Now that social media channels like Twitter and Facebook have matured into solid communications platforms, many individuals, organizations, corporations, and agencies have taken to these channels to reach their audiences. What hasn’t quite solidified, however, is how these campaigns are tracked and measured. There’s still a decent amount of confusion and differing opinions of what you should measure and how.

In this post, I’ll share several factors, methods, and steps that I’ve learned this year about how you can effectively and realistically measure your social media campaigns. This isn’t intended to be a complete or exhaustive list of what you could use, but it’s my hope that each topic will assist you in your endeavors.

Define Your Goals and What Constitutes Success

Before you pursue any coordinated effort in your social media channels, think very carefully about your goals and what constitutes success for you. Remember, you cannot measure success (or anything at all, for that matter) if you don’t have defined goals up front or have an unclear vision of what defines a successful venture.

  • Expectations: Set the expectations of the campaign early and often. Make sure the goals and definitions of success can be precisely tracked, measured, and reported on. Build a communications strategy and make sure everyone who will be involved in the campaign has read and understood it completely. If you’re simply testing the waters of a specific social media channel or experimenting with a new approach, that’s perfectly fine, but make certain everyone understands that, especially those in charge.
  • Timeframe: Think about the timeframe of your efforts. What is the life expectancy of the campaign? Is it a short-term promotion, a webinar, conference, or event with specific dates, a brand awareness effort, or a marketing campaign to raise awareness of a cause or resource? Will you announce the effort ahead of time so users are prepared to take action, such as a “save the date” for events? How will you build interest and sustain momentum over the course of the campaign? What are your plans for retiring the campaign once it’s complete? Have you considered follow-up activities like a user satisfaction survey?
  • Transactions: Work out which transactions will define a successful campaign and stick with those decisions throughout the effort. How is the campaign intended to affect your transactions? Are you seeking to drive more traffic to a specific website, blog, or web-based application? Do you want a certain number of users to sign up for a promotion, event, or product trial? Do you want them to buy something? Think about “goal conversions”: the action(s) you want your users to make, and the end result(s) you want from them.
  • Return on Investment (ROI): ROI is a classic business metric, but it’s one that’s generated a lot of heated discussions when it relates to social media. Whenever you think of ROI, it should always boil down to money: hard dollars and cents (or euros, sterling, yen, etc.). Did your campaign generate enough revenue to justify its cost (marketing materials, agency fees, manufacturing costs, etc.)? Did you increase sales of a product or service? Did your transactions balance out the (estimated) hourly rate of the staff spent managing, tracking, and measuring the campaign? You don’t have to always sell something to determine ROI; in essence, you’re figuring out whether the campaign was worth the effort, but that worth has to be a financial measurement.

Look for Active Responses

Among the most valuable success metrics are direct responses from your audience. These can include mentions and direct messages on Twitter and wall posts and comments on Facebook. Be sure to check these regularly, especially if you intend to respond to comments or engage with your audience to keep up the momentum of your campaign.

If one of your transactions is new fans or followers, you may want to activate e-mail notifications to have “hard copies” of these actions. New follower notifications from Twitter, for example, not only show you basic information about the new follower, but also which platform or browser they used, the date and time of their activity, and the size of their audience.

Check How and How Often Users Are Sharing

To track how far your message has reached, look for evidence of sharing within your audience.

On Twitter, keep track of retweets, both the old- and new-style versions. “Old-style” retweets have the prefix “RT” before the original tweet along with the handle of the originating account. Users may choose to add their own comments in the retweet, and may edit or winnow down the original text to fit their comments. “New-style” retweets are simply a reposting of the original tweet in the user’s timeline; they can’t make any changes to the original text. Depending on which tool you’re using to measure retweets, you may need to look in different views. For example, Hootsuite will not show new-style retweets in a “Mentions” view; you need to track them in the “Your Tweets, Retweeted” view.

On Facebook, look for both “likes” and “shares”. Whenever a user likes a post, it increments a “thumbs up” value associated with the post; all fans of the page see this value. If the user chooses to share your post, the original post will appear in the user’s timeline. They can also choose to add a comment to prefix the shared post.

Likes and new-style retweets are what I consider “lazy successes”. It takes a user only one click to perform these actions, so it may not indicate that they read the complete post or whether that post was informative, helpful, or useful to them. Facebook comments and shares, along with old-style Twitter retweets with additional text, are more valuable for quantitative feedback.

Use Query Variables or URL Shorteners

Whether you’re sending out links in your tweets and Facebook posts, including website URLs in direct mailings, or displaying QR codes in your promotional materials, go the extra mile to insure that you can properly measure user activity.

Several URL shortening services, such as or Hootsuite’s, have back-end reporting tools you can use to track and analyze click-throughs. Hootsuite can also overlay tweet click-throughs with your Google Analytics reports to show possible relationships between your posts and website traffic.

Query variables, which are additional pieces of information you can include in a website URL, can provide you with richer metrics. Web analytics applications and services such as WebTrends, Google Analytics, and Radian6 can collect information from query variables whenever a user visits the URL. What’s nice about these variables is that you define them: add whatever information you’d like to collect, such as the campaign’s name, a specific marketing code, or which channel you’re sending the URL out to. You can then work within your chosen analytics platform to track, monitor, and report on the variables.

Never Rely on a Single Metric

When it comes time to gather, analyze, and report on the results of your campaign, never base your success or failure on a single metric, such as followers or fans. Always use multiple measurements and track trends in their activity over time. This allows you to form the complete picture of your campaign, and makes you better informed about what contributed to the results.

Crossing the Finish Line

Building realistic expectations, setting your timeframe, defining your transactions, and understanding how ROI will relate to your campaign will all help immensely when it comes time to measure your efforts. Be diligent in checking (and responding to) active responses from your audience and how they’re spreading the word about your campaign. Give your measurements a boost by considering URL shorteners and query variables to supply additional information about your users. And, finally, don’t hang the success (or failure) of your efforts on a single value or metric.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I don’t consider the thoughts I’ve gathered here as the “be-all-and-end-all” compendium of social media measurements. If there are specific methods or insights that have worked well for you, please feel free to share them in the comments.

I want to thank the good folks at Marketwire and the #smmeasure chats for helping to inspire this post. Their weekly social media measurement Twitter chats have been quite valuable in my own social media efforts, especially since metrics in this space are still not clearly defined or universal. The #smmeasure chats take place each Thursday at 12 noon Eastern Standard Time. Follow the @smmeasure Twitter account or the #smmeasure hashtag to participate.