Social Media Metrics That Matter


Liz Gross — CEO — Campus Sonar


Learn how to maximize Google Analytics and Search Console set ups, how to find high performing organic content and optimize that content for search engines.

Presentation slides



Liz Gross, presenter:

Good afternoon, I just wanted to take a minute and say hello with my face big on the screen. Before I turn into a little, petty person in the corner and switch over to my slides for the talk that I want to share with you today. But so excited to be joining the HighEdWeb Analytics Conference. And if you know me, I’m probably in the chat answering these questions live as we go if we can, but I am extremely excited to talk to you today about a topic that is near and dear to my heart that being social media metrics that matter. 

But before we dive into this topic, I want us to think back, all the way back to October of 2020, flash back to the HighEdWeb 2020 Conference. Very similar to today on Hopin where I gave a talk about the Five Essential Documents for a Strategic Social Media Program. And I said, then that the most important strategic document was the strategic overview. This is a flashback slide from that presentation. I said, the first thing that should be in this document was the goals of your social media program. And the last should be what success looks like and how you will measure it.

We didn’t have time to get into that topic in detail last October. But today we do. We’re only going to talk about how to measure success but first I want to get you in the right headspace. Think about the goals of your social media program whether you’re in charge of it or not. What is the social media in your division, your school, your college, your campus, trying to achieve. I want you to actually take out a piece of paper if you have one near you and write down one to three goals. You can share them in the chat box as well, if you want but it would be great to have something in front of you. You have two minutes to do this. I am going to turn off my camera. Maybe go play with my cats for a minute but we’re going to refer to this later in the presentation. So you won’t wanna forget it. Right now, take two minutes and write down the goals of your social media program. You can’t see my face, but I’m still here. Are you writing down your goals? 30 seconds have elