Measuring social media

Having worked for a marketing communications company for the past 10 years, I can attest to the difficulty that many marketers have in measuring the effectiveness of their efforts. There are a lot of reasons for this, but often confusion stems from a lack of understanding about how marketing campaigns or initiatives tie into overall goals. Another contributing factor is that articulating a measurement plan and getting the pieces in place can require a considerable amount of work. And that is true, regardless of the communication channels being used. Social media might be a newer tool in the marketer’s arsenal than direct mail, but marketers still have to identify what to measure and how to make use of the results (Etlinger, 2011).

The key to establishing an effective analytics program is to understand the goals of the social media program—and how those in turn tie into larger business goals—so that impact can be measured (Buchanan, 2012; Etlinger, 2011). For example, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of colorectal cancer might have an objective of creating a community where people can share their stories about colorectal cancer screenings or treatments. Given that colorectal cancer can occur anywhere, the organization could decide to create this community online, using social media.

The initial strategy involved in building up this community could involve identifying influencers and monitoring conversations about colorectal cancer (Buchanan, 2012). This could be done through social media listening tools like Google Alerts or by using Google Adwords to identify key words or themes to what people are talking about on the topic (Lopez, 2011). Once influencers have been identified, the organization could reach out to those individuals to invite them to participate in the online community and to share it within their networks. To measure the impact of these tactics, initially the organization could track the number of contributors, followers, and commenters. As the community grows, content analysis could be conducted to determine which posts or contributors get the most comments, likes, or shares (Buchanan, 2012). And the organization could begin setting monthly goals to acquire a certain number of new followers or readers, and to convert followers into commenters and commenters into contributors.

Several of Kaushik’s (2011) proposed social media metrics lend themselves to this example. Kaushik suggests working toward building a high conversation rate, where the conversation rate is the number of audience comments per post. For an online community built around sharing stories, the conversation rate metric could be applied not just to comments per post but to contributions to the site. Kaushik also recommends measuring amplification, or the number of shares (retweets, forwards, rebloggings, etc) per post, as well as applause, or the number of likes each post receives.

Measuring the impact of any marketing campaign is hard work. But ultimately, having a plan that covers everything—right down to managing a crisis (Webber, 2012)—will pay dividends when the CEO or manager asks for data on marketing’s impact. Being able to show them actual data can mean the difference between preserving or losing funding or even employment. But a marketer cannot show data if he or she has not been tracking it. And tracking is ineffective if it is not done to support the organization’s overall goals and objectives.


Buchanan, J. (2012, November). Banyan Research & Analytics. INFX 598. Lecture conducted from University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

Etlinger, S. (2011, August 10). A framework for social analytics. Altimeter Group.

Kaushik, A. (2011). Best social media metrics: Conversation, amplification, applause, economic value. Retrieved from

Lopez, J. (2011, January 12). The social media marketer’s SEO checklist. Retrieved from

Webber, A. (2012, August 9). Guarding the social gates: The imperative for social media risk management. Altimeter Group.


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