Earlier, I posted about creating measurable objectives, because that seemed to be a hard thing for some folks to master. It requires some work, but ultimately, it’s well worth learning how to do. And it’s pivotal to today’s subject.
I keep hearing folks all over the place struggling with how to distill appropriate metrics from the goals they set. We’re still looking for some holy grail of turn-key metrics sets – the “accepted” ones that everyone uses. But here’s the thing: standard metrics are useless unless they specifically point to the goals YOU have set.
So, instead of thinking in terms of how everyone else defines success, worry about how you do. You might be able to take some hints from the guy down the street, but his goals aren’t yours, and neither should his metrics be the same.
Here’s how you can take your goals and break them down into the indicators that can help you decide whether or not you’re making progress.
Start with the Objective
Sample Objective: Use social media to increase new subscriptions to our email newsletter via the website by 15% in the first quarter.
This objective spells out specifically what we want to do, with whom, by how much, and by when. Presuming we have some subscribers to our email newsletter already (our benchmark), a 15% increase in a three month period is also measurable and realistic (following the SMART methodology).
It also presumes that we’ve done the legwork to know that increasing our email newsletter subscribers is good for business, perhaps because we get a good percentage of leads that way, or because those leads have a high conversion rate. If your email newsletter is new, then perhaps you’ve formulated a hypothesis that it’s a valuable strategy, either via probable precedent (other people’s success), assumptions you’ve made about your business, or an out and out experiment.
Still with me? Good. Now that you know what you’re aiming for, think through your approach.
Consider your Strategies & Tools
In this example, let’s assume you’ve done some research and listening, and you’ve decided that you’d like to build strategies that involve your corporate blog , Twitter, and your company’s Facebook fan page as touchpoints and drivers. (Selecting the strategies themselves are a point for a different discussion altogether).
What you measure regarding these strategies will depend, in great part, on what you are able to measure given the tools and resources at your disposal. In this scenario, perhaps you’re able to measure with relative ease:
- Fans on Facebook, including how many new fans sign on, and during what time period to determine growth
- Followers on Twitter, including how many you accrue during finite periods (growth rate)
- Blog visitors/traffic per day/week/month, and their sources
- Engagement and interaction with you on these channels: blog comments, @ replies, likes/comments
- Sharing of your content, retweets, wall posts, links
- Traffic to your website/email signup page that comes directly from any of these places
- Conversion rates for email signups and user paths on your website
These aren’t exhaustive, but you get the drift. Start figuring out what your tools allow you to measure. Resources like listening tools (yes, like Radian6 but you can go manual/free too with more work), Google Analytics or other web analytics programs, link shorteners like Bit.ly, and URL generators like Google’s URL builder can help you with the components you need to track your efforts thoroughly.
Map Potential Paths of Action
Now that you know what you can measure with the resources you have, time to start thinking about what actions and paths people might take to do what you want them to do. In other words, for our sample objective, people might:
- See a link to your blog post on Twitter, visit your website, then sign up for the newsletter.
- See your post on Facebook promoting your upcoming newsletter issue, like it, click the link you included, and sign up.
- Read your blog post, and see the link in your post footer that suggests your email as a resource they might like.
- Take action based on specific newsletter subscription ask with a unique link in a blog post.
- Visit your website via search or other means, discover your newsletter archives from the home page, and sign up themselves.
- Engage with conversation with your representative on Twitter, be curious about your company, click the link to your website in your Twitter bio, visit, and sign up for the newsletter.
- See a whitepaper a friend sent them from your site via ShareThis, click on a link embedded in the document that sends them to a specific landing page, perhaps that includes a direct email subscription link of its own.
Note that I’ve bolded pieces of these. Those are the trackable elements and touchpoints that you can control based on the information you push out. Some of the signups for your newsletter are bound to be incidental, meaning they’re not directly connected to an action you engineered, but are as a result of a path the website visitor took and the information they sought.
