How do you know if your social media campaigns are working? Like, really know?
Maybe you have a gut feeling that everything is going great. You can see that people are liking your Instagram posts, engaging with your questions and announcements on Facebook, reacting to your LinkedIn posts and repinning your pins on Pinterest. But perception isn’t always reality.
Indeed, social media platforms can sometimes seem like a hall of mirrors, where what you see in front of you isn’t 100% trustworthy:
- For example, imagine you were running a high-profile Twitter account circa 2016 or 2017, with hundreds of thousands of followers.
- Unfortunately, it would have been almost certain that many of them were fake, according to a rigorous analysis of bot activity on Twitter from University of Iowa researchers.
- That means that a quick glance at your follower count or even your likes and retweets wouldn’t have accurately reflected the efficacy of your social marketing efforts.
Good news, though: It’s totally within your power to grasp what’s actually going on with your strategy. All you need to get started is a proper set of social media key performance indicators (KPIs).
These KPIs reveal how your social media content and outreach are resonating with real audiences. They give you real numbers to use in your decision-making, instead of simple guesswork or instinct.
Social media KPIs and vanity metrics, explained
You might have heard the phrase that “data is the new oil,” meaning that it’s a critical resource needed for creating value almost anywhere else. Social media metrics fit that exact description.
Social KPIs are, essentially, data points that give you the context necessary for making informed decisions that fuel sustained success. A well-designed KPI might tell you:
- How a change to your mobile landing page affected your conversion rate.
- The impact of a specific marketing campaign on follower growth.
- The amount of website traffic being referred by social media platforms.
Note that we said “well-designed.” Not all KPIs are equally useful, and in fact many qualify as vanity metrics – fun to track and look at, but not all that meaningful, just like the Twitter fake follower phenomenon.
You’re so vain, follower count and page views!
So what does a great,non-vain KPI look like? To get an answer, it’s important to think about what social media campaigns are supposed to accomplish in the first place.
The 2018 Sprout Index from Sprout Social found that 80% of digital marketing professionals thought that boosting brand awareness was the main goal of their social media campaigns. Meanwhile, more than half (59%) of consumers were looking for social posts that taught them something.
In this context, it makes sense to generally set KPIs that gauge how cognizant your audience is of what your brand is doing, as well as how they’re interacting with what you post. Above all your KPIs should be actionable.
The information they contain should provide the needed context to make decisions. If you know how many fans you have on Facebook, what do you do with that data? It’s not immediately clear. In contrast, knowing the click-through rate for your Instagram campaign can give you some insight into how to retool posts in the future.
This widely shared chart is a good basic guide to what separates actionable from vanity metrics:
With this key distinction in mind, let’s look at six social media KPIs that you should be tracking en route to a better marketing strategy.
What it is and how to track it: The number of comments left on a specific social media post; simply look at the total listed, as with this example from Burger King’s Facebook feed (annotation added):
What it helps you measure: Social media engagement. Comments offer direct insight into how your audience is responding to content and whether your digital marketing campaign is working as intended. Monitoring your social engagement rate is a primary measure of your campaign’s success.
Why it’s a useful social media KPI to monitor: Positive or negative, comments give you reactions and feedback you can work with. A post that receives a bunch of comments is usually a sign that people are interested in what you’re sharing. Comments spark conversations and also provide the crucial infrastructure for specific campaign types, such as some competitions and giveaways.
How to optimize for it: There are several reliable ways to boost comment volume, including:
- Asking open-ended questions.
- Requiring a comment for entry into a contest.
- Replying quickly to comments.
- Posting during periods of peak activity.
For example, say you wanted to rack up as many comments as possible on your Twitter question. It’d be great to schedule it for when users are generally most engaged, i.e. in the evenings midweek:
Comment-oriented contests are everywhere on social media platforms, and often they’re quite simple: A brand will ask someone to tag another account in their reply. This Dunkin’ campaign on Instagram around its pumpkin spice products (styled “Pumpkin’” for clever and consistent brand awareness) is typical:
You can go even further, though, as Kopari Beauty did in this contest, which required followers to both tag an account and list their favorite beauty product. Those responses are useful for product research and digital marketing.
