Refocusing Social Media Measurement with Objective-Driven Analytics

Relational metrics, positional metrics, or both?


Before the holidays, I had written a little piece on digital analytics which eventually got picked up by Chief Marketer but I thought it should also belong to my Medium.

We’ve come a long way from comparing whose fan base is bigger, but the debate between relational and positional metrics persists. While many social media strategists have spent months convincing clients to move away from positional metrics (e.g., impressions) to focus on the relational metrics (e.g., engagements or sentiment), their effort is now thwarted by a recent Facebook and SocialCode study, citing reach as a better driver of offline sales, not engagements. But why can’t it be both?

Many advanced digital marketers have designated specific roles to each of their social media presences — which platform drives awareness, which drives engagements, leads, or sales, and how they play together in a digital ecosystem. With the maturity and multiplicity of major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, it may be time we move towards a more complex measurement model where multiple approaches can be leveraged within the same platform.

The line between personal and professional content consumption has since blurred. Users access their feeds for multiple purposes, including connecting with friends and family, accessing news, or collecting deals and coupons. And brands, with their assorted content streams, aim to reach users at different points of their journey — discovery, consideration, purchase, loyalty and advocacy. Take a look at any brand page and you’ll find an array of messaging that is light hearted, humorous, or assertive in call-to-actions, all in the same feed. Yet most brands continue to designate one primary key performance indicator per platform, e.g., engagement rate.

If content is not created equal, why should they be measured as such?

There are examples where paid media has seen success in driving users down the purchasing funnel on the same platform using sequencing of different creative assets. Adaptly recently partnered with Facebook and Refinery29 to test ad sequencing, whereby a test group saw a top-funnel, general brand messaging creative for four days, followed by a mid-funnel creative with product information for another four, and lastly a bottom-funnel call-to-action to drive subscription; the control group saw sustained calls-to-action across all ads. As expected, the test group that saw the sequenced ads had a much higher conversion rate than the control group. If the model they put forward carries over to content marketing, then we can deduce that it’s illogical to determine the success of a top-funnel awareness ad by how it’s driving social actions. Its job here is to get the user to be aware of (see) the brand before he or she is asked to click.

Let’s focus on Facebook and assume that engagement rate is encompassing of all possible interactions (social actions and clicks). Brands may have various content streams that promote general brand messaging, disseminate product information, encourage contest submissions, or drive leads and click-throughs. Just as it’s unreasonable to justify the success of a comment-to-enter contest post with the number of clicks it received, it’s illogical to measure a post that’s aimed to drive click-throughs with an all-encompassing engagement rate. If the goal is to drive click-throughs, then the KPI is clear — it’s the number of link clicks, and the rest is gravy. Each content stream or type that serves a specific purpose should be measured by it.

Instead of looking at a mix of metrics, such as reach, engagement rate, and click-through rate across all content, we should bucket our content by objectives such as awareness, consideration, and conversion and then assign appropriate metrics.

For example, we can focus on likes and reach for awareness content, and positive comments and shares for advocacy content. The success between different tactics is thus, also not comparable.

One reason why this approach is still atypical isn’t because marketers have yet to invent it, but that paid content promotion has yet to support it. The cost-per-engagement, cost-per-fan and cost-per-impression buys are still common, and often the only options for marketers. However, social networks will soon move towards a more specific buy, such as cost-per-comment or cost-per-retweet, whereby brands’ tailored content can optimize towards a specific response.

Another reason could be our obsession with consolidation. It’s inherently difficult to define success when we deal with multiple platforms where KPIs that can never be apples to apples. We want to see one big thumbs-up or thumbs-down of our social marketing efforts, unified into one engagement rate. But when’s the last time you saw someone add up the points lifted in awareness, consideration, and advocacy together? I don’t remember either.

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