Organisations can often focus obsessively on their KPIs. The success or failure of an initiative is determined by progress against one or more established indicators. But social media has lain waste to traditional indicators like ROI. What options do social media practitioners now have if they accurately want to track the impact of their social media engagement?

Starting out: Quantitative KPI tracking


KPIs form the bedrock of performance measurements right across the corporate environment. The KPI is held as tangible proof that a new initiative has delivered – or not – on its expectations. Clearly understood within the business community, KPIs are, however, being forced to evolve with the growth of social media.

Developing a KPI for any of the social media that your company uses can be challenging to say the least. At its most basic, your company could simply set a target of, say, 100 Google Alert mentions. Once this number is attained, your initiative would be deemed a success. However, social media and your business' ability to monitor it is much more complex.

On the basic quantitative side, you have a plethora of KPIs to choose from -  followers, follower-to-following ratios, re-tweets, lists, friends, fans, likes, pokes, impressions, mentions, visits, bounces, and a whole slew of new vocabulary and quantitative results to track. Yet, for all these ‘quantitative’ measures - all of which have been turned at one time or another into KPIs for marketing teams – it’s not clear which – if any – of those measures are reliable, or even worth analyzing in such a complex space.

Current metrics aren't fit for purpose


At a time when companies are increasingly realising that social media impact is not simply about followers - or even £ and $ - there is a real need to develop new metrics to track success.

The very nature of social media puts the focus when generating appropriate KPIs squarely on those ‘other types of success’ rather than on direct profit. As Seth Godin puts it, “It's marketing and stories and connection and tribes and commitment and structure that build businesses. The technology is essential, but it's not nearly enough.”

You can easily take “technology” and replace it with “numbers” and you have the current problem plaguing business owners.

In social media, the numbers just aren’t enough. We’ve gone beyond simple one-way, bullhorn type communications like radio and television advertisements and into the era of attracting and retaining attention. You wouldn’t show up to a networking event and spend all night shelling out business cards without taking the proper time to get to know the recipients. In the same way, social media requires a deft touch.

One third of senior marketing executives believe that the quality of a business’s online presence is the key driver of corporate reputation and 52% believe that their participation in social media is a key factor in how their business is perceived according to the Socializing your Brand study from Forbes. Reputation and perception are not often words you see next to sales figures unless they're in the marketing copy. Even so, that’s the beast we’re dealing with - and why KPIs for social media are so variable in reliability.

A softer touch for more accurate insight


The soft KPIs of ‘customer engagement’, ‘brand awareness’ and ‘brand loyalty’ are precisely the kind of thing that social media is best at influencing - and indirectly lead to gains in sales and other hard KPIs.

Tea Silvestre, "The Word Chef", provides social media marketing recommendations to large businesses on a regular basis. She suggests tracking discussions on the various platforms, “Don't just monitor conversations about your company or industry -- actively SEARCH for issues using Twitter, Facebook and Google Alerts so you can address them proactively. When you're able to provide answers [for hot topics] before you get asked directly, you build credibility and authority for yourself and your brand. All these can conversations can be tracked and counted.”

It’s hard to quantify soft metrics like:

  • Brand loyalty.

  • Attention of the visitor while checking out your online store.

  • The shareability of any given post on a social media site.


Accurately measuring against KPIs on these types of interactions is speculative at best and subjective voodoo at worst. Harder still, understanding which of the soft metrics to use for maximum effect in your business is a huge challenge.

What is the return on investment (ROI) of a dinner meeting with your best client, after all? The ROI of one business card of a hundred, handed out at a networking event?

The problem is clear - without knowing which soft metrics contribute to the more quantitative metrics like followers, fans, and likes - it becomes a lot harder to accurately measure success based on any one factor or KPI. Compounding the issue - a narrow view of which KPIs are actually valuable and useful.

Sean MacReady, Social Media Specialist at Otterbox, says: “Share of voice is the most important KPI we measure. It gives us an idea of where we stand against our competition in the social sphere.”

Share of Voice is a measure of your product’s mentions vs the number of total mentions for your industry’s products or services. Sean also listed off a few other metrics Otterbox tracks, “Twitter followers, @mentions, YouTube views, Facebook likes, age/gender/location of Facebook followers, visits to the blog, post visits, referrers to our website, search engine terms, and a few more.”

Missing from his list - ReTweets, Bounce Rate, Time on Site, and Comments on YouTube. “Anything else just wasn’t beneficial to our brand or engagement,” Sean added.

It’s time that business owners realize that social media has opened up access to an entire new set of valuable KPIs and it take time to study them. Before social media, these were hidden behind the scenes - word of mouth between friends was not broadcast publicly on Twitter or Facebook. Back then the reputation of a business couldn’t be accurately measured in star ratings on Yelp and Google. Those KPI’s were, at best, guesses back then - and there was no reliable way to measure them. But now that we’ve emerged from the dark ages of last decade, business owners still haven’t caught up.