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What it is and how to track it: The number of times a post appeared in someone’s feed. Note that one user can account for multiple impressions, so not all impressions are unique. Some platforms also define impressions in their own particular ways; Facebook’s approach to video ads is notable in this respect. Social media channels typically provide built-in analytics tools for tracking campaign impressions. Here’s how Twitter’s mobile dashboard displays these social media analytics:
What it helps you measure: Reach, in a different way. Whereas reach itself shows how many unique views a piece of content receives (as we explained in our Instagram metrics guide), the number of impressions gives you a look into how many repeat viewers you’re getting.
Why it’s a useful social media KPI to monitor: If a post has a high impression-to-reach ratio, it’s capturing the interest of your audience. Viewers who come back to a post again and again (in turn, generating multiple impressions) are more likely to convert.
How to optimize for it: Impressions aren’t totally within marketers’ control, as many social platforms sort their newsfeeds via algorithms and don’t show every post to every follower in their main feeds. That said, some tips for keeping audiences coming back to your content include:
- Using relevant hashtags and keywords.
- Working with influencers/performing influence marketing.
- Adhering to a posting schedule or content calendar.
- Writing long captions/descriptions on platforms like Instagram.
For a somewhat unusual but effective example of an account going all out on the latter approach, take a look at this post from a nutrition expert on Instagram (annotation added):
This post generated a huge number of likes (almost 5,000) and nearly 100 comments, many of them quite lengthy. The account’s audience is investing significant time in reading and engaging with its posts, plus tagging others to share it.
All of that indicates a high number of impressions, not just significant reach. The author’s choice to use flag emojis to form lists and to extend beyond the caption length, into the comments, makes even the long description engaging and easy to return to and find its key points.
3. Click-through rate (CTR)
What it is and how to track it: How many times viewers clicked on a call-to-action (CTA) link in a post, or the link in your bio, to learn more. Hootsuite has provided this useful formula for calculating CTR:
What it helps you measure: Engagement and conversions. When someone clicks on a link in a piece of social content, they’re engaging with it and also looking to learn more and possibly convert via your website. Social channels can also drive more traffic to your content marketing collateral.
Why it’s a useful social media KPI to monitor: CTR is a must-track if you want to know how seriously audiences are taking your requests to:
- “Subscribe to our newsletter.”
- “Set up a time to talk.”
- “Read the latest update.”
- “Download our new podcast episode”
- Anything else requiring action beyond the social media post itself.
More so than the reach and engagement metrics discussed so far, CTR requires context. For instance, say you have a high number of clicks on Twitter (i.e., more than 1.6%), but a very high bounce rate, meaning people were leaving your site without visiting any other pages.
In that case, success with the CTR KPI in isolation wouldn’t necessarily indicate you were on the right track and hitting your social media goals. There might be problems with your landing page or the checkout process. Multiple KPIs must be considered in tandem.
How to optimize for it: How to get people to click will vary by platform. Let’s consider just Twitter this time. In general, high CTRs on Twitter are the result of:
- Using short, clear statements.
- Including hashtags and emojis.
- Avoiding statistics.
- Including a CTA (e.g., “Get your discount code now!”)
- Posting in the afternoon or evening.
- Featuring images.
This post from the official PlayStation account shows how to effectively drive clicks to a site. It’s short, with attention-grabbing emojis and a link to a blog post that includes a bunch of additional, important information:
— PlayStation (@PlayStation) December 10, 2019
4. Website traffic and referrals
What it is and how to track it: The number of website sessions referred by social media campaigns. This information might be further broken down by social media channel. It’s possible to track these numbers in widely used tools like HubSpot and Google Analytics. Here’s a sample dashboard from the latter, showing share of social-generated traffic by platform:
What it helps you measure: Reach, engagement, and conversions. Web traffic statistics shed light on whether your social media strategy is not just capturing the target audience’s attention, but also steering them toward a relevant landing page on your site.
