The problem of assessing the effectiveness of publishing on social media is not a lack of measurement, but rather a paradox of choice: there are so many metrics, but no clear consensus on what the best metric for gauging the effectiveness of the platform might be.
This article explores the benefits and drawbacks of a variety of metrics frequently used by publishers to measure return on investment (ROI) on social media, and ultimately concludes that the only metric which accurately measures social ROI is the percentage of pageviews from social (PPS).
Benefits of reach
‘Reach’ refers to the number of people on whose social feed a post appears; it reflects how broadly the publisher’s content has been seen by users on the platform. Reach is, therefore, important for brand visibility.
Drawbacks of reach
High reach does not necessarily deliver high pageviews, because content appearing on the screen does not guarantee the reader clicks through to the article. It’s not uncommon that a social media post will have a high CTR, only because its reach was low.
Benefits of pageviews
Pageviews most directly relate to how publishers generate revenue online and are widely used to compare performance of individual articles on a publisher’s website.
Drawbacks of pageviews
A publisher will get traffic (and so pageviews) from many different sources (for example: email, direct, Google search, social media and others). Pageviews alone don’t isolate the significance of any one particular source at driving traffic. Absolute pageviews also vary by order of magnitude depending on the particular news being reported at any one time. This makes clearly resolving more modest gains very difficult.
Click-through rate (CTR)
Benefits of CTR
CTR is defined as clicks divided by impressions and allows a publisher to compare the effectiveness of individual posts at converting reach to clicks through to their website. It’s also widely used to track the effectiveness of ads and promoted content.
Drawbacks of CTR
Posts with a high CTR can deliver low pageviews if the reach of those posts was low. Therefore, it is an ineffective measure in isolation as it does not reflect the significance of increased overall pageviews for publishers.
Why PPS is the best measure of ROI on social
Percentage of pageviews from social alone measures the capability of a publisher’s social channels to convert readers to clicks relative to their other channels. Using metrics, such as pageviews, reach or CTR, cannot measure the effectiveness of social as they are too volatile and react too heavily to big news events.
For example, during the Paris attacks in November 2015, publishers received significant increases in absolute traffic for stories about the attacks. We’ve shown data for one of our clients below, a popular French news publisher. The chart below shows a ~500% spike in pageviews from Facebook around the time of the attacks. However, if we look at the ratio of pageviews from Facebook to all pageviews, the spike is very much less pronounced. There is still some increase, which is indicative of the fact that social media is a good platform for distributing important news, but the increase is much more modest. In proportion, Facebook did not deliver much more traffic than the publisher’s other sources (despite the fact that the reach and CTR for these posts was much higher than normal). The spike in pageviews was due to the unusual level of interest in that particular story, not due to an optimised sharing strategy. The metric pageviews from Facebook is a good judge of how interesting the story is, but not how effective Facebook itself is at driving traffic.
If the PPS increases, that is because the effectiveness of social media at delivering traffic to the publisher’s site has increased. Only by looking at the PPS can publishers measure and quantify the ROI in social media.