Which Social Media Marketing Metrics Really Matter? (And To Whom?)

We’ve been pretty vocal over the past couple of years about how marketers should define success in social media and (perhaps more importantly) how they shouldn’t define success. To put it bluntly, if you’re focusing on fans and followers, then you’re almost certainly doing it wrong.

But saying that raises the question: If the number of fans or followers you have doesn’t tell us whether you’ve succeeded as a company, then what does it tell you? And if your CEO shouldn’t be worried about the number of wall posts you’ve generated, then who should be paying attention to this number?

Since last summer, I’ve been using a structured model to help my clients focus on delivering the right social media marketing data to various stakeholders inside their organization. Social media programs throw off so much data that the key to measuring and managing your programs well is focusing each stakeholder on just the pieces of data that are relevant to helping them do their jobs. If part of your job is measuring the success of your social media marketing programs, then you need to start segmenting the stakeholder groups you’re providing that data to and tailoring the type of metrics, the volume of metrics, and the frequency of reporting you provide them.

What does that mean in practice? Well, it's little surprise that your operational social media team — the community managers and social strategists who work with social media every day — need a huge volume and depth of data, focused primarily on digital metrics like fans, visitors, and comments. Without that reporting, they can’t do their jobs well. But as tempting as it is to show this same data to the rest of your marketing team, they simply don’t need that type (or depth, or frequency) of reporting — they mostly need data focused on brand impact, leads, and product trial. Likewise, your executives only need a moderate volume and a low frequency of data about your programs, and that data should be focused on bottom-line business results.

Last night I published a new report, Social Media Marketing Metrics That Matter, and it included the model I’ve been using:

Different social media marketing metrics matter to different internal stakeholder groups

Why did I put the stakeholder groups in the order I did? Partly because as you go from left to right, the rank of the stakeholder gets higher — and partly because as you go from left to right, the volume and frequency of reporting goes down.

But mostly it’s because each new group needs to build on the success of the group before it. It's true that the digital metrics that your community managers require can’t define success in social media marketing — but those metrics do tell you if those employees are doing their jobs well, and those smaller victories create the foundation your marketing team needs to succeed. Likewise, the brand and trial metrics that your marketing team should measure in social media aren’t the ultimate definition of business success in social media — but they can show that your marketers are using social media well, and without them doing so your business can’t get the value it needs from social media. Finally, the business-unit heads and C-level executives will find that the sales and other financial metrics they’re tracking are built on the back of those previous successes.

How do you report the impact of social media marketing programs inside your organization? Do you tailor your reporting to different types of employees? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


Great Chart

Nate, the chart you created is an excellent, intuitive breakdown of communicating social media metrics. Not only does it show the focus of each department, it works as a tool for anyone trying to advocate the use and importance of social media in business. Well done!

It seems as though there's something missing

Hi Nate,
I would love to get my hands on this report and read it fully, but judging from what you've put here it seems like an appropriate breakdown from a business point of view. I've always been a fan of Forrester's focus on financial outcomes and the correlation with social measures (likes, followers, fans, etc.). The other day I was searching for case studies and I would say about 95% of the "case studies" available focus on social measures and not financial measures.
Looking forward to more.

Social Bringing in Revenue

I completely agree with you Michelle, there are many cases where social analytics are measured on the increase in growth of that particular network (which is fantastic); however, what it's lacking is a report on the actual increase it is having on the businesses revenue.

After all, if the business isn't seeing an increase in dollars along side the increase in the metrics happening online, what is the social media they are doing being of any relevance? I would be interested in seeing this full report as well... Thanks for sharing this Nate!

In addition to the metrics

In addition to the metrics you present here, I'm curious about how to quantify the value of easily accessible feedback (maybe reduced costs for market research), and reduced costs of support (as customers begin helping one another.

You bring up a great point,

You bring up a great point, Erin - social media programs offer a lot of value beyond just marketing value. In fact, we wrote about all the different benefits social media offers a company (including brand value, digital value, financial value and risk management value) last year in our 'ROI of Social Media' research: http://blogs.forrester.com/augie_ray/10-07-19-roi_social_media_marketing...

I focused on marketing value here because it's my job to help interactive marketing professionals -- and so I want those interactive marketers to know how best to talk about marketing success, and justify to their bosses the need to spend marketing budget on social media.

But the principles of my research still stand even if you look beyond marketing: Namely, you must focus which metrics you report to different parties within your company. The Market Research professionals at your company would be thrilled to know that social media has reduced their costs -- but you need to focus them on that metric, not the number of fans your Facebook page has. Likewise, you should focus your support team on how social programs has reduced call center volume, rather than how many retweets you've gotten.

