I’m often asked, how can we measure whether or not our social media efforts are successful? Well, the answer depends on the scope of your expectations and how you choose to evaluate available data. Rare is the occasion where something you post results in a sudden uptick of sales. Of course, it does happen, but really it’s an unusual occurrence. So why bother with social media if you can’t see or measure results in such stark terms? Well, if you look at the history of advertising, clients have been asking the same question since pretty much the dawn of the medium. Yes, every now and then a campaign can result in a surge of sales, but that’s not the norm, and even in such instances, short-term success is often fleeting - disappointingly ineffectual when looked at through a long-term lens.
Have you ever asked yourself why when you go to buy toothpaste, you (if you’re like most people) are most likely to choose a brand you’re already familiar with? Well, there can be several reasons of course, but one of the reasons you can likely exclude is the result of any one particular advertisement. Successful brands simply don’t measure results on short-term timelines (time-sensitive campaigns excepted of course - such a sale or some other kind of limited offer). Of more value to those in the know is storing brand details in people’s subconscious. So when you go to buy that tube of toothpaste, you don’t necessarily think of any one advertisement, but your subconscious familiarity with the brand preordains your choice.
Social media, when working well, functions in much the same way. Yes, a killer post every now and then has value for sure, but of more importance is making sure that posts are frequent, generally interesting and engaging as possible. To the latter point, don’t be afraid of incorporating a little controversy or flirting with an alternative point-of-view, but that in itself is a topic for another day. The idea is to create engagement, because engagement functions in the part of the brain where the subconscious resides. If you’re successful, then your brand of toothpaste is what’s going into into the shopping basket.
When asked to measure the success of a social media effort or campaign, there are various quantifiable methods to look at. Analytics will tell you a lot, as will information relating to the degree of participation from your target audience (ex. comments, replies, follows, likes, surveys, etc.), but in and of itself, none of this information is a singularly reliable method to ultimately determine whether (or not) your social media efforts are worthwhile. Indeed, the only way to measure the success (or failure) of your efforts is to look at the collective results. What I’ve found (stats guys hate this) is that the measure of success is sometimes best evaluated via your “gut”. Oft times, it’s a feeling you get analyzing not just the statistical results of a campaign, but by measuring the mood and tone of the audience response. It’s sometimes hard to connect those dots to sales, but rest assured that if you’re doing your job and creating a positive level of engagement, then those sales are going to happen - maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week - but they’re going to happen. Bank on it. Temper your expectations with what long time advertisers learned a long time ago – that it is best to measure success not on a minute-by-minute basis – but on a scale that takes a longer view of the big picture. That point of view will tell you more-so than any kind of analytics assessment whether your social media efforts are worthwhile or not.