As with any marketing investment, it’s important to measure the return on your social media activity in both quantitative and qualitative terms. There are two schools of thought (at least) on the relative difficulty of each of those endeavors. 

Measuring the quantitative impact of social media marketing on your business performance in a meaningful way is very difficult because quantitative metrics can be a false indicator of consumer engagement, argues Mona Askalani, director of social marketing at Aimia, a Montreal-based provider of loyalty management services. “Marketers need to understand the meaning behind the numbers,” she says. “Are you defining success by customer activity or by customer engagement?”

Darian Shirazi, CEO of Radius Intelligence, a San Francisco-based provider of sales intelligence on the SMB market, thinks it’s much simpler than that. “If you’re looking for raw numbers, it’s not that difficult once you have the data,” he says. “With data, you can measure the numerical difference between different time periods.”

Dana Todd, senior vice president of marketing at Performics, an SEM (search engine marketing) specialist headquartered in Chicago, comes down somewhere in the middle. “The measurement really isn’t the issue. It’s the valuation that’s tricky when you’re trying to understand the impact of social media on business performance,” she contends. “Most marketers haven’t really done the hard work of analyzing what is the value of a person’s interest, engagement, loyalty, and referral.”

Askalami and Todd are in concordance on the question of qualitative measurement, with Shirazi offering the dissenting voice. Qualitative impacts can be determined using surveys and attribution models, Todd says, “but, again, marketers must determine the business metrics up front, before the campaign runs,” for them to be meaningful. But Shirazi believes measuring the qualitative impact is quite difficult since you need to weigh sources and the influence of the person posting. “Quality also varies by medium. For example, Facebook posts are more valuable than tweets on Twitter,” he says.

Check-ins, tweets, and Facebook posts are straightforward metrics you can use to see how often people are talking about your business. Tracking business mentions in social content is the best approach, Shirazi suggests, but it can be difficult because of inconsistencies in how people spell a business name, (e.g., “Hog & Rocks” vs. “Hog + Rocks”). The native metrics available in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter can also be useful, Askalami says. For example, Facebook’s “People are Talking About This” metric provides a data set that counts stories that are eligible to appear in a user’s newsfeed—“likes,” wall posts, comments, shares, questions answered, etc. “This metric allows the page administrator to know what posts have proven the most compelling and interactive,” she says.

The most important points Shirazi suggests keeping in mind when gauging the success of your social media marketing are:

  • Use a monitoring tool, free or paid, to track social mentions and traction.
  • Correlate your growth of social traction with your business’s revenue and foot traffic.
  • Measure which sources of social traction are most directly correlated with increased traffic and revenue.
  • Track your social traction against that of your competitors. 

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