Forests & Trees: New insights on measuring social impact

Everything in social is quantifiable. That’s the good news. And sometimes the bad news. Even the most seasoned social practitioners can get confused over which metrics to focus on, whether to look at the macro level or the micro, and how to interpret the data. Sometimes you need to look at the forest. Other times, you really need to focus on that one crazy tree.

Deciding where to focus involves a number of different considerations—including your audience, your social channel mix, and especially your objectives. Here are a few pointers for surveying your own particular landscape:

Don’t use anybody else’s yardstick.

Your unique business objectives should drive how you measure your social efforts. Period. Other brands may be focused on other goals, so don’t be distracted. And your objectives and associated metrics may vary from campaign to campaign.

Make sure you educate all stakeholders that, yes, you can get tons of social data, but certain measures are more important to your current objectives. Help them understand which lens you’re using to look at your social initiatives—and why.

For example, The Country Music Association was working to increase its Instagram following between the CMA Music Festival broadcast and The CMA Awards. Simple, fun posts themed to a celebrity duet asked followers to tag their “partner in crime”— and doubled CMA’s Instagram audience in two months. By setting a clear objective based on a single, measurable metric, CMA was able to easily track and meet their goal.


Tag your partner in crime!

A photo posted by Country Music (@cma) on

Set reasonable expectations.

As Ben Bennett, CMA’s Director of Digital Strategy, told us: “One Facebook post isn’t going to sell out tickets to your event.” While it’s crucial to have a goal, you’re wasting your time if your expectations aren’t realistic.

Make sure your comparisons are relevant.

The CMA social team doesn’t compare day-to-day social activity against posts made on show days with huge national audiences (like #CMAfest). The circumstances are completely different and any comparison would be unbalanced by the tentpole event. Keep in mind that all posts aren’t created equal. Major tentpole event content, promoted content, and others may perform dramatically different from your benchmark.

Recognize the importance of social influence.

Matt Corey, CMO of PGA TOUR Superstore, shared some deep insight on the value of social influencers and the potential of every retweet, favorite, and share.

Say you have a customer named Jon who makes a $200 purchase every year, but never Tweets, posts, or Pins anything about your brand. Another customer, Sally, only spends $100—but her social posts result in another $300 in sales.

If you’re only looking at direct purchases, you’d say Jon was your more valuable consumer. But if you look at her social influence, Sally is actually driving twice as much in sales. Understanding the influence of your social consumers can help you better communicate the true value of social back to your team.

Map social engagement levels to purchasing behavior.

As Matt Corey told us, it starts by beginning to capture customers’ social IDs. Branded mobile apps and loyalty programs like PGA TOUR Superstore’s Players Club offer relatively seamless ways to gather this information.

Next, tie that social data into your customer relationship management (CRM) system. This allows you to segment your database by levels of social engagement—low, medium, and high— to correlate engagement with purchasing behavior.

Even if you only start with a few hundred customers, making this conversion connection is a powerful way to demonstrate social’s business value in a framework your C-level executives will understand.

"Don’t fall in love with the idea. Fall in love with the results."

This gem comes from CMA’s Ben Bennett. We interpret this in two ways:

  1. Recognize that sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most powerful.  CMA’s simple Facebook post wishing Luke Bryant “Happy Birthday” received 2.2 million unique views—the brand’s most-ever for a non-promoted post. It was CMA’s top post of the year.  

  2. Learn to let go of a pet idea if the data shows it isn’t working. As creative people—and all marketers are creatives—we are passionate about what we do. Social gives us feedback right away. When something isn’t working, you might have to mourn for a minute...and then move on.

Let’s face it—it isn’t always easy to harvest meaning from a forest of social data. It’s much easier, though, if you know what you’re looking for and focus on what matters most.

This post was inspired by the thoughtful discussions on this topic at the Spredfast Summit, especially by panelists in the “Connect the Dots” session. Want more? Check out slides from the Connect The Dots panel  and download our  Top 10 Big Ideas from Leading Social Marketers.'s picture

Courtney Doman

Courtney is the Content Marketing Manager at Spredfast. She focuses on sharing smart social ideas and insights to transform the way companies connect with consumers. Courtney is a passionate football fan (supporting Arsenal and the USMNT), curious traveller, and ambitious home cook.