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Social media metrics – what they are and what they are not

Today, there is a multitude of social media metrics allowing marketers to measure the success of the strategy, but it is of outmost importance to relate them to the specific business objectives.


The IAB (UK Interactive Advertising Bureau) Framework for Measuring Social Media Activity proposes a framework that aims to define and measure core KPI metrics as follows:

  1. By social media platform (e.g. Blog, microblogging, community forum, social network, fan page, video sharing site etc.)
  1. By 4As:

Awareness – overall levels of activity across the social media platform;

Appreciation – the level and depth of engagement across the social media platform;

Action – responses that influence or relate to specific conversion events; and

Advocacy – creating online word of mouth and stimulating advocacy.

The importance marketers place on the four As depends on their original objectives. For example, an activity that aims to generate buzz and WOM will focus more on appreciation, advocacy and awareness, while an activity designed to generate leads will focus more on metrics such as action.[1]

  1. By soft metrics and hard Financials

Softer metrics are based on outputs, while financial metrics are defined based on the 4As. Therefore, cost per impression is used to measure awareness, cost per engagement for appreciation, cost per lead for action and cost per referral for advocacy. The specific marketing objectives will help marketers define the extent to which they should focus on each of these four areas.

It is important to note that each type of metric has its own shortcomings. When it comes to audience size marketers should distinguish between fake and real “fans” and take into consideration the number of inactive users vs. the active ones. It is known that some organizations practice “buying” fans in order to appear more powerful (for example to advertisers). However, this can be easily observed by using specialized software (e.g. Fake Follower Check) to find out how many spam accounts are following a specific account.

Reach refers to the number of users who saw a piece of information posted on social media or who might see it. It measures the potential audience size and how far the content was disseminated. This metric can be powerful when compared to other engagement metrics and if it is used as a denominator in the social media measurement equation. However, this metric’s main shortcoming is the fact that it is based on the hope that eyeballs are available.

Reach has 2 parts. How many people saw something (actual reach) and how many potentially could see something (fictitious reach). If I have a reach of 2 million but at the time I post every day only 3 people see the post what is the real reach? 3. – Howie Goldfarb.


Reach is definitely ephemeral because reach doesn’t really matter. Action does. Click through, downloads, sticky site traffic, purchases, that kind of thing is what really matters. – Shelly Kramer.[2]


On Twitter, for example, reach is defined by the potential audience of a user you’re connecting with. So, someone may have 1,000 followers, but the followers of these connections combined may equal 100,000 (at least). When User X with the 1,000 followers tweets something, the hope is that person’s followers will see the tweet and re-share with their audience. If a follower has 100 followers themselves, that’s now another 100 eyeballs to potentially see the share. Potentially being the key word.[3]

Engagement[4], although it is an important metric, should not be seen as a strategy in itself. A strategy ideally uses a unique value proposition that would be difficult for a competitor to copy. Engaging with customers in a unique way might be therefore difficult. The best way is to view engagement as a tactic of the marketing strategy which has the potential to drive consumer loyalty and action (e.g. purchase, booking etc)

Apple, for instance has no social media engagement. On the other hand, Dell’s stock price faces a near five-year low, although it is consideres the standard of social engagement. Therefore, it is obvious that engagement is not valuable unless it is tied to some organisational goal. [5]

Sentiment is a way to measure the emotion behind comments and references of a brand in social media. This can give managers an early warning if the organization is confronted with a customer service or other type of issue. However, the problem with sentiment metric is that most sentiment analysis algorithms use simple terms to express sentiment about a product or service. It is difficult to turn linguistic nuances or differing contexts into positive or negative sentiments.  This makes algorithms place a large number of comments or mentions into the “neutral” category, which is not particularly useful for marketers.

[1] Slideshare, Measurement framework for social media, http://fr.slideshare.net/Ifonlyblog/iab-measurement-framework-for-social-media-final4-3 Last consulted on 10 April 2013

[2] Enterprise Marketing News, The question of reach as a viable metric, http://www.enterprisemarketingnews.com/2013/03/12/the-question-of-reach-as-a-viable-metric/ Last consulted on 10 April 2013

[3] Enterprise Marketing News, The question of reach as a viable metric, http://www.enterprisemarketingnews.com/2013/03/12/the-question-of-reach-as-a-viable-metric/ Last consulted on 10 April 2013

[4] Engaging involves responding to activities that happen to you, like comments, mentions, likes, shares, re-tweets.

[5] Businessgrow, Social Media engagement is not a strategy, http://www.businessesgrow.com/2013/01/06/social-media-engagement-is-not-a-strategy/ Last consulted on 10 April 2013


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This entry was posted on October 14, 2013 by in Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , .


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