And there are going to be gaps in the trackable path sometimes. Perhaps someone saw your Facebook page and didn’t click on your link, but came back to your site later via Google and then signed up for the newsletter. Facebook was an impact point, but the actual path was search traffic to signup. So you’ll have to take elements like that into consideration and account for a margin of error.
But the more breadcrumbs you can place in people’s paths to guide them to what you want them to do, the more accurately you can measure.
Determine Indicators and Metrics
So you’ve considered what you can measure, and what people might do that lead them toward your goal. What metrics indicate success?
Look at the measurements available to you, and combine them to demonstrate either probability that people will take the desired action, or definitive evidence that they did. That’s where the gold is. It’s not the single metric in itself, but the patterns they create that count. In other words, follower stats themselves are rather useless unless you can tie them to an action that has demonstrable value – in our case, the email signup. Dig?
In our example, you might track:
- Conversions (subscriptions) via Twitter-specific links or referral traffic over a 30 day period, trended over time to watch growth. (specific)
- Comparison of general search traffic that results in conversions vs. traffic from Twitter, Facebook, and blog views that does (specific)
- Conversions by referral source, comparing Twitter and Facebook (specific)
- Ratio of @ replies per month to new email subscriptions via Twitter referrals (probability)
- Ratio of Facebook fan increases per month to increases in email subscriptions overall (probability)
- Percent of blog email subscribers that also sign up for the email newsletter (specific)
- Percent increase in new blog subscribers alongside new email subscribers (probability)
See where this is going? You’ve got to examine how the data you have can point to the results you want. That’s what you measure. Pick the few that give you the most specific intelligence and results.
It doesn’t matter if the guy down the street measures that or not. Over time, you’ll be able to tell whether or not your measurements are helping you understand progress toward your goals.
If not, you tweak them or rework them. No measurement should ever be set in stone forever and ever (though you need to stick with a few for a while, say six months rolling, before you can really make a judgment call on their effectiveness). Metrics evolve just like your strategy does until something settles.
Bonus Round: Attach Actions to Results
So when you’re reporting to your boss about the progress you’ve made toward your objectives, you should be able to analyze the indicators you’ve put forward above and draw conclusions. That’s how you put together a report, and where you make your decisions about how to maintain or amend your strategy and tactics moving forward.
- Of 25 new blog email subscribers this month, 5 of them also subscribed to the newsletter. That’s a ratio of 5:1, and a trend we can track moving forward to see if it maintains, drops, or stays constant.
- If we’ve determined via our sales numbers that each of our email subscribers also does an average of $200 in business with us every month, we can also say that every 5 blog subscribers has the potential to be worth $200 in monthly revenue (or $40 each) at that ratio.
- Facebook fans click on our links 10% less frequently each month than our Twitter followers do. However, we get one subscriber for every ten clicks on Twitter, whereas we get three for every 10 on Facebook.
- Landing page links embedded in our whitepapers shared via ShareThis generate less than 2% of overall website traffic. (That means they’re likely not a good source of email subscribers).
- Specific subscription drives on our blog generated a 3% increase in subscribers in one month, and the same ask on Twitter generated an increase of 6.5%.
See how we’re connecting the dots, and starting to draw some assumptions and conclusions from what we’ve tracked? You need to work the data and look at it from different angles. Measurement is really kind of a waste of time if you aren’t going to do something with what you’ve learned.
This is work, people. Do you hear me? Work. If the steps above seem daunting or like too much effort, you’ll need to get help, suck it up, or stop complaining that social media isn’t measurable. It is. But it’s not instant.
All the Google research in the world is not going to suddenly uncover a magic set of metrics that you can just adopt and run with. You’ve got to do the methodical, careful work to spell out the goals first, then figure out what measurements will tell you whether or not you’ve reached that goal. You have to build and deploy the tracking mechanisms and tools. You need to regularly capture and export the data. You need to mash it up, correlate it, and map it over time.
So, here’s a start. You’re not going to hit a home run out of the park every time. But measuring is like laundry. The more you ignore it, the more impossible it gets to tackle.
Get to it.
image by Mykl Roventine