If you want to see more thinking on reporting these non-marketing metrics, my colleagues on our Customer Intelligence research team talk a lot about the value of social data and insights throughout your business. Check out, for instance, Zach Hofer-Shall's research on Social Intelligence: http://blogs.forrester.com/zachariah_hofer_shall/10-03-12-what_social_in...

You are missing a point I guess.

Nate, the fact that you map social media and networks on a traditional organisational chart is not the right way to do it. One of the main results of implementing new technology into your organisation is that it wil break-down the traditional structures. If not, knowledge sharing will not happen.

The reason is simple. No succesful implementation of what you cal Enterprise 2.0 without the correct social innovation.

That's the way it is.

Tony de Bree

p.s. I am currently pm for implementation of an internal social network platform within a former large Dutch global bank.

Social works across roles, but it doesn't merge them

Tony I agree with your point that social media creates the need for many parts of your organization to work together and share knowledge; really it's an extension of Erin's point above about how social media offers value beyond the marketing. If social impacts several departments (marketing and customer service and market research and more), the people in those departments have to find better ways to work together.

But getting departments to work together doesn't mean getting rid of traditional organizational structures. And each member of your organization still has a specific job to do (creating awareness and trial, for instance; or answering customers' questions). As long as each stakeholder has a different job to do, they'll need a different set of metrics to track their own performance.

What's Mssing is Collaboration Where it Matters

You nailed it Nate about not needing to address org structures and boundaries. Frankly if you think you are going to change org structures based on what you have learned from social media initiatives, think again. The real problem when you look across marketing, sales and services dept in most B2B firms is that the degree to which they are collaborating face-to-face sharing the data is frightfully low.

The name of the game between these stakeholders should be understanding how these and other initiatives focused on improving revenue performance are actually moving the needle. Sadly, the various stakeholders just don't spend enough time going over the data to determine what it means and what it does not mean.

We can debate the reasons why that is so. In fact I have been having some spirited debates with other B2B sales and marketing experts about this the past few months. We all have our theories, but the one fact we all agree on is that the demand chain side of these companies (marketing, sales and services) just don't communicate to get at the root cause for such poor revenue performance these days.

Henry Bruce


Hi Nate,
Interesting point of view about the metrics in social media. But I think that CRM it´s an important tool in every level of the company, not only at the C-Levels. The new releases of the most important CRMs are very usefull in this topics. What do you thinks?

Julio César Blanco

Execution vs Measurement

Thanks for the comment, Julio. Just to clarify - the 'tools' section of the chart describes which tools can help you do the type of measurement required. Of course the marketing team will need to use CRM tools for execution - but in terms of measurement, I believe these tools' ability to track your users through to sales are most important to the executive level.

Metrics is about people and not the dashboards

Thanks for the analysis. Metrics and dashboards need to interpreted by humans - and I find it to be an issue again and again. The issue is not about creating the best metrics or the dashboards but putting the right people in place to understand ecommerce metrics, social media metrics, CRM and financial metrics - in perspective .

Ramesh (ThePapaPost.com)

Nate, Thanks so much for


Thanks so much for sharing the model you are using to segment measurement. I'm curious what you mean by "awareness", however? What sort of indicators make up an awareness metric? It seems like it would have to contain some elements of followers, friends likes, etc.

Thanks for posting!


Jennifer - Awareness is a

Jennifer -

Awareness is a fundamental phase of marketing. It's when a consumer has no idea that a brand even exists as a solution to his or her problem or desire. The strategic intent of the marketing in this phase is simply to "generate awareness", or make consumers aware that a brand exists and set expectations with the consumers that the brand can help them with their problem or desire.

Typically, we measure awareness via controlled and exposed surveys of consumers. There are two main metrics: Aided Awareness and Unaided Awareness. In both cases, you hope to find that those consumers exposed to the awareness marketing were significantly more likely to say they were aware of the brand than those consumers not exposed to the awareness marketing. So, you're looking at % change in Aided and Unaided awareness between the controlled and exposed groups. If the % change is statistically significant, you can infer that the marketing was successful in generating awareness. If not, the awareness marketing was a failure.

Note that this approach does not change just because we are talking about this new-fangled thing called social media. You still have controlled and exposed groups you'd want to compare to determine if what you're doing with social media marketing is even worthwhile doing, at least for generating awareness. Friends and likes would not be good metrics here because by the mere act of friending or liking a brand, the consumer demonstrates that he or she has an affinity for the brand and thus is already aware that the brand exists.

Followers contribute to awareness, but can't measure it

I think Logan does a good job of answering the question of how we measure awareness and other brand-focused metrics. The bottom line for me is that things like followers and fans are really useful for generating awareness in social media (after all, if no one's listening to you or talking with you, you're probably not getting a message through) -- but having followers neither guarantees that you're creating a brand impact, nor does it measure the quality or depth of that brand impact. For marketers, collecting followers is simply a means to an end -- with the end being branding and trial. (And those, in turn, are means to another end: sales and profits.)

