Before we tackle a topic as slapstick and surreal as “How to measure social media marketing performance,” it’s worth seriously rethinking some of our fundamental assumptions.
Most social media marketers measure things, lots of things. But, they often measure the wrong things. And, if you measure the wrong things, then sooner or later you will end up looking like Wile E. Coyote from the Looney Tunes series of animated cartoons
So, let’s start with the two frequently used vanity metrics that will invariably send your social media marketing campaigns sailing off a high cliff.
Two Social Media Vanity Metrics You Need to Stop Tracking
Most digital marketers use the free metrics that virtually all of the social media platforms provide – without wondering if tracking some of these numbers too closely will leave them momentarily suspended in midair – before they realize that there is nothing below them.
- Page Likes
For example,Facebook started publicly reporting the number of Fansback in 2006, although these metrics are now called Page Likes. Initially, this metric measured the number of people who would see all of your posts. But, they’ve been devalued multiple times since 2009, when Facebook started using algorithms to bump posts with the most Likes to the top of the feed.
In 2014, Brian Boland, who led Facebook’s Ads Product Marketing team, publicly explained why organic reach on Facebook was declining. Back then, an average of 1,500 stories could appear in a person’s News Feed each time they logged onto Facebook. Of those 1,500 stories, News Feed displayed 300.
In 2021, Katie Sehl wrote a post in the Hootsuite Blog entitled, “Organic Reach is in Decline — Here’s What You Can Do About It.” She said, “It’s no secret that most social platforms operate on a pay-to-play model for brands. The average reach of an organic post on a Facebook Page hovers around 5.20%. That means roughly one in every 19 fans sees the page’s non-promoted content. The easiest way to boost distribution and direct sales is to boost your ad budget.”
YouTube’s subscriber counts have undergone a similar if less dramatic devaluation over the years.
Another social media metric that you should questions is Views. Why? Because different social media platforms measure “views” in different ways.
For example, YouTube has not one, but two definitions for paid advertising views.
For skippable in-stream ads, a view is counted when:
- Someone watches a complete ad that’s 11–30 seconds long.
- Someone watches at least 30 seconds of an ad that’s more than 30 seconds long.
- Someone interacts with the ad.
For in-feed video ads, a view is counted when someone clicks the ad and the video starts to play.
Facebook and Instagram, on the other hand, define a “video view” as a view of three seconds or more and this is for all videos, including those that come to life as people scroll through News Feed.
TikTok, in contrast, counts a “view” the very second your video starts to play. If the video autoplays or loops, or a viewer comes back to watch it multiple times, those all count as new views.
This is why the Global Video Measurement Alliance (GVMA), a coalition of brands, agencies, and publishers around the world that’s working to establish standards for video measurement across social media platforms, says, “View count doesn’t cut it anymore, knowing audiences counts – just like TV.”
Now, there are plenty of other vanity metrics that you can order by mail from Acme Corporation. But, like the wide array of products produced by the cartoon conglomerate, these vanity metrics never work as desired or expected – which is why they are unreliable or preposterous.
But, instead of trying to entertain or educate you by comparing vanity metrics with an Acme Instant Tunnel, it’s probably more useful to inspire or enlighten you by taking a closer look at the social media metrics that do matter.
10 social media metrics that matter
You might want to start by reading a post in Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik, which was published back in 2011. It’s entitled, “Best Social Media Metrics: Conversation, Amplification, Applause, Economic Value.”
A dozen years later, Conversation, Amplification, and Applause rates are still the best ways to measure the real active engagement of users with your social media pages. And Economic Value is still the best key performance indicator (KPI) for all your social media accounts.
Next, you might want to read my article in Search Engine Journal, which was published in 2021. It’s entitled, “30 Social Media Metrics That Matter Throughout the Customer Journey.” Two years later, I would update a couple of these metrics, but it’s still important to consider which social media metrics matter most at different stages of the customer journey.
If you use the right metric at the wrong time, then you’ll end up looking like a cartoon coyote trying, in vain, to shield yourself with a little parasol against a great falling boulder that’s about to crush you.
But, if you’re preparing to take the OMCA exam to verify that you have the skills, experience, and education necessary to drive digital marketing initiatives, then I suspect that the right number of metrics that matter is probably less than 30, but more than four.
So, here are 10 social media metrics that you should consider using as KPIs in 2023 and beyond.
- Unique Viewers
Since Page Likes on Facebook as well as Subscribers on YouTube aren’t true indicators of audience size, the GVMA was formed in 2019 by Tubular Labs to collectively develop universal standards for global digital video measurement. Their ambitious goal was to empower publishers and brands to more fairly evaluate and transact against the true reach and engagement of online video content.
And in 2020, Tubular Labs launched Tubular Audience Ratings, the first de-duplicated audience and time-based system for measuring video attention across YouTube and Facebook.
