Social media data on followers, likes, comments, and shares are often dismissed as “vanity” metrics—meaningless figures that one should avoid when trying to prove the value of social activity.

At the same time, these metrics are the currency of social media. As the person responsible for your organization’s presence on social media, these metrics are critical indicators of whether your hard work is paying off.

And therein lies the debate. To some, the number of likes on a post is meaningless. To others, it means everything.

Are all social metrics “vanity” metrics by default? No. But how you use them makes all the difference. Let’s dig into why these metrics matter, and how to avoid using them in vain.

Why these social metrics matter

Without followers, you have no audience. And without a steady level of engagement, the algorithms of many social networks begin to work against you—making it harder for your social content to even reach that audience. These metrics quite literally keep social media running.

Followers, shares, likes, and comments also represent an invaluable piece of information for any business: whether or not people care about what you’re saying.

When someone follows you, they’re allowing your brand to take up space within their carefully curated social feed. Likewise, when they share a post, it means they found it so valuable they’re willing to attach their own personal brand to it as they pass it along. These metrics signal that your brand is connecting with people one-on-one within a public forum—an opportunity only social media can offer.

These metrics also allow you to quickly fine-tune your social strategy based on real-time performance. They can tell you what type of content is resonating, how you stack up against competitors, and where you should invest further resources.

When do social metrics turn into vanity metrics?

Social metrics turn into “vanity” metrics when you use them to toot your own horn instead of connecting social activity back to real business objectives.

Just because followers, likes, comments, retweets, and shares are important to you as a social marketer doesn’t make them inherently valuable to the rest of your organization. Your CEO doesn’t care that you got 50 new followers, they care whether or not social media is demonstrably helping achieve their objectives.

The most common reason these metrics get labelled as “vanity” metrics is because social marketers report on them in isolation. Tracking your follower growth and engagement rate on a regular basis is important, but the reports you share with the rest of your organization need to tell a bigger story.

How to make social metrics matter to everyone in your organization

Connect them to business objectives

As outlined in our guide to social ROI, your objectives for social media should align with real business goals. Here are a few examples:

  • Business conversions: Our objective is to provide our sales team with high-quality leads through social media.
  • Brand awareness: Our objective is to increase awareness of our new product before it launches and take attention away from our competitors.
  • Customer experience: Our objective is to turn our customers into loyal brand advocates by improving customer service.

Here’s how “vanity” metrics can be used to measure whether or not you’re achieving those objectives:

Objective: Business conversions

Social metric: Link clicks

Instead of only tracking the number of link clicks your posts on social generated, track the behavior of those visitors once they arrive on your website and come face to face with a lead generation tactic, such as a prompt to enter a contest or subscribe to a newsletter.

To do this, set up URL parameters and use a web analytics program such as Google Analytics or Omniture to calculate how much of the traffic driven by social converted into leads.

Objective: Brand awareness

Social metric: Mentions

Almost all social metrics can help you gauge brand awareness, but the most effective way to measure this is by using mentions to calculate your social share of voice (SSoV). Tracked over time, this can illustrate whether there’s been an increase in brand awareness before and after a big event like the launch of a new product.

The easiest way to do this is to calculate all mentions of your brand on social, as well as those of your competitors and add these numbers together to get the total number of industry mentions. (Instead of doing this manually, use a tool like Hootsuite Analytics to calculate these numbers for a specific period of time in just a few clicks.)

Then, divide the number of mentions your brand received by the total number and multiply by 100 to get your SSoV represented as a percentage.

Objective: Customer experience

Social metric: Comments and replies

Simply tracking the number of comments or replies you received on a post
doesn’t tell the rest of your organization anything valuable. It’s what you did with those comments that matters.

Tracking your first response time (FiRT) to any comment or reply requesting customer service will help you measure how quickly your customers get a response to their messages on social. You can also use this metric to identify where there’s room for improvement within your organization. For example, you can determine whether your day team resolves issues faster than your night team.

In Hootsuite Analytics, you can set up a “First Response” template and automatically measure your reaction time by team, message type, team member, social network, or tag. To learn more, check out our primer on using team metrics.

Use them to spend smarter on social ads

Use metrics such as likes, comments, and shares as indications of where (and how) you should be spending your social advertising budget. There are two ways to take advantage of what these metrics have to offer:

1. Boost high-performing organic posts

Likes, comments, retweets, and shares indicate that content is resonating with your audience. Capitalize on that momentum by boosting these posts, and you’ll be able to extend the reach of that content even further without breaking the bank.

Since these posts have already garnered engagement they have an element of social proof, more people may be enticed to like, click, comment, and share.

2. Make data-driven decisions for your next ad campaign

These metrics can also help inform your future ad spends. Create campaigns that mimic your highest performing organic posts or run a campaign that re-targets people who have previously interacted with your content.

How to present a social media report to your boss

As outlined in our post about proving the value of social media to executives, here are three key things to keep in mind when presenting social media metrics:

  1. Keep it short: Presentations should not be more than 30 minutes and no more than once a month. Cut anything that isn’t necessary.
  2. Always show business value: Different metrics matter to different teams. People in charge want high-level business results with insight on the tactics you used to get them.
  3. Use images: Break up chunks of information and illustrate key stats by using images and data visualization.

Use Hootsuite Impact and get plain-language reports of your social data to see exactly what’s driving results for your business—and where you can boost your social media ROI.

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