Nate - thanks. I would

Nate - thanks.

I would suggest that raw counts of followers and fans are less relevant to awareness than are the counts of the friends that your brand's followers and fans have – when they follow or fan you, the social network pushes a message out to their friends letting them know the action they just took and which brand they took it with. That messaging puts your brand in the face of their friends, many of whom have never heard of your brand or ever been aware of what your brand stands for. While those friends may in turn never follow or fan your brand, at least they are now aware of your brand (the exposed vs. control survey method would confirm or deny this scientifically). Having lots of followers and fans who have no friends doesn't generate much awareness for your brand in that social network.

Raw counts of followers and fans are likely stronger indicators of consideration than awareness, but that's a discussion for another day.

Nice post!

Sounds right to me - now we

Sounds right to me - now we just need Facebook to let someone do the study that'll prove it!

Measure - Has to Be Real & Something the C Suite Can Understand

Nate - Great stuff!

When I first joined HFM, I was asked how we measure "brand vitality". We received an RFP from a potential advertiser and they were looking for a definition as it pertains to social. The request was to focus on Facebook and Twitter. (There are other meaningful platforms, of course, specific to different targeted audiences. Here was my response then (and still live by it - although some tools have changed) ....

Having 1M followers is an impressive number, but that does not mean a) your followers get your content or consume it, b) share, and c) have influence. There are different algorithms out there that measure “social reach”. (i.e. twinfluence.com) There are other parameters that are extremely important as well – number of retweets and the number of Twitter List that you are included in. If anyone person is following 1K twitter accounts, how could they possible consume all the tweets from whom they are following? Lists and how they use a Twitter client tell a much stronger story. (Not possible to capture twitter client usage, but lists – yes.)

Same scenario for Facebook – how many fans you have tells a part of the story. We are looking at data on Facebook. We recently made some “best practice” changes to FB that resulted 55% increase traffic to ***.com (one of our brands) from FB, but 159% increase of page views from that traffic. The point here is not only the user numbers, but their stickiness to our content.

The next area that should be considered is measurement of engagement. Here are things that fall in this category:

• Comments:
– Comments to articles and posts
– Comments to posted pictures
– Comments to posted videos
– Comments to livecasts
• Mentions
– Anywhere in web world
• Blogs
• Portals
• Twitter – both mentions and retweets
• Facebook
• Conversations
– on Twitter
– on Facebook

We just launched *** (one brand) and **** (another brand) on Tumblr. The parameters of importance there are not only followers, but comments and reblog numbers as well.

Others areas include Digg, (no longer a key factor) Delicious, and other bookmarks – is your content/brand marked for sharing – is it deemed worthy of sharing?

*** (our listening tool) rates “authority” based on an algorithm (not shared) that takes into consideration followers, text mentions, URL mentions, RSS feeds, subscribers, and other things. So when we talk about brand vitality, “social reach” needs to be included as well as the obvious things measured (fans, followers, etc) and Omniture-like data. My recommendation is that a third party tool is used that takes all these things into consideration (like Comscore is used for site data). *** (our listening tool) is one, but there are others as well.

This is what I answered directly to the C-Suite Executives. I also wrote an article about this some 20 months ago ... still seems applicable as ever. If interested see, "Measuring the Value of Social Media" at http://bit.ly/hodQp .

Steve Goldner (aka "Social Steve")
Director, Social Media
HFM US (ELLE, Woman's Day, Car and Driver, etc.)

Great detail!

Steve, I really appreciate you sharing all this detail with us - you do a great job of adding depth to what I call 'social health' in my chart (namely, whether you're truly engaging users via social media, rather than simply reaching them as a passive audience). However, I do think that if you're giving this level of detail to your C-level execs that you risk distracting them from what really *should* matter to them: How social media drives strategic and financial success for the business. Of course some execs find all the nitty-gritty details of social media interesting -- after all, many see social tools as shiny new toys. But there's a reason we don't tell the CEO how many GRPs we've bought on TV or the clickthrough rate of our banner ads; it's a level of detail they just don't need in order to see the value of the channel. The same goes for comments and retweets.

I'm not trying to discourage you from sharing some level of 'digital' metrics with the C-level if they're really asking for it -- if your execs are passionate about social media, there's no reason to dampen that passion. But I'd never focus a report for the C-suite on this type of interaction data, or proactively bring it to them; you have to focus on helping them see how social media marketing is driving business success. And if your execs still ask for the granular interaction metrics, that's fine; just make sure it's the secondary part of what you're reporting to them.