One of the new metrics in Tubular Audience Ratings that you’ll want to use as a KPI is de-duplicated “unique viewers.” Instead of using Page Likes or subscriber counts, this new metric helps you to measure video consumption more accurately. It also enables you to leverage the power of de-duplicated viewership to make better content and media decisions on both platforms.
Another new metric in Tubular Audience Ratings that you’ll want to adopt is “quality views,” which uses a 30-second view as a qualifier. Any video shorter than 30 seconds is counted only if it is watched to completion.
In 2021, Tubular expanded their Audience Ratings suite with ecommerce measurement capabilities, providing customers a unique view into how product-related social video viewing influences online sales through Amazon.
You may not have heard of this new metric before now, but you’ll want to use it as a KPI going forward.
This classic metric measures the portion of a market that can identify a brand either when prompted (aided) or unprompted (unaided). For example, you can ask: “When it comes to <category>, what brands come to mind?”
Both YouTube and Facebook offer Brand Lift studies that measure the impact of video ads on brand awareness. They work by dividing the people into a randomized test and holdout groups, and comparing the performance of these groups over time.
To measure the impact of organic social video campaigns on brand awareness, you can conduct one brand lift study before a campaign is launched and a second one after it ends. Or, for ongoing social video programs, conduct periodic brand lift studies – at least one per year and up to one per quarter.
This is also a classic metric you can periodically use a brand lift study to measure how consumers weigh different factors in their minds while planning a purchase. For example, “Which factors are important when considering <product category>?”
Sibelle Karout and Meriç Demir wrote an article entitled, “How one major MENA online retailer engaged a new audience during COVID-19,” which was published by Think with Google in 2020. It tells the story of Namshi, a leading fashion e-tailer in the Middle East.
Namshi focused on the early stages of the shopping journey for generic items like “blue jeans” or “black dress.” By meeting consumer needs at the consideration stage through a display of all their product collections, Namshi’s engagement (the pages viewed per session) rose 81%, and new customer purchases increased 56%.
Namshi used Google’s Showcase Shopping ads to generate these results, but social media marketers can also use insights from questions about purchase consideration in consumer surveys to decide which topics to tackle in their videos and posts.
You can also use a brand lift survey to measure the respondent’s attitude toward buying a product or service. For example: “Will you buy (brand) the next time you shop for (category)?”
Why should social media marketers use purchase intent as a KPI in 2023 and beyond?
Sajith Sivanandan wrote an article entitled, “Demographics are dead: Welcome to the age of intent,” which was published by Think with Google back in 2018. He said:
- Demographics-based targeting (such as by age, gender, or income) is unreliable.
- Targeting audiences based on their behavioral “intent” or affinity (such as what they watch, search, or visit) gives marketers a more accurate picture of their audience.
- Intent-based targeting also allows for more relevant and customized creative messaging tailored to individuals.
And Vanessa Hensler wrote an article entitled, “Consumer intent is better than demographic data for video ads,” which was published by Think with Google in 2020. She said a study conducted by Google and Ipsos found that video advertising based on a shopper’s interests and intent drove significantly higher impact than those served using demographics only, with 100% higher lift in purchase intent. Interestingly, the addition of demographics to intent did not produce a significant incremental lift versus using intent alone.
This metric measures how many Comments/Replies on average each of your posts has received. (E.g., Conversation rate = 5 means each of your posts has an average of five comments.) In other words, “Is what we are saying interesting enough to spark the most social of all things: a conversation?”
Back in 2017, Kaushik wrote a post in Occam’s Razor entitled, “Stop All Social Media Activity (Organic) | Solve for a Profitable Reality.” In it, he looked at Cisco’s Facebook page, which had 845,921 Page Likes at the time. But, a post about women in technology got one comment.
Since few of their own posts were sparking many conversations, Cisco appears to have changed their social media marketing strategy. Over the last three years, Cisco has sponsored 274 videos created by 49 partners, according to Tubular Labs data.
One of these sponsored videos, “The Last Impossible Play from League’s Greatest Ever Team,” which was uploaded to YouTube by theScore esports, got 682,000 views. But, it also generated 929 comments.
This metric measures how many times on average each of your posts was Shared/Retweeted. (E.g., Amplification rate = 5 means that each of your posts was shared five times on average.) In other words, “Is what we are saying so incredible and of value that people will stamp their name on it and forward it to everyone they know?”
Back in 2017, Kaushik looked at Chick-fil-A’s Facebook page, which had 7,775,155 Page Likes at the time. But this post about their Smokehouse BBQ Bacon Sandwich got only 73 shares.
Since then, the brand seems to have gotten the memo. For example, their Facebook video entitled, “Nightly Nuggets – Episode 1 | Chicken Strip Taquitos,” got 320,000 views and was shared 1,473 times.
