Social Media Metrics for Small Businesses: What They Mean and Which Ones Matter Most

Ah, good old social media metrics: you probably haven’t dealt with this many equations since junior-year stats class. And back then, there was probably one right answer, and you found it out for sure when you got your graded test back. In today’s marketing world, knowing who clicks, looks at, shares, likes, comments or ignores what you post online has unlocked access to an unprecedented amount of data to graph, track, divide and ponder. Some of that data can provide valuable insights that will help your company grow.

Some of it is just a waste of time.

Efficiently sifting through those mountains of data becomes all the more important when you’re a small-to-medium-sized business. Fortune 500 companies have, well, a fortune to spend on social media, posting dozens of times a day on multiple platforms and working around the clock to monitor and analyze audience engagement. They may have the time, the money and the need to actually dive in and find meaning in minute percentage shifts here and there.

However, if you’re more of a regionally or locally based business looking to make the most of your social media presence, it’s not necessary to keep up on every single stat out there related to retweets and likes. You just need to know, and work on improving, the ones that matter most to your business.

We’ll get to those in a moment. First, a very important note on measuring metrics themselves.

What you’re really measuring
Social media metrics, like any statistic, don’t do you much good unless you can consider them in context and with a specific objective in mind.

Working together
Consider how your various campaign channels could tie in and build upon one another to guide your audience into further contact with your brand. Examples might include a direct mail piece that also gives the URL for an individualized webpage, a television commercial that gets viewers to use a Twitter hashtag, or a bus stop poster that moves readers to follow a company on Facebook. The important part here is to make sure that each element is consistent in both message and quality, so that your slick-looking postcard doesn’t end up referring the receiver to an outdated website, creating a messaging and stylistic mismatch.

What is your goal?
Do you want to build brand awareness, drive engagement, or directly increase sales? All good objectives, but each will shape how you look at your metrics in different ways.

What are your benchmarks?
You can measure your progress in more than one way: against industry leaders (aspirational), looking back at your past metrics (trended), new campaign gains against past metrics (earned), and against your direct competition (competitive).

Metrics that mean the most
There are servers’ worth of social media data you could comb through for days on end, but for most of the small-to-medium-sized businesses we work with, the following stats are usually the most useful.

Audience growth percentage:
The percent increase in your followers over a set amount of time. Following this stat, versus sheer audience totals, can show you what posts or content is best at attracting new followers so you can keep replicating your success and growing your presence.

Conversion:
Think of this as the end goal you want a user to take, whether it’s buying your product online, signing up for your email newsletter, or filling out a contact form. The conversion rate is how many people click through to your site from your social media post or ad, and then take that action or “convert.” This percentage can be small, even for the biggest of companies, but it can be a key indicator of campaign effectiveness—and even the smallest improvements mean you’re doing something right.

Engagement:
The number of shares, likes or comments your post gets. Engagement may not be a direct sale, but it’s an important part of building a relationship with your target audience. You also want to get higher engagement because it gives you higher social share, which is the percent of followers that actually show interest in what you have to say. Have 50 likes, comments or shares on a post and 5,000 followers? That looks good to Google and Facebook (especially since they changed the newsfeed algorithm last fall). Have 50 engagements and 500,000 followers? Looks like you’re not that relevant and probably won’t rank very high in search.

For perspective, most Facebook posts average between 0.5% and 0.99% engagement (number of engagements/total number of users who saw the post) Anything above 1% is generally considered a high engagement rate. To put it another way, one study of social media engagement showed an average of 28 likes, comments or shares for posts on pages with 1-9,999 followers, an average of 118 engagements for posts on pages with up to 99,999 followers, and an average of 385 engagements for posts on pages with 100,000 up to 500,000 followers.

Number of fans, followers:
An often-misleading count, and now a potentially harmful one. As mentioned above, a glut of inactive, unqualified leads (usually from purchasing fans in the past) can actually set you back in search rankings.

Reach:
Also often referred to as a “vanity metric,” reach measures how many people your post got out to—but what you really should pay attention to is the engagement that it got and how many qualified leads actually saw it.

Bounce rates:
There are servers’ worth of social media data you could comb through for days on end, but for most of the small-to-medium-sized businesses we work with, the following stats are usually the most useful.A measure of how quickly a visitor leaves your website after clicking through from your social media post. Visitors clicking through to websites from social media are notoriously fickle and distracted. It’s a different mindset from finding a website through a Google search. Just because a visitor referred from social media leaves your site quickly doesn’t mean they won’t be back. Any visit is a good visit in this case.

Take-aways
Just remember that social media stats don’t exist in a vacuum. To truly understand the effectiveness of your social networking efforts, it’s best to compare all of your retweets, comments, shares, likes and click-throughs to past performance, your benchmark goals and what your competition is doing. On top of that, different industries will also have their own varying averages for engagement and conversion rates.

After all is said and done, though, you can’t go wrong if you stay true to one principle: provide quality content that adds value to your customers’ life or work. It’s timeless advice that is still sure to get you more clicks online and bigger figures on your bottom line.

One final note is that while properly managed social media can be a complicated undertaking for businesses of any size, we don’t recommend shying away from it altogether. We also don’t really see the need to go overboard and hire your own 24/7 social media team (unless you’ve got that fortune thing going on). What most small and medium-size companies really need is somewhere in between, the just-right approach that keeps up your presence, increases sales and fits your budget. If that sounds like the kind of social media plan you’re interested in, let’s talk.