The No. 1 Social Media Mistake You’re Making (and Four Ways to Fix It)

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by Mike Volpe

Sophisticated marketers measure everything from website traffic and pageviews to form submissions and email click-through rates. But when measuring social media, most rely on fluffy metrics, such as “new followers” and “increased brand awareness.”

Only 1 in 3 marketers can measure the ROI of their social media efforts, according to Social Media Examiner. In other words, most businesses have no idea whether their social strategy is even working.

That wouldn’t have been surprising not too many years ago, when the world was still trying to make sense of Twitter and Facebook; as long as companies were present on social sites back then, marketing was doing its job. Today, though, these channels should be second nature for marketers, and not measuring their impact on the company’s bottom line is a big mistake.

Marketers are expected to double their social spend within the next five years, according to the CMO Survey, so being able to prove the value of social media to your business is more important than ever. The C-suite doesn’t want to hear that a good chunk of Marketing’s budget last quarter was invested in social buzz; it wants to know how that buzz fueled real results—not to mention how you’re using those results to influence and shape your marketing strategy.

Luckily, marketers today have tools, data, and insights at their fingertips to tie social efforts to hard metrics.

It’s time for businesses everywhere to start thinking of social media as revenue-building, not just brand-building. Here are four ways to tackle your social efforts with a results-driven approach.

1. Set tangible goals

Measuring your social media efforts starts long before you even tweet, post, or publish anything. From the get-go, you should have clearly defined goals for what you want to accomplish with social. The trick is that those goals have to be tangible.

Most marketers make the mistake of saying they plan to “boost engagement” or “increase awareness”; such vague objectives make it tough to evaluate progress or analyze the final outcome. And if you want to effectively evaluate social, you need numbers.

To come up with those numbers, you need to figure out what matters most for your business and will have the most positive impact on it.

After that analysis, you might, for example, decide to boost engagement via Twitter 20%, increase the number of leads generated from Facebook three-fold, or reach 15,000 LinkedIn followers by the end of the year.

No matter how aggressive or modest the target, it has to be attainable.

2. Put your results in context

Remember getting an allowance from your parents when you were a kid? That $5 a week felt like winning the jackpot… until you found out one of your friends was getting $10 a week. Similarly, your social media results shouldn’t be evaluated in isolation; you need benchmarks against which to measure your metrics.

For example, let’s say you received 40 Twitter clicks this month, and that’s a record for your business… so it’s safe to say your Twitter strategy is in good shape, right? Wrong. You need data beyond your own to know what “good shape” actually looks like for businesses like yours.

Industry benchmark reports can help put your results into perspective, but to really know how you’re social media efforts stack up you should be comparing your results to companies with similar-size followings. Choose a handful of companies to investigate on your own or look for social media tools that can whip up benchmark data that fits your social media reach. That way, you can discover whether 40 Twitter clicks is high, low, or standard.

To be able to set goals that will actually have an impact on their business, marketers need context around how they’re performing on social.

3. Measure down to the dollar

Not long ago, some 41% of companies had no idea how social media was affecting their business financially, according to an eConsultancy survey from 2011.

Your Facebook efforts, for example, might be having a direct impact on your company’s bottom line; you just need to prove it. Tracking leads from their very first interaction all the way through the buying process is crucial. If your Facebook page brings in 30 new leads one month, you should be savvy to how many of those become customers down the line.

Customers who initially found your business through Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn can and do bring in revenue, not just retweets or shares. Attaching a dollar value to social used to be wishful thinking, but now marketers can link their efforts directly to revenue.

More marketers need to apply closed-loop marketing across social channels to tackle ROI. If you haven’t yet, identify the solution or tools that make sense for your business and can seamlessly tie your social efforts to conversions and sales.

4. Let results be your guide

Your social strategy should never be set in stone; it should be fluid and improved upon continually. But to be able to improve, you have to have insight into what’s working and what isn’t.

Marketers who aren’t measuring social media results can’t confidently say which channels need more attention or why one platform performs better than another.

If you’ve been pouring the same resources into both Google+ and LinkedIn for months, for example, and you are finding that one has much lower audience engagement than the other, don’t keep doing the same thing you’ve always done. Instead, dive in to the analytics and reassess the investment your team is putting into each platform. Don’t just track your metrics, analyze them so that your resources are always fueling growth. Your ROI will thank you.