Analytics tools have become increasingly sophisticated, and marketers more widely accept the fact that ‘vanity metrics’ such as likes and favourites no longer cut it in terms of performance. Viewed in proper context and combined with other variables, these KPIs might be useful but provide little stand-alone value.

Digital marketing performance will only become more measurable over time. This is true for all channels — from social to email to display. As brands invest more in paid advertising to boost visibility, marketers will need to measure their efforts with greater rigor than ever before. 

This isn’t to say that all digital marketing can or will ever always be tied directly to sales. But it does mean that marketers need the ability to access and view data in ways that provide some kind of useful or actionable insights and create efficiencies around content mix, ad spend, and even staffing numbers. 

Here are three social performance measurements that transcend vanity metrics that every marketer can look at to inform deeper strategy and tactics across various networks.

Social media customer service

Brands that ignore social media as a customer service channel do so at their own peril. It’s well established that consumers expect brands to at least acknowledge questions and complaints on social. Sure, not every issue can be fully resolved on social media, but radio silence isn’t a winning strategy. 

For brands in certain sectors such as telecom and airlines, social media customer service is an important part of the overall business. Marketers might ‘feel’ like they’re doing a good job with social customer service but without performance metrics and the ability to benchmark, how can they really know? 

Take Average Reply Time (ART) for example. This measures the average time it takes a brand to reply on Twitter. Maybe one hour is good, maybe not. If your main competitors reply in an average of 20 minutes, you’re behind the curve. By measuring a metric like ART, a brand can make strategic decisions about social media staffing (like Comcast did in March). 

Hashtag popularity

Overuse by consumers has made hashtags annoying to many. Nobody really cares that #icantthinkstraightbeforemyfirstcupofcoffee. But for brands, hashtags are still one of the best ways to organise social content, build a community, and help drive traffic. Hashtags aren’t just for Twitter and can also be used on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Vine, Google+ and other networks for contests, campaigns, customer service and events.

As with all content, it’s important to understand what works and why. It’s easy enough to throw about a random hashtag and see what sticks, but to create a true content strategy, marketers must measure performance. Some may be fortuitous enough to create a unique hashtag and have it go viral. However, for most, creating or leveraging hashtags requires research. 

Some hashtags are linked to keywords and can drive SEO through a larger paid content strategy. Others are connected to some fast-moving trend. Either way, competitive intelligence can provide insight into what resonates well at any given time. Brands should be careful though. There are plenty of hashtag disasters and performance metrics can only inform strategy — not replace it.  

Campaign engagement

Brands that approach social media in silos are missing out on their full campaign potential. It’s no secret that certain networks are better for driving different kinds of audience engagement. But with hashtags and other methods (we use manual campaign tagging), marketers can cross promote campaigns to drive awareness and traffic to the network where the main call to action resides. 

Brands can first look internally at their own campaign / content mix. While knowing top-level engagement is a starting point, brands should break down and analyse their campaigns to understand how each piece of content across all of the networks relatively performed. This can help marketers understand where to shift focus for both paid and organic content.

Next, a brand can compare its own campaign engagement against other brands. Maybe they ran a campaign for a month and had hundreds of tweets, while a competing brand’s campaign only ran for a day and consisted of ten tweets but received much higher engagement. This type of intelligence can help inform what types of campaigns are performing best with a shared audience demographic and can help shape campaign strategy.

Social media will become more data-driven and expensive as brands vie for limited consumer attention and the networks charge more for greater reach. Optimised targeting, competitive intelligence and content efficiency will drive social performance measurement as the traditional networks continue to evolve and mature. Brands that look beyond the surface numbers and dig deeper into data today will be well positioned to leverage the social networks for tomorrow in ways that further business objectives and strategies.