The Way We Work
September 6, 2011 by Julia Camenisch

Social media failures -- the Internet landscape is cluttered with tweets, status updates and ad campaigns that are nothing more than a monumental waste of screen space. Entrepreneurs who could be working to improve their product and business are instead fixated on the goal of social media success. But in that process, they’re draining away their most valuable resource: their time. Are you one of them?

Social media is an interesting beast. Few would question its value in reaching and retaining customers, but equally few can provide hard numbers on ROI. John Wanamaker, a businessman in the early 1900s, stated his frustration in terms many entrepreneurs would echo:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Well, I’m here to say that the answer is fairly straightforward. But only if you’re asking the right questions. So here’s a guide to the 5 right questions, whose answers will assist you in evaluating the success (or failure) of your social media campaign:

  1. Should I Be Doing Social Media Outreach?

    The question isn’t whether or not to have a social media presence. It’s whether or not you should be the person in charge of that outreach. Unless you’re a consultant in this field, you’re probably going to have a learning curve. Multiply that learning curve across multiple social media platforms, and you’ve got a huge time investment ahead of you.

    For some, time isn't an issue. You’ve got a few extra hours to invest.  But for others, your plate is already full. Social media outreach is going to be a distraction that you can’t afford to have. You’ll end up burned out and your business will suffer. Definitely not a success by any measurement standard.

    The answer in that case is to delegate the job. Whether you hire a social media consultant or enlist an employee, just make sure you give the job to someone who has the time and know-how to do the job right.

  2. Who Am I Trying to Engage?

    Determining your target audience is an important metric in evaluating social media success. By narrowing your demographic focus, you’ll be better able to choose platform (LinkedIn vs. Twitter), engagement style (teen humor vs. soccer mom tips) and performance indicators (brand awareness vs. increased sales).

    Remember also that you’re not trying to be a social media celebrity. It’s the quality and makeup of your audience that counts. You don't need the world to follow you ... just your target customer.

  3. What Is the Goal of Audience Engagement?

    There’s a variety of reasons companies use social media and not all of them are directly related to increased sales. Other audience engagement goals include:

    • Improving customer service
    • Raising brand awareness
    • Increasing search engine rankings
    • Managing reputation

    Whether you’re trying to generate revenue or produce brand advocates, the important thing is to know the goal. This is especially pivotal at the outset of your social media ventures. Pick one thing to do and do it well. Clear results spring from clear objectives. And success can only be measured when there is a target to hit.

  4. What Are My Benchmarks?

    You know your goal, you know your audience. Now it’s time to know your progress. You do this by establishing key performance indicators, also known as KPIs. These indicators are the mile markers on your journey. When they're reached, you'll know you’re on the right path.

    The important part of this step is to make sure your benchmarks are directly tied to your campaign goals. For example, measuring follower growth and retweets isn’t helpful if your goal is to increase revenue. On the other hand, this type of measurement is a perfect way to measure brand awareness. Other goal/benchmark pairings include the following :

    • Reputation management - increase in positive mentions, increase in page “likes”
    • Thought leadership - backlinking, email list growth
    • Customer service - decreased time between complaint and resolution
    • Revenue increase - track conversions, compare sales before, during and after campaigns

    For more on determining appropriate benchmarks, check out this post on 48 social media KPIs. Also worth a read is this article comparing quantitative and qualitative KPIs.

  5. Are My Investments Corresponding to Returns?

    Once you’ve launched your campaign, then it’s time to monitor results. But don’t get too focused on simple numbers. Those results need to be viewed in light of the big picture. What I mean is this: you reached a benchmark of 100 new followers. But what type of time and money investment did it take to gain those followers?

    This type of ROI analysis is important because it help you gauge whether or not your social media strategy is as efficient as it could be. If you discover that the cost per follower is higher than you’d wish, maybe it’s time to try a new approach.

For those of you who are consultants, what other advice would you offer for effective social media campaign measurement? And for business owners, how have you calculated your ROI with social media efforts? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to oDesk a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.