“Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted, counts.” Albert Einstein could have been talking about social media. And in truth, for companies who are not selling products via Facebook or Pinterest measuring the ROI from social media can be problematic.
But even if ROI – in simple terms of pounds and pennies – can be difficult, that doesn’t mean it is impossible to define some strong KPIs from BtoB social media campaigns. After all not all advertising is measured in terms of sales.
Let’s start with vanity KPIs: things like Twitter Followers and Facebook page Likes. These have little, if any, value as KPIs – although they are very visible and thus superficially attractive. The trouble is that most followers and fans don’t do much: the average person will engage once and then have nothing more to do with your brand on social media.
The same is true of “trivial engagements” such as Facebook post Likes or Twitter Favourites: these are easy-to-perform (and easy-to-forget) actions that mean very little to your brand.
If you want to use followers and fans as a useful metric you will have to identify a subset: followers who can be considered to be prospects or customers; you can then track this number over time as a valid KPI.
Indicative KPIs are a little more important because they tell you that things are moving in the right (or wrong) direction. However they don’t tell you much else. Change in numbers of followers/fans over a particular time may be indicative or success or failure, and movement in a positive direction is at least likely to keep the boss happy. Sentiment is another example: Tracking sentiment will rarely give you an accurate picture of how people really feel about your brand. However, if sentiment is steady or slowly becoming more positive over time this should at least give you some comfort even though there isn’t much you can do with this information. More useful is a “blip” in sentiment (a sudden rise or fall in positive or negative sentiment) which may indicate that something of importance has happened that needs investigating.
Other indicative KPIs are the “weak engagement” signals – content sharing such as re-tweets. If these are increasing you will feel that you are doing something right although it will be impossible to know whether this sharing is having an effect on your brand, and even harder put a value on this.
Another popular indicative KPI is website traffic from social media. Again, an increase in traffic looks as though it should be considered to be a positive result. It’s worth tracking but traffic on its own is a poor indicator: after all you don’t know why people have visited and it is perfectly possible that most of your visitors are disappointed when they arrive.
KPIs that indicate some sort of brand support or uplift are very important. These are things like positive brand perceptions such as “Brand X is a thought leader” or “Brand X is in my consideration set”. Generally these brand-based KPIs will need to be measured using one-on-one research such as surveys. This inevitably makes them more expensive to measure and many BtoB organisations may feel that this sort of measurement is not worth while.
Another type of branding indicator is the number of your followers and fans who are influencers. There is no set definition of what makes someone influential but you could decide to include people with, say, over 1000 followers. These influencers are likely to be of two types: “direct” influencers who are prospects or existing customers; and “indirect” influencers such as journalists and bloggers; track them separately.Unfortunately you will probably have to do this by hand.
If you are spending a lot of money on developing content (as you probably should be) then you will want to track loyalty: the percentage of people who have read your content who then return; and you will also want to track how frequently they return. This will involve setting up some customised reports in your social media analytics tools, for instance tracking the behaviour of people who have visited a particular set of pages or people who have visited your main website from your blog pages.
You may also want to track content engagement. This is hard to do as you cannot know whether people are actively reading your content or drinking a cup of tea while the page is open. The simplest way is to set up your analytics tool to track page scroll depth so that you can see how far down a page people have scrolled. As an alternative you can encourage people to rate content at the end or even divide content into a number of pages and then track each time people click on the link to pages, 2, page 3 etc. Alternatively there are more sophisticated tools (e.g. contently.com’s analysis) that can help with this by using clues such as mouse movements to estimate whether someone is actively engaged on a page and even whether they finished reading the whole article.
Strategic KPIs don’t relate directly to marketing investment or sales success but are nonetheless important to track.
One set of strategic KPIs relates to competitors. Metrics such as social media “Share of Voice” compared with competitors will show you if you are shouting louder than your competitors (of course that is only important if you are shouting the right things.) And an analysis of comparative sentiment will also be useful (with an analysis of any blips giving you some actionable information). In a similar way an analysis of keywords around dissatisfaction with competitors will be useful information, although not strictly a KPI.
Another set of strategic KPIs relates to consumer insights. Here you need to analyse the content of any social media conversations and match the key words you are using to describe your brands with the keywords and topics that are generating engagement. You may find that one set of topics is going well at generating positive consumer reactions but that you are failing with another topic. This knowledge is important for advertising as well as for New Product Development.
Unlike all of the preceding KPIs, some marketing KPIs can have a genuine value in terms of monetary ROI attached to them.
While the volume of website traffic from social media doesn’t in itself have a value, we could attach a value to it by estimating the cost of generating traffic using paid search or advertising. We could also attach a value to non-sales conversions such as product sheet downloads – if we know how many of these are likely to convert into a sale. And similarly we can value leads (such as email addresses) if we know what our conversion rate is likely to be. And finally we could potentially value any back-links that have been achieved from social media if we are able to calculate the cost of a single back link achieved via SEO activity.
Another area where we can potentially attach real value is in social media activity. Qualified followers and fans (i.e. people who have been identified as prospects) will have a quantifiable value if we know the average conversion rate we achieve with prospects. And so will people who are identified as being dissatisfied with a competitor.
Other KPIs worth tracking are the total number of “strong engagements” i.e. comments on your posts, and the numbers of qualified followers and fans who engage weakly or strongly with your content: while it is hard to ascribe an monetary ROI to these KPIs, they are important as they tell you whether your campaigns are succeeding in generating engagement and, importantly, whether they are doing so with the target audience.
And finally there is what every BtoB marketer will want to be able to measure: sales generated from social media.
At the soft (i.e. hard-to-value) end there are CRM interactions – the number of contacts with customers or prospects that have been made via social media. This isn’t the same as the number of leads as one customer or prospect may have been contacted several times via social media. Track number of customers/prospects contacted and also average number of contacts per customer/prospect.
And then there is the “gold standard”: sales converted from social media leads. Did I say “gold standard”. Well, that would mean that the sale was made in the absence of any other drivers such as advertising, email etc. And that’s unlikely to be the case. So track this figure; but bear in mind that giving social media total credit for the sale is probably over-estimating its importance. As Einstein said “Not everything that is worth counting can be counted”!