is still the most effective way to get a quick insight into the efficiency of your content and how hard each piece is working, and of course, offers the ability to benchmark against other competitors with public versions of this metric.

6. Share Rate 

Getting people to share branded content can be a tough ask, but it should almost always be a focus when assessing content performance. For a start, the fact that people are doing it in the first place suggests they value it highly enough to share with their friends and that they feel they are adding value to their network with that content. A number of social network algorithms such as Facebook’s, also attribute a higher relevancy score to this type of engagement vs other types, and therefore it will help maximise reach and impressions. Finally, we know that the general public tends to take more notice of, and trusts, content and recommendations from other people rather than from brands. So, understanding performance around this specific type of engagement is often critical.

7. Video View Retention Rate 

A lot has been written about how to best measure video content, with some almost completely dismissing the long-standing standard video content performance metric – video views – altogether. The main point of conjecture is the auto-play mechanic, which in many cases drastically devalues the metric, especially when a view is counted after only three seconds. It’s true that when looked at on its own, this metric can be very misleading; however, it should not be discounted completely, and the most effective way is to introduce additional metrics to help provide a more balanced analysis of what’s going on. The main metric that addresses this challenge is video view retention rate, which measures how long, on average people are watching your video content. So we can now compare retention rates and define what pieces have proved to be stickier than others, ultimately helping social content teams to better evolve their video content strategies.

8. Custom Metric 

At the end of the day, every organisation will have its own brand-centric view of what defines social media success. Companies ideally want one number that reflects this performance, and to ensure that all stakeholders within the organisation both believe and understand it by offering full transparency of how it is calculated. At the same time, for the C-suite level of the business, time is of the essence and this group will not be inclined to trawl through a list of metrics, even if they have been pared down to a critical few. These two factors have resulted in the demand for brand specific custom metrics. These one-score measures combine a number of core social metrics within an agreed formula, also including weightings for each metric based on importance and sometimes data from multiple sources.

Stay tuned for part two: "The Future of Social Media Metrics", which will focus on the future trends of social media measurement, and what we can expect to see in the coming years.


* This post was first published on James Lubbock's LinkedIn




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