How to use analytics in social media

Here is a summary of my recent presentation for an Econsultancy Social Shorts event in Manchester.

First things first – what does “analytics” mean?!

The simplest definition would be: “The science of analysis.”

A slightly more detailed definition I borrowed from wikipedia: “Analytics is the process of obtaining an optimal or realistic decision based on existing data.”

Ultimately it is about deciding on clear actions to take things forward – actually doing something rather than pontificating about what you have already done. In social media terms, it is about identifying and then measuring the useful data to enable you to improve your social media performance and prove its value.

Why do we measure social media?

Five key reasons:

  1. ROI (Return on Investment)
    The first thing most managers say to me is: we have to prove that our activity in social media is having a positive effect on the bottom line. All businesses need to be able to prove that the time, effort and resources they are spending on creating content and managing a community is ultimately benefiting the profit.
  2. Meeting Objectives
    How do you know if your social spaces are achieving what you set out in the first place if you a) don’t make them measurable and b) don’t measure them?
  3. Value
    This is subtly different from ROI – what value are you getting that is not about pounds? What value is your audience getting? Measuring qualitative data is just as important to give colour and context to the hard numbers.
  4. Understanding your audience
    Getting to know what your audience responds well to and what they hate makes your social media activity more efficient and ultimately more successful (affecting that bottom line again).
  5. Improving
    If you don’t use the measurements you take to improve what you are doing, you might as well shove those pretty graphs in the bin and go for an ice cream.

What should you measure?

The biggest issue when choosing what to measure is that there is way, way, way too much choice.

Ultimately:

  1. Base the things you measure against your social media objectives.
    If the thing you’re measuring doesn’t directly show whether you are achieving what you want, don’t measure it. Even if it looks pretty. e.g. If you are trying to increase engagement with your audience, measure your engagement scores, number of comments and likes, RTs, conversations. Don’t bother looking at increasing followers/fans – that isn’t part of what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Bring your social media objectives in line with your wider business, wherever possible.
    Social Media performance shouldn’t be kept completely separate – it is just another way of communicating with and influencing your audience to like your brand/product/content better. It isn’t another world and shouldn’t be treated as such! What are you trying to achieve as a wider business? How can social media activity help with that? How could you measure it?
  3. Baseline.
    Always, always, always baseline your stats. If you don’t do this you can not possibly know if your efforts are having any kind of impact.
  4. Review regularly.
    Don’t stay with the same reports, the same graphs, the same objectives month in, month out. Regularly review what you monitor to ensure it is still in line with your business goals.

Stats need context

A word of warning. Stats have to be manipulated to be understood. By creating a graph out of a dataset it has already been manipulated. You have already chosen the data to include, the way in which it is displayed and the order. Scrutinise the graphs and information you are shown at all times. Think about what it isn’t showing you as much as what it is!

If it looks too good to be true, it more than likely is. The accuracy of stats, especially of stats gathered from free tools can often be questionable. Be aware that analytics is a science but it certainly isn’t exact.

Conclusions

  • Always establish clear, measurable objectives before you start your social media presence (or if it is already there, sit down and work them out, now).
  • Ensure your objectives can be measured, and that those measurements are in line with your business KPIs (Key performance indicators). Don’t treat social media as a silo.
  • Don’t measure too much. Use 2 or 3 tools at the most.
  • Always consider the context of the data you are measuring. Where does it come from? How does it compare to your competitors? What else is there to the story?
  • Review what you are measuring regularly. Your objectives and, therefore, the things you are monitoring should change as your space matures and your business and audience change.
  • Tools will change, come and go. Don’t let the tools steer what you measure, your business goals should. To see the tools that I recommend and use regularly when measuring social media pages and feeds, see recommended social media measuring tools.

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Posted by
Abigail Murphy
on 26 Sep 2011

Abi joined Outlandish from the BBC where she worked on social media strategy for BBC World Service and managed a wide range of sites for BBC Learning.

She organises the rest of the Outlanders to ensure projects are delivered to happy clients.