Charting the Evolution of Social Media Metrics

Social media marketing has gone a long way in the past several years. We are seeing content that is far more engaging than ever before, and conversations that are more relevant to consumers. What has always been a challenge though is how “success” is measured on social media, i.e. the metrics we use to judge “how good a social media campaign is”. Let’s look back several years, and see what the future might hold for social media metrics.
Social Media Metrics and its Evolution

Two quick notes before proceeding: 1) this is from the context of the Philippine social media market, a not insignificant player in the social marketing industry, and 2) the assumptions I have are mostly guided by “big-brand-and-agency” viewpoint.

To make things a bit easier to visualise, let’s divide structured social media marketing’s metrics (structured: widespread, formalised, and institutionalised method of doing social media marketing) into three major eras:

2011 and Prior: Size
2012 – 2014: Engagement
2015 – ?: Reach
Let’s take a look at each era in some detail.

Size as a social media metric was important when social platforms were great at delivering content to as many people as possible. Facebook, in particular, thrived as a primary community hub for most of the world’s brands and businesses, giving them “free space” to communicate marketing messages. However, the world’s biggest social platform slowly but surely shifted its role into something more traditional.

2012 and 2013 were interesting years in that – in my local market at least – more brands looked outside of Facebook for a social media marketing solution. Twitter naturally came to mind, as well as Instagram. These two platforms were great for brands: unfiltered streams (unlike Facebook’s which ‘decided’ for the user what s/he sees) meant a better chance of being noticed. This also meant social space became a LOT noisier. More brands on social = more marketing messages. The best brands stood out by not just having big communities, but having a genuinely engaged conversation strategy in place; pro-actively speaking to a few consumers became more effective in building affinity and relationships than merely having massive (but inactive) social communities.

It’s now the end of 2014, and we as social media marketers need to take a step back and have a look at where our platforms – our communication channels – stand. Organic reach on Facebook (note: still the world’s biggest social networking site in terms of users) is almost laughably low, and social sites are facing stiff competition in terms of share of time from messaging apps. In the last two months of 2014, which metrics would prove to be better as far as how the role of social is in our campaigns?

The Biggest Clue: The Evolution of Social Platforms Themselves

Tumblr recently positioned itself as a media channel, perhaps a bit more blatantly than how Facebook transitioned itself into that space. Facebook ads are costing more money but ad impressions are decreasing, hinting at fewer but more effective advertisements. Twitter has a developing ad system. Instagram as well. All these are major clues as to what social media metric we should look at in the coming months/year
Social media marketing will evolve into both an engagement channel and a reach machine.

A what machine?

A big sign in my opinion is what is included in Facebook’s 2014 Q3 earnings report, stating that its “…its age and gender targeting is “45% more accurate than the industry average.” This makes sense, given the massive amounts of personal data we users “give out” on Facebook (and any other social platform, in a way). This means that social platforms are in the best position to deliver hyper-targeted messages to consumers – providing not just relevant content, but contextually-accurate ones as well, down to a specific group of people (and no longer the broad “target markets” we’ve grown up with).

The social media marketing calendar and its well-designed timing of posts are also going to be useless, given the one-two combo of lower-than-ever organic reach and this hyper-targeted capabilities of content publishing. If we are now able to reach specific groups better than ever on channels where they themselves share personal details on (and spend a big chunk of their time on to boot), massive online communities cannot be considered as an advantage at all, and mere engagement without personally-relevant and specific content just won’t cut it.

In summary, the development of social media platforms are never-ending, and the evolution of what we considered important to measure are always going to change. The challenge, I believe, is how nimble can social media marketing teams (and brands, for that matter) be in adapting, and how we can use this to play a better, more relevant, and more useful part in the lives of our online communities.