Measuring the return on your social media investment can be a confusing process. There are lots of free and paid tools around to help you track success but it’s often a question of what to track and how to use that data to inform your strategy.

If you’re already working hard to improve your social marketing, make sure you don’t forget to also improve your tracking and measurement of your efforts.

Otherwise, what’s the point of all the hard work?

1. Set out your objectives

Hopefully before you started creating content for your social channels you’d have outlined your core objectives and aims for the campaign. If not – it’s time to start now.

Are you looking to increase page likes? Drive more traffic to your website? Build awareness and social reach of a campaign or newsjack a trending story with potential to go viral?

It’s important to set out these objectives from the start, deciding the roles each social channel is playing and thinking about who your audience is and where they hang out in the digital sphere.

What are their interests? How do they use the social channels available to them? Think creatively about how to engage your core audience in the social spaces which they are most open to interaction.

Often putting yourself in the audience’s position really helps. What would you stop and interact with if you were scrolling through endless baby photos and summer holiday shots on Facebook?

Set yourself some clear goals and then decide on which metrics you’re interested in to refer back to throughout the campaign.

2. Record benchmarks

Once you’ve decided what it is you’re trying to do, take a snapshot of where you are now. Benchmark your current social presence – what channels are you already using, what do you intend to start using (and why), how many fans and followers do you have?

Take a look at your existing content and make a note of how engaged your audience is. Use Facebook Insights to record your most popular posts, and look at when these were posted and what about.

If you’re looking to drive web traffic from your social channels record how many visits your site receives at the moment, along with average visit duration and pages visited per session.

Are people dropping off at a certain point? If you’re looking to increase actual conversions look into where people are leaving the site and investigate why to inform your strategy moving forward.

A full social audit of your brand’s current social presence will give you something to compare with as the campaign progresses.

There’s nothing more frustrating than running a successful campaign but not having anything to measure where you started from! 

3. Set up tracking

Of course there’s a plethora of free analytics software and various tools available to successfully track your social media and digital efforts – it’s just a case of where to start.

Many social platforms have integrated analytics that’ll give you great insight into the engagement and uptake of your social posts. Facebook’s Insights platform, although ever-changing, offers lots of actionable data such as when your audience is most online, (i.e. giving you the best times to post for your brand), audience demographics such as age and location, and positive/negative engagements on your content.

Twitter Analytics offers snapshots of your tweets’ impressions, engagement rate, link clicks, and of course RTs, mentions and favourites. You can also see the gender ratio and locations of your followers, as well as who they follow – all of the above presented in handy charts and graphs within the analytics platform. Allocating a budget to your tweets will give you access to the advertising platform and open up more opportunity for tracking. 

4. Be smart

Combine audience understanding gained from social analytics with smart segmenting in Google Analytics and you’re onto a winner.

Setting up segments in Analytics to track social visitors and see how they behave to their counterparts is an interesting way to understand your audience and inform your future strategies.

Visitor Flow analysis can be undertaken to track the customer journey and see page drop-offs, and linking any AdWords campaigns will allow you to follow this journey to completion also, within one platform.

Test various content layouts or copy configurations by setting up A/B tests on your social graphics, posts and ads, and use heatmapping tools such as Crazy Egg on your landing pages to show you physical hotspots and what’s getting most engagement.

It’s worth also setting up UTM tracking links if you’re running multiple social campaigns driving traffic to your website.

Combine all of this with smart social content planning / advertising, drilling down targeting to users’ interests, ages and locations, and make your content relevant to them by only posting when most people are online.

5. Be flexible

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when measuring social ROI is to be flexible. The digital sphere is a fast-moving, ever-changing one.

What works one week might not the next, and engagement is bound to drop off at some point. Be ready when it does with the next plan of attack – informed by following your customer journey via the analytics and tracking tools discussed here.

Always monitor and review progress, referring to your objectives and benchmarks set out at the beginning – if something’s not working or picking up enough traction – adjust it.

Have contingency plans in place and utilise A/B testing where possible to see what works best. Keep an eye out in the news for any relevant newsjacking opportunities, and on blogs such as this for the latest industry tips and tricks.  

Once you’ve got a solid process in place for setting up and measuring your social campaigns, you can learn and build on your success each time.