Social Media

What is the one metric that matters in social media marketing?

Every time a social media platform announces changes to its rules surrounding how your content will be displayed on the end users’ newsfeed, panic ensues. Every single time. When Instagram announced in 2019 that they would be removing like counts from posts in the newsfeed, everyone lost their minds. Similar thing happens every time Facebook announces changes to their feed algorithm.

And it is not limited to your like counts (which arguably is indeed a form of social proof). When Twitter purged hundreds of thousands of fake accounts from their system, the follow-base of countless prominent Twitter profiles took a nosedive. Since a number of those profiles were political, what immediately followed was a barrage of criticism of the platform for being biased.

Brands have been chasing likes and follows for as long as the platforms have existed. I remember countless startups using ‘questionable’ tactics and sources to set up an early base of followers so that their social media handles did not give the perception of being a ghost town. There is something cathartic about opening up your social media page and seeing tens of thousands of followers instead of the dreaded big fat zero.

Yet, the fact is likes and follows have less of an effect on your business than one would think. Blind likes and follows do not translate to business. They do not even always translate to the right visibility or brand positioning. So why have we been chasing them for so long? Primarily because it was the easiest of the engagement metrics to achieve. And the most prominently visible. Likes is how we tend to measure the most popular content on social media. They are a core element to engagement metrics. No matter what platform you look at, they have always used Likes as an early indicator of what content to promote in the users’ newsfeeds.

What makes Likes so Likeable?

Consider this scenario. You are a brand looking to get onboard a few Instagram influencers. How would you choose the right influencers? Sure, you would like to have influencers in your segment, but as far as metrics go, you would have been primarily looking out for three things:

  1. How many followers do they have?
  2. What is the average number of likes their posts receive?
  3. How many comments do their posts receive, on average?

Likes and follows. We inherently always fall back on them.

But, as many brands have painfully discovered, Likes and Follows were never the right metric to begin with.

This article on Mashable sums it up quite nicely:

The like button has acquired a panoply of meanings in the social realm. It can be used variously to mean yes, I agree, I hear you, sure, why not, I guess. It can be used as a bookmark. And that’s just scratching the surface; there are a whole bunch of other reasons, personal and political, why we might be giving you a heart or a thumbs-up.

It speaks to me on a personal level. My Twitter likes are full of tweets I have bookmarked to get back to at a later date. Sometimes, the same can be said about people I follow - it is temporary from time to time.

But what primarily stops me dead in my track when I am considering if these metrics are valuable to me are the most basic questions:

  • Are they translating into revenue/leads?

  • Are they overlapping with my right and/or targeted audience?

  • Are they in the right space (so that their followers are my targeted audience)?

Answer to any of those questions has little bearing on the overall count of my likes and follows. It is quality over quantity now. I am looking for the right audience, not the most audience.

So, what would I be looking at now?

Attention : The engagement metric that matters

If a customer is interested in what you have to say and share, your content will always be discoverable. You can evaluate their interest by the attention your content gets. And best part, it has always been about their attention - even when we were looking at just likes.

Previously, we would use likes as a measure of the interest/attention our content was getting, but as that mashable story shows us, likes is not the most reliable metric to evaluate audience interest. You can access it more accurately by getting a sense of the reach your content has, how many people are actually following through with the intended action behind your content (for example, video view time, story completion rate etc.) and other such metrics.

Social media is not much different from any other content marketing channel you look at. Evaluating its performance, therefore, also follows the same principles. The question you are looking to find an answer to is whether your content is resonating with your audience. If people trust you and value your opinion on the matter, they are more likely to take time out to hear what you have to say. That is the state you want your brand to be in.

Likes was just an indicator of your content having been viewed for sure, attention helps you understand when your content was deemed valuable by your audience.

So how does it affect your social media marketing?


Intent trumps it all. Measure that. But before you measure anything, have a system and a set of guidelines in place.

There are a few things you need to do, when it comes to evaluating the success of your social presence. The first one of which is a question you need to have a definitive answer for.

What is the one primary goal you are chasing?

Are you looking for revenue? Are you looking to drive traffic? Are you looking to generate leads? Are you looking to tap into your audience’s network to expand your reach?

The content you create and the list of activities you need to engage in would be dependent on what your primary goal is.

It is okay to not have every single piece of content centered around the primary goal. After all, no point of being monotonous. But, your primary goal is what your main focus would be on, and how you would be measuring success. It is also going to make up for a substantial percentage of your overall content.

The clearer you are about your primary goal, the more well defined your content would be. The nature of content I would be producing to drive traffic would be different from the ones aimed at generating leads.

Once you have established your primary goal, you would be able to have a content plan - what kind of content would you be producing, who would you be pushing it out to and so on. Next comes measurement.

Is your analytics set up correctly to measure the impact of social media?

There is no point of driving blind. You want to be in a position where you know, backed by data, whether or not you need to make changes to your social media plan and/or execution. This needs to have the right analytics set up working for you. And we are not talking about the native analytics dashboard of your social media platforms, we are talking about setting up your web analytics platform (like Google Analytics, Benne Analytics etc.) to measure your social traffic beyond the basic classification of the traffic source being ‘social’.

This means having a pre-defined guideline on what UTM parameters would you be using for links you push out in your content. If you set up your UTM parameters right, not only will you be able to access what kind of content performs the best with your audience on a particular social channel, you would also be able to understand the topics that resonate with your audience the most, and the most promising combinations with respect to conversions.

How is your social presence performing over time?

Success begets success. So, stay on top of the performance of your social presence and the content.

Set up goals for it. At the very least, you should - in your analytics dashboard - set up goals to track your primary objective (that we defined earlier). Whether it is revenue, free trial activations or plain newsletter subscriptions, measure how these are performing, specially as compared to the performance of this same (or similar) objective across other channels.

Ideally, you should set up 3-4 different goals, one being your primary objective and the rest catering to the other content types we are posting to avoid being monotonous in your content stream. Having multiple goals to track different objectives even helps you identify if you are chasing the right primary objective or not. If one of your secondary objectives is giving you a much higher and healthier conversion, you should probably focus more on it since it is clearly resonating more with your audience.

At the end of the day, no matter what topic we talk about, it always comes down to performance. And your analytics dashboard plays a crucial role in making sure you are channeling your energy in the right direction, where you can achieve maximum growth. Typically that needs you to dedicate hours of analytical bandwidth every week and month. With Benne Analytics, however, all you need to do is a little bit of one time setup. The system takes care of the rest. From analysis to delivering you actionable insights, it will handle everything - at a fraction of the cost of having a team of analysts to do the same work. Give it a try, and let me know your thoughts.

That’s it for today, see you tomorrow.



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