Nate, thanks for a simplified

Nate, thanks for a simplified way of looking at positioning social media metrics. I agree that just looking at fans and followers is not the answer, but it is often the easiest and most convenient set of metrics that can be reported. Ergo, this is what commonly gets reported, all the way up to the c-suite.

The great thing about social media is that it gets a lot of attention inside the organization and for good reason. We are finally seeing Web 2.0 principles in action, and with enough ubiquity to make even the most skeptical person think that engagement can only be a good thing for a brand.

One downside from this attention is that we tend to become myopic about social media metrics and forget that there are myriad factors that go into a successful digital strategy. What do I mean by this? Well consider lead generation. Social media can indeed move the needle on getting people to your website to complete a lead form. But there is also completion/abandon rates, copy effectiveness, design effectiveness, and search-engine effectiveness that need to be considered as well. Taken as a whole - along with social media metrics - they indicate how effective the lead generation strategy was or was not.

You can extrapolate this example all the way up to the c-suite, where they really care about three things - making money, saving money and customer satisfaction (okay, there are more than three, but these are the big marketing senior metrics). The reality is that it is more than difficult to prove that your social media program moved the dial on revenue - without also talking about what else happened in the digital value chain.

Social media metrics are important. And it is important to measure everything. But more important is the insight gained by looking at social media metrics alongside your content, SEO, design, etc. metrics and in the context of your specific digital strategy and desired outcomes. This is harder and more time-consuming, but in the end it tells a better - and more believable - story.

Measurement will always be a Mandatory

Nate you've succinctly focused on a topic which captures much of my "talk time" with clients, colleagues, peers, etc. Right now, at an executive level, I still have to place 80% of Social Marketing in the "soft dollar" category...meaning it's difficult to directly tie to a sale or a lead vs. a working dollar which has direct linkage.

However, as a couple of others have mentioned above, I sincerely believe that this is a HUGE opportunity for a "measurement company" to take an innovative leadership role and develop algorithms which support variable assumptions, tying all aspects together and capable of forecasting incremental lift or churn or churn reduction based on positive/negative ratings. There's no doubt there are several measurement tools out there.... but everything still "feels" disparate.

My world of marketing and selling with accountability is here to stay....It would be great to answer this question more directly. However, you're point regarding engagement metrics are a great scorecard to understand the performance impact that the SM managment team is making against the effort(s).

Thanks so much for sharing your approach.

There have been lots of talk

There have been lots of talk on how to measure the success of social media campaigns, and this is a great reminder for companies to understand the importance of information distribution.

A great resource I used in the past was the wonderful illustration of the social media ROI pyramid, written by Jeremiah Owyang: http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/12/13/framework-the-social-media...

Targeted reporting is the key!

It's funny you point to that, Jennifer - last December, Jeremiah and I presented at the same workshop and I was pleased to see that we had been recommending similar approaches. There are differences in the details, of course - but the key message in our respective models is basically the same: Think about the different audiences who view your social media marketing results, and target the most relevant pieces of information to each audience.

Measuring Success

The more I read, the more I believe that social media progress can be measured. Maybe the engagement and influence can't be measured exactly, but as you set specific goals for what you want it to do for you, it is easier to measure. If you want measure your reach, you will use a different measurement than say, engagement or customer service. The measurements you use will depend largely on your goals.

Any tips for quality tools I could be using? They come out so quickly it's hard to keep up!

Great article!

Data metrics was also my initial concern too but I've noticed that most of our customers,the ones who I wanted to reach out to in the first place (they're the best word-of-mouth marketers in my opinion) are not really active on social media sites...but I digress.

Just wanted to say thank you for this article, I've learned quite a lot, especially from reading the comments here.

Great comments on how the

Great comments on how the different levels of corp. use marketing tools. But what about the CEO who uses twitter? How does that help/hinder the marketing plan? For an example of this you can look at Virgin Mobile exec. Richard Branson. Something to think about.


I wonder how this scorecard matches up against the reporting other mediums have "standardised". the big issues around reporting for me is that it is almost impossible to compare a social campaign or period of activity with something like a TV ad - are TV marketers also asked to report in something similar to this?

Great Post. I love your

Great Post. I love your chart. Simply put social media is fairly new marketing and needs metrics to prove ROI.

Social Media Marketing

Marketing has always been a crucial part of a business. Good companies have become great on the sheer basis of effective marketing strategies. In the era of huge competition, organizations are going great length to advertise and promote their products and earn valuable customer loyalty. The concept of marketing has kept evolving with the passage of time. Companies are forced to adopt new changes in their marketing strategies to remain relevant. If there is one factor that has really affected the way marketing plans are being defined then it must be technology.


Social Media Reporting

Thanks for simplifying the key aspets of this topic