Why it’s a useful social media KPI to monitor: Knowing how social media campaigns affect overall website traffic is essential in optimizing your social content, CTAs and landing pages – i.e., all the key parts of the marketing funnel.
How to optimize for it: Directing traffic to a site via social media marketing requires action on multiple fronts:
- Make sure your profiles are filled out, with details like site address. This Facebook page from HostGator includes the main URL, as well as a prominent, visually striking image (literalizing the concept of WordPress plugins) that leads to a blog post on the same site:
- Share the same content across more than one social channel. Use a social marketing platform like Hootsuite or Sprout Social to consistently post content across social networks. SEO best practices can also boost the visibility of your assets and create a reliable funnel from them to your site.
- Make content easy to share. Embedding share buttons alongside a blog post is a reliable way to turn a little traffic into even more, by empowering your audience members in key demographics to easily post it to their own accounts. This official Google blog about Chrome has a persistent, neat layout of social share buttons on the right:
5. Lead conversion rate
What it is and how to track it: How many leads from social media ultimately bought something from you. Divide the number of conversions by total clicks/post visit from the campaign, and then multiple by 100 to get the rate.
What it helps you measure: The return on investment (ROI) of your campaigns. Digital marketing initiatives that successfully cultivate brand awareness, generate sufficient reach and impressions and engage the audience should translate into conversions. If not, something – like the length and content of your posts or the layout of a landing page – may need to be tweaked.
Why it’s a useful social media KPI to monitor: For campaigns meant to generate sales, lead conversion rate is the best way to evaluate their success. Think of it as a holistic report card on the efficacy of your digital marketing efforts. Are people seeing your posts, engaging with them, and feeling compelled to visit your site and actually buy or sign up for something?
How to optimize for it: Generating consistent conversions requires engaging content along with a well-designed landing page and CTAs. Since we’ve already covered multiple ways to optimize your content, let’s discuss landing pages and CTAs.
This landing page from Superdry works because it’s very mobile-friendly, at a time when the percentage of all e-commerce purchases made via phone or tablet continues to rise:
- The page is easy and smooth to scroll.
- There are convenient buttons for viewing different options/photos.
- The “Add to Bag” button is prominent and doesn’t get cropped out of the screen.
In terms of good CTAs, this one from Walmart is short, simple, and effective:
- It has a memorable phrase (“Making your life a little easier…”).
- A hashtag encourages followers to help promote the brand elsewhere.
- “Shop it” serves as a straightforward CTA.
6. Cost per lead
What it is and how to track it: The average cost to generate a lead via a social campaign. Divide the total expenditures on the digital marketing initiative by the number of qualified leads it produced.
What it helps you measure: How much cash you are spending on social marketing and if you’re getting acceptable ROI from all of that money.
Why it’s a useful social media KPI to monitor: This key performance indicator serves as a health check for the soundness of your social media spend. Ideally, it will decrease over time since you’ll be growing your audience and keeping them engaged, leading to less required effort to keep them aware and eventually convert them.
How to optimize for it: Optimizing your cost per lead is ultimately the product of effective targeting, branding and content generation, which all combine to create the right audience for your brand. At the same time, there are granular ways to trim costs on certain platforms.
Lowering cost per lead on Facebook is probably the most studied area in this regard. A few things worth trying there include:
- Targeting a more specific audience.
- Taking advantage of built-in tools like Audience Insights.
- Using video ads, which usually drive more conversions.
- Conducting regular A/B testing of ads.
Here’s a look at a very precisely targeted Facebook ad being created, for example:
Keep on KPI-ing!
This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are numerous other KPIs to keep an eye on when optimizing your social media strategy.
Overall, you’ll want to monitor how well your social media efforts are reaching, engaging, converting and bringing back your key audiences. The specific mix of KPIs will vary by company size and market, plus the business goals of each campaign.
We hope this guide has given you a sense of what to track and what to avoid, and we’ll see you again soon!
Editor’s note: Updated October 2020.