Move up the metrics value chain: social shares are great, but only if they lead to outcomes

Something I’m asked frequently at conferences and from marketers is what metrics they should be striving for from their social media marketing.

They are generally looking for a prescriptive formula. And while there may be some common metrics B2B and B2C marketers strive for, I think the question highlights a larger issue which should be addressed first: social isn’t in a vacuum.

Your goals from your social efforts should be aligned with and contribute to your larger marketing objectives. So, in short if you read no further: social isn’t some alien place outside of your marketing that isn’t held to the same business metrics of your other channels.


Caption: Brilliant Tweet from Jif several years ago, but you don’t need to stress about going viral, shares aren’t the ultimate goal.

Despite social media no longer being new, our industry still has an unhealthy culture of chasing shares and engagement instead of actual outcomes that will affect their business. That’s not to say more shares and engagement aren’t a good thing. They speak to your success creating content and experiences that resonate with people. That’s one of the magical parts about social: instant feedback. You know almost immediately if what you did resonated or fell flat.

Shares and engagement of content are key performance indicators (KPIs) of success, not the goal in and of itself, but an indicator metric. I doubt most businesses participate in social with the explicit objective of generating more shares, but instead are hoping to use social to improve customer service, raise awareness and impact their bottom line.

Unless you are one of the rare people who actually work for a social media platform, this is not your reason for being. Yet what I’ve seen in my experiences is that marketers start with a legitimate business goal, but along the line they get addicted to engagement – more KPIs, more followers, more shares, and lose sight of the whole reason for being involved.

So what is an outcome metric of social?  Not shares, but instead a real world objective that is your desired return. It could be more organic inquiries, ecommerce sales, speaking opportunities, advertising revenue, PR, etc (pending on your business), but it is a tangible outcome you want your efforts to result in. It’s something that should be understood by your CEO in addition to your marketing team. There shouldn’t have to be any detailed education to explain why this is good. Also as a note, social of course is not direct marketing, the ways you achieve hard outcomes are very different than traditional advertising and require a thoughtful strategy and approach.

But let’s talk about how to figure out the KPIs. The best way to get actionable KPIs is first starting with the end objective in mind and then back out what metrics will best help accomplish those goals. Then, make sure your tactical mix actually aligns directly with improving the metrics that matter. If you’ve determined that opt-ins to your communications outside of social are important (such as building an email list) make sure your execution has some sort of path here (that isn’t spam!).

One caveat to end this post. I don’t want to downplay social shares and engagement. They act as a signal of social proof and can play a significant role in making your brand successful. But they are an organic byproduct of doing everything else right, not the goal.

So don’t stress too much about “going viral” like the Jif update above or the now infamous Oreo super bowl Tweet. Work instead to improve your marketing and communications strategies to fit the modern marketing mix, and I bet social KPIs take care of themselves.

Related reading