This metric measures how many Likes/Reactions/Hearts each of your posts has received on average. (E.g., Applause rate = 5 means each of your posts has an average of five Likes.) In other words, “Do users think the content we have posted is interesting?”
Back in 2017, Kaushik noted that Expedia’s Facebook page had 6,462,977 Page Likes, but a post about Notre Dame got only 75 Reactions.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the travel industry hard in March 2020, Expedia shifted from making international travel videos like “Bora Bora Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia,” which was uploaded to YouTube in October 2013 and got 2.3 million views and 20,500 Likes, to making domestic travel videos like “Oregon Coast Road Trip Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia,” which was uploaded to YouTube in October 2020 and got 917,000 views and 8,800 Likes.
A completed purchase transaction may be an important “macro conversion” or “conversion event” for many marketers, but sales revenue isn’t the only metric that matters. If a user completes of an activity, such as an email signup, form submission, download, link click, or video play that indicates he or she is moving towards a macro conversion, then this “micro conversion” also has an economic value.
Social media marketers should use Google Analytics to measure the Economic Value of their campaigns and ongoing programs. Economic value is the sum of the “macro conversions” or sales revenue plus the value created by all of the “micro conversions” on your website.
In the older version of Google Analytics, which is known as Universal Analytics (UA), you have the option of assigning a monetary amount to a conversion when you set up a goal. Each time that goal is completed by a user, this amount is recorded and then added together and seen in your reports as the Goal Value.
Every action a user takes can be translated into a monetary amount. One way to determine what a goal value should be is to evaluate how often the users who complete the goal go on to become customers.
For example, if your sales team can close 10% of the people who sign up for a newsletter, and your average transaction is $500, then you might assign $50 (i.e. 10% of $500) to your newsletter sign-up goal — a goal that users complete when they reach the final newsletter sign-up page. But, Google has announced that UA properties will stop processing data on July 1, 2023.
So, you will want to take advantage of the option to associate a monetary value when you set up a “conversion event” in Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Some recommended events, such as ecommerce events, will already have value and currency parameters. But, you can add the same parameters to any other event in GA4.
The value of the value parameter must be a number, such as 50. This parameter must be accompanied by a currency parameter, with a value specified in 3-letter ISO_4217 format, such as USD for United States dollar.
So, the process of calculating Economic Value is different, but using it as a KPI will become increasingly important – especially as social media commerce and shoppable livestreams take off in the foreseeable future.
- Engaged-View Conversions (EVCs)
As more and more marketers migrated to GA4, they will discover a new metric: YouTube Engaged-View Conversion (EVC) events. What are they and why do you want to start using them as KPIs?
An EVC event indicates that a user has watched a YouTube video for at least 10 seconds, and has completed a conversion event on your website or app within 3 days of viewing the video.
This new metric is a game changer. Why? Because 70% of YouTube viewers say that they bought a brand as a result of finding the brand on YouTube. But, YouTube video viewers have strong intent to continue watching the content that they’re in the middle of watching. As a result, they’re very likely to stay on the platform when they encounter an ad as part of their viewing experience.
So, people don’t often take action directly after viewing an ad on YouTube. Instead, they often take action after they’ve finished their full viewing session. This is where EVCs come in.
The EVC metric specifically tracks video advertising on YouTube and the Google Display Network and caters to the different behavior that viewers exhibit when watching videos as opposed to seeing other types of ads.
Engaged-view conversions are counted when a user watches at least 10 seconds of a skippable in-stream ad (or watches the entire skippable in-stream ad, if it’s shorter than 10 seconds) and then converts within the EVC window.
YouTube EVCs offer several benefits, including:
- They’re a more accurate way to measure performance that’s delivered by direct response video ads.
- They provide a better indication of user engagement.
- They’re more likely to help you understand the value of your ads and grow your business as user behavior evolves and new viewing habits, devices, and experiences become available.
And, early adopters of GA4 have seen significant benefits after linking their property to Google Ads to make YouTube EVCs available in their GA4 reports.
For example, Harmoney, an online personal loan platform based in New Zealand, used YouTube to build brand awareness of their target audience in Australia. How does Harmoney know that they’d done that? They used GA4 to measure EVCs after their target audience watched their YouTube ads.
This enabled them to directly correlate the uplift in brand impressions to their investment by measuring the engaged-view conversions from their YouTube ads, which often occur in mobile apps.
10 social media metrics that matter and 2 vanity metrics that don’t
Now, you may not see questions about all 12 of the social media metrics mentioned above on the OMCA exam. Its purpose is to verify that you have the skills, education, and experience necessary to drive digital marketing initiatives.
But, my goal is to go beyond teaching to the test. And as you begin to drive initiatives for your organization in 2023 and beyond, I hope that taught you what you will need to know about the 10 social media metrics that matter and 2 vanity metrics that don’t.