SMhack feedback

Blow the lid off your social media metrics

A few years back, reporting vanity metrics left Rick Wion, a former Head of Social Media at McDonalds, with very public egg on his face. At the Mobile Social Communication conference in New York he claimed a Foursquare campaign had increased foot traffic at McDonalds by 33%. In the week that followed bloggers began to question the results. In a follow-up with Wion, it was revealed that the figure represented Foursquare check-ins and the company had not actually measured footfall. Considering the fact that people could check-in to McDonalds from up to five blocks away, the impressive results were totally misleading. Although Wion later tweeted that he viewed FourSquare check-ins to be the same as people walking into the restaurant, no one was fooled.

With so much of metrics in our radar, it is possible that we could misinterpret our data. We all remember gushing excitedly about the fact that we had reached impressive figures in website visits. With hearts filled with pride, we felt like we were getting it right. But what did that impressive number mean? Although it sounded remarkable, did this figure relate to the objective of the campaign?

As social media managers, it is really important to know if you are contributing to the bottom line, to understand what to measure and in what context. It is equally important not to get lost or led astray by striking figures that don’t say much. Here are some key pointers to help wade your way through the numbers and start measuring what matters.

Vanity Metrics

As a marketer, you are regularly asked for a quick update on ‘how we are doing’, and the temptation is to reply with a figure, which sounds exciting and makes everyone feel good.

Lean Startup guru Eric Ries coined the term vanity metrics to describe these feel good figures. He goes as far as to say that not only do they have no purpose, they can be dangerous. Eric Scholefield, in his Techcrunch article, reminds us why they should not fool us.  Vanity metrics can be detrimental not only for startups but also for social media marketers.

In the social media sphere, almost everything can be measured, interpreted, graphed and tracked. The number of hits, page views, downloads, followers, likes, impressions, shares, comments, tweets, retweets, and mentions have become the staple of the marketer’s metrics. You have all seen them, quoted them and probably graphed them.

But hold on, what story do these metrics tell?

They tell you something is happening and visualized over time they can certainly look impressive, but what value do they bring? The questions you need to ask yourself when deciding the metrics that matter are; do these numbers shed some light on how well you are doing in achieving a specific marketing objective? Do they bring a richer understanding of your customers? Do these stats let you know you need to take an action or help you decide the best next steps? If the answer to any of the above is no, then sorry to say, you measure noise.

There is an abundance of numbers out there; the trick is to make them work for you and avoid the temptation to measure at face value.

The sad fact of the matter is that many people are fooled by vanity metrics every day. Here are some vanity metrics in social media which gives a positive feeling but may lull everyone into a false sense of security.

  1. Impressions

    Twitter Impressions
    Twitter Impressions

    Impressions tell us about a potential rather than a fact. Getting 500,000 impressions on a tweet chat or Twitter campaign sounds amazing, but tells you very little. Unless every one of your followers and their followers was swiping their Twitter timeline at the moment you posted, then those impressions mean absolutely nothing. If you were to quote impressions in a context, you would see the figures have a lot less impact. ‘0.001% of your potential audience interacted with your tweet.‘ Mmm… doesn’t sound so good does it? However, in context, this figure may serve to tell you that maybe that campaign or that channel is not as successful as it might seem.

  2. Mentions

    Mentions will show that your community is interacting with you to some degree that is a great sign, but it doesn’t tell you the type of interaction. It could be the bug in your product that is driving the engagement. So, increase in mentions doesn’t mean that your brand is doing well.


    Gathering follows can sometimes build a good amount of impressions and create an image of popularity. This could help intrigue others to follow. However, this would not gather the level of interaction required for a successful presence. For example, publishing an image will get views but soon enough the published information will soon die out due to lack of interest.


    There are several metrics such as likes, pins, favorites that indicate  content is going towards the correct direction. However, they do not realistically show an audience that is dedicated or willing to further the business or brand.

What matters is that you dig, connect and uncover numbers until you find a combination, which tells the story of how you are doing about your objectives. No more, no less.

