How does one measure success in social media marketing? That question has kept marketers awake at night almost since the moment networks like Facebook and Twitter became viable advertising tools. How much emphasize should a business place on followers, reach, engagement or web clicks?
The easy answer is “it depends.” Roughly estimated, social media marketing has gone through 4 stages of what should be considered successful. Each stage came with a significant downfall, which led directly to the next stage. Industry now operates in the fourth stage, which is – as of now, the best metric for social media success.
1) The Follower Base
During the first few years, getting an audience was all that mattered. Getting ahead of the competition meant a race to the most possible followers or “likes,” and social media marketing consisted almost entirely of trying to grow that audience at all costs.
Think of this as the most simple success metric: more followers mean a larger audience, which means more people know about the brand. Marketers spent considerable money on so-called “like campaigns,” Facebook and Twitter ad campaigns that had no other goal than growing the follower base.
Of course, social media marketers soon realized that not all of your followers actually see your messages. Chronological news feeds meant your audience had to be online at just the right time, which is far from the case. Networks like Facebook and LinkedIn complicated the process even more, using algorithms like Facebook’s EdgeRank to prioritize posts based on relevance. The amount of likes or followers of your social media presence could not simply measure success.
2) Focusing on Reach
Once it was realized that these followers or likes did not always make an impact on success, marketers turned their heads to a new metric of the day: reach. This metric which estimates exactly how many of your followers actually see your posts, made it more reliable than the simple number of followers.
A successful post was now one that reached a lot of people. For Twitter and Facebook ad campaigns, that meant paying by the number of impressions a specific ad received.
Unfortunately, measuring success simply based on reach is also flawed. Of the thousands of users that see your social media ad, the majority will simply scroll past it to more relevant content. In addition, simply focusing on reaching as many users as possible also ignores one of the most crucial aspects of social media: engagement.
3) Don’t Forget About Engagement
What goes around comes around, so marketers eventually realized that “social” media should also focus on the relationship aspect of the medium. As a result, businesses now sought engagement in the form of comments, likes, retweets and shares above all else. The most successful posts were those that generated as much interaction as possible.
For Twitter and Facebook ad campaigns, the “cost per engagement metric” became the centrepiece of success. Low cost per engagement meant that the advertisement achieved what it should: a high amount of interaction with the user base.
Unfortunately, some marketers took it too far; asking directly for likes and comments. Networks like Facebook caught wind and began to penalize such “like-baiting” strategies. Just last year, the network announced severe measures against companies looking to increase engagement at all costs, stating that trying to cheat the algorithm did not help the network’s cause in trying to make its offering as relevant as possible for the end user.
4) Following Through
Out of the need for engagement, industry moved into the current stage of what is considered social media marketing success: an emphasis on “next steps.”
Preferably, each post or ad on social media should be accompanied by an express goal, guiding users towards that next step – such as clicking to your website or signing up for content on a landing page. By determining and focusing on that next step, marketers can now figure out exactly how the post or ad reached its goal.
Liking or retweeting a post is an incomplete way of figuring out whether the message actually hit home with your audience. But if they click through to get more information or even purchase a product, you can be certain that the advertisement works.
In past years, marketers have discovered that simplified metrics like the amount of followers, the reach or even engagement are not sufficient in measuring the true success of Twitter of Facebook ad campaigns. We can only know whether a campaign is successful if we can actually measure users taking us up on the offer, and following through what the advertisement asks them to do.
Of course, these four stages are a simplified version of what actually transpired. Savvy marketers have been focusing on “next steps” for years, just as some businesses still believe that gaining followers and likes matters above all else. But the general trend has been toward increased measurability of actual outcomes, which is an encouraging sign for the future.
Where does your business stand? If you’re stuck in one of the first three stages and would like to advance to better success metrics, contact us at McAllister Marketing online or call 250-380-2299. McAllister Marketing offers a variety of social media strategies to help you market your business.
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