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Ten social media KPIs: Demystifying social media monitoring tools

As enterprises delve into social media monitoring, they need to know how to choose the right social media KPIs -- and what the numbers mean.

As companies begin to delve further into social media monitoring, one of the challenges is how to choose appropriate key performance indicators by which to measure conversation on social platforms.

According to Nate Elliot, analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., finding the right measurements for social platforms has been a thorny issue for enterprises -- and one that they haven't really solved yet.

"Until we have that detailed understanding of whether what we're doing creates value, we won't be able to get better," Elliott said.

And indeed, companies have noted that there are so many statistics to wade through, it can be difficult to even derive meaning once you start measuring.

"You could go and spend millions of dollars, but you can still get unfiltered, 'empty-calorie data,'" said Andrew Bowins, VP of digital and corporate communications at MasterCard Inc. in Purchase, N.Y.

Here are several key performance indicators (KPIs) that are worth tracking to understand your company's presence, its status vis-à-vis the competition, and other measures of your company's reach among its constituencies.

1. Number of followers. From Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter, know the scope of your audience and where your constituents come from.

2. Number of followers' followers. By measuring your followers' followers, you can also get a sense of the wider circle of influence and how much your content and brand might be shared with others.

3. Number of competitors' followers. This measure is important because it takes you beyond the four walls of the company to understand your company's influence in the context of the market and industry you're in.

4. Audience demographics and location. Know the makeup of your audience, from gender to their country of origin.

You could go and spend millions of dollars, but you can still get unfiltered, 'empty-calorie data.'
Andrew BowinsVP of digital and corporate communications, MasterCard Inc.

5. Active followers. One of the key measures of success on social media platforms is engagement, and one critical way to measure that is by calculating your number of active followers. You can use tools like Klout Score to determine whether your followers have influence in their circles. Tools can also help you segment your followers to understand how they engage with your content or brand. Create profiles for followers who frequently retweet your content or mention the company frequently on Twitter.

6. Track active nonfollowers. Track those who mention your content or brand but don't follow you yet.

7. Likes and shares. While likes and shares have sometimes been described as the "empty calories" of social media engagement -- it takes little effort or engagement to click on a like button, and some constituents can be incentivized to do so -- this measure can still provide a quick window into a certain form of audience engagement.

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8. Comments. As with your number of active followers, the number and quality of comments on a page can indicate the degree of audience engagement with your content, products and services.

9. Mentions and retweets. Being mentioned by others or having your posts retweeted can be an important indicator of your company's growing influence in a community.

10. Traffic data. What percentage of your traffic comes from social media sites? This can help you understand whether social media is providing a loop back to your site's content, as a result, you hope, of engaged conversation on these platforms.

Bowins said that the challenge for global financial services giant MasterCard, which is monitoring social platform conversation in 200-plus countries, is to get all business managers and regional heads aligned around a standard set of KPIs.

"And then to teach the company to use those insights for real business decision making," Bowins said.

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Is your organization struggling to establish social media KPIs, and why?
I think engagement is important on a content/post level too - so not just likes/comments, but likes/comments per post (giving you a baseline for what a successful post looks like) and likes/comments divided by the total audience, so you understand what percentage of the total audience took some action on it. If a post was seen by 100 people and got 5 likes (20% engagement), it may actually be more engaging than one that was seen by 1000 people and got 10. This can then help with planning posts in the future based on topics, timing and audience.