Give your social media metrics a purpose

How are we doing on social? It’s an easy question that can lead to easy answers.

Have a few more likes? Must mean more people enjoy what you're posting. Impressions up month over month? Looks like we’re reaching a wider engaged audience.

Digital strategists and social media editors can pick and choose numbers to feed the short-term narrative. But it’s not how to judge social media success, because a narrative is an angle. And while an angle can inform or entertain, it can also be your uncle’s hunting story on its third tell. Point is, narratives aren’t always built for telling the whole story. They’re useful forms of communication that serve distinct points of view.

Finding real barometers of success for businesses and brands on social media goes deeper than one narrative, one metric, one month. It’s about more than an easy data readout sprinkled with platform-specific terminology. No one strategy or measurement of success should be exactly the same. Success on social lies beneath your surface numbers. If we’re out in the garden, surface metrics are the bright green leaves and fuzzy stems poking up from the dirt. How you’re doing on social starts with the roots you planted – and why.

For the base knowledge they provide, social metrics only begin to answer important questions.[1] Picked and presented in a vacuum, metrics lose their foundation. Without that, a narrative only depends on the question you’re seeking to answer. In short, metrics are too often stripped of context. They lose their roots. Context is informed by purpose: the reason we plant anything to begin with.

A holistic view of social media connects metrics to audience and purpose, allowing these to inform, build and feed off each other. Assessing your social plan means facing the following questions: Are we interesting? Do we matter to the audience we want to matter to? And most importantly: What is our purpose here? Can anyone remember why we planted this Twitter profile in the first place?

Like anywhere else, good content on social answers to a central purpose, belief or idea. We must still account for the age-old questions: Is it readable? Clear? Does the headline fit the copy? Does it entertain or inform? Do we have good art? Why are we posting this? How does it help our specific audience? Every metric should go beyond a goal of “more likes or retweets.” A purpose formed from brand truths and good discussion.

The social metric du jour will change as platforms push to grow and monetize their audiences. Sometimes it will not be easy to parse out a clear indicator of ROI. That doesn’t make it impossible, or not worth the effort to develop a social strategy.

The best way to publish through an endless churn of change? Be interesting with a purpose, and be consistent. Plant meaningful roots you believe in. Grow your metrics from there.

— Griffin Gotta, digital strategist

[1]And because social media platforms are constantly tweaking their algorithms, modeling a social strategy after these revisions means you’re already chasing the tail of an easily distracted dog.