I love social media. This, I’m sure, isn’t surprising given what I do for a living and the things I write about, but I really do love it. The interaction is great, the opportunity to expand perspectives and get new input is valuable, and it helps those rush hour train rides and waits for appointments pass more quickly. It does have one aspect though that, from a business perspective, just makes me cringe. See, social media builds in all these little ego boost buttons, things that have no real meaning but that for some reason the human brain is wired to want to chase after, and then, well, waits for us to chase. Things like follower counts or retweets or favorites or likes or any of those single click votes of confidence seem like the only kind of concrete measures of success in the social media landscape, but what they measure is either limited at best in significance or has a meaning that is easily manipulated by the very act of chasing after it. So, all that said, how does a business measure engagement and success on social media in a way that gives a sense of actual meaning and of what value is being added to the business?

If you take away only one piece of advice from this article, let it be this one — stop chasing algorithms

Likes, retweets, favorites, Klout scores, and all those other measurements prepackaged by social media networks don’t necessarily translate to anything meaningful practically, economically, or from a content perspective, and especially not if you’ve diluted their value by begging for them or requiring them to enter a contest or otherwise using the interaction as the gatekeeper to something else that’s what people actually wanted. If you make a customer like your Facebook page to get a discount code, or retweet a tweet to enter a contest, all you’ve learned is that they wanted whatever was on the other side of that interaction. You didn’t offer them content that engaged them on any kind of personal or emotional or intellectual level, you haven’t reinforced a significant aspect of your brand story for them, you’ve just dangled a carrot in front of them and gotten exactly the predictable reaction anyone could have expected. Shares on social media can be hugely meaningful, but when you’ve explicitly demanded them as the price of entry for something else, that meaning is essentially gone. Pay attention to the interactions that happen organically, not the ones that are manufactured or the ones that are being arbitrarily measured by an algorithm of which you don’t even get to see the back end.

Your KPIs must be your own

Even the more sophisticated seeming social media analytics packaged by the networks themselves like Facebook’s EdgeRank (and its nameless successor) still don’t tell you much of anything beyond what another business’ algorithm thinks. Social media networks don’t know what your goals are, so why should you use one of their pre-packaged measures of success? The best way for you to measure your social media performance is to decide what your goals are for your social media presence and then figure out what your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be to help track that. The likes, shares, and retweets aren’t really what you’re after, it’s increased brand awareness or lead generation or whatever business goal you want social media to accomplish. Measure what you care about, not what the social media network thinks you should care about. Also spoiler: the things they think you care about are actually what they care about, because it’s an indicator of traffic for their website and thus their own revenue. Tricky, ain’t it?

Relevant content leads to meaningful engagement

Regardless of how you measure engagement, remember to stick to content that is relevant to the business and actually demonstrates a sense of who you are as a brand. If a post is only vaguely related to the business or the industry (or really not related at all), even if it does get shared a lot and becomes very popular, that doesn’t mean much because those people who are sharing it aren’t interacting with the brand, the product or service, or the brand story. Social media updates don’t have to be specifically about your business, in fact many times it’s better if they’re not so it isn’t seen as a transparent marketing ploy, but they should at least be related enough to make sense coming from the brand. Here is a hilarious but also kind of tragic example courtesy of Vivint, a home automation and security company. I understand that home automation sort of makes general home topics relevant but… are they automating my pasta? Does my kitchen make fettuccine and clams for me on its own if I get Vivint to come install one of their systems? Otherwise, why on earth is this being posted on their Facebook? There’s stretching the confines of your brand for the sake of seeming more varied and personable on social media, and then there’s trying to give me kitchen labeling tips while selling me a nanny cam. Another instance where having a clear goal and knowing how you’ll measure it would help. Oh and you can check out Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook for proof that this is nowhere near an isolated incident.

Give some thought to how you’re measuring or would measure your social media performance. What are your KPIs? How do you measure with them? Care to share with us in the comments? We’d love it!