Actionable Metrics

The hardest part of working in social media isn’t so much producing results, but tracking them. Unlike online advertising, where it’s often immediately easy to see what is and isn’t working, the impact of social media isn’t always as obvious.

But social media managers, like everyone else, need to have goals to work towards to justify the importance of social media (and their jobs) to the rest of the marketing team. Thankfully, there are a few important metrics that social media managers can use to measure how well the company is doing, and where it can improve as well.

  1. Conversation rate

    Conversation rate is the number of replies to each conversation you begin on social media. This is a very straightforward metric to measure, and it’s a metric that you can measure across all social media channels (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, the company blog, etc.).Conversation rate is something that can be taken as a benchmark at the start of a marketing campaign, and measured over the course of a campaign to see if the campaign is improving its engagement KPIs with its target audience.

  2. Amplification Rate

    Amplification rate is about ‘shares/retweets/+1s’. Amplification is equivalent to word-of-mouth marketing. It shows clear signs that you’ve engaged your followers, you’ve (potentially) reached at least some of their network of followers as well. Amplification rate looks at the number of times your followers shared each social media post on each of the networks where you are active.

  3. Applause Rate

    Applause rate measures the number of times each of your social media posts was liked, upvoted,  or favorited. Every social media network has their terminology for applause, but they each record this information, making it easy for you to put it into your marketing report. For small one-off reports, it’s possible to record each of these metrics in a Google Doc or Excel Spreadsheet. Alternatively, True Social Metrics was designed based on those metrics and can automatically capture and record the data you need.

    True Social Metrics is a paid tool with pricing options for bloggers, small businesses, and agencies.Conversations, amplification, and applause rate are not only easy to record to measure, but they are metrics that tend to go over well with the higher ups as well.

  4. Conversions

    Every company has metrics that are important to it, whether that’s sales, traffic or newsletter signups. Analytics tools such as Google Analytics can be used to track whether or not social media is positively impacting those metrics.Unfortunately, many companies (and most analytics programs) work on a last click attribution tracking format. In practice, this means that if a tweet leads to a newsletter sign up that later leads to an e-commerce sale, it’ll be the newsletter that gets credited with the sale as opposed to the tweet. For social media managers not getting appropriately credited is not only frustrating but without data to support the value of social media, it can make it difficult to justify the viability of a social media manager job to the rest of the marketing department.

    When setting up a social media campaign and discussing the KPIs, it’s important that you don’t limit yourself to just tracking sales. Social media isn’t (usually) a direct marketing tool like Google Adwords, and while it may lead to some sales, often its value is in producing conversions for smaller goals like newsletter sign ups, social media shares of company blog posts or increased traffic via social media channels.Social media can be particularly useful for driving traffic. This information is  available in the Social Channel of the Acquisition Report in Google Analytics. From here it’s possible to pull segmented information about traffic from the company’s social channels (such as session durations, bounce rate, and new users). You can also compare your social traffic with other channels.

  5. Influence

    Influence can be difficult to measure, but it’s something that social media managers need to be able to look at and analyze, particularly when choosing bloggers and personalities to work with.Simply measuring the number of fans or followers that someone has isn’t enough, as this doesn’t give any indication of how likely that person’s tweet or Facebook share will have on that group of followers. Knowing that some social media managers only look at follower counts have led many bloggers and influencers to increase their follower counts by advertising, exchanging in like-for-like campaigns, or just outright buying followers and fans.There are a some social media tools out there for measuring real influence such as Klout, PeerIndex, Kred, and uberVU. None of these tools are perfect, but they tend to be a lot more effective than simply looking at follower counts.


There is no disputing the fact that vanity metrics are sexy, have the wow factor and are sure to make everyone around the table feel good. But you know now that it’s not exactly fair to continue reporting figures that don’t matter and which can be misleading.

We would love to hear about your experiences in social media metrics. Has vanity metrics fooled you? Have you taken the steps to reporting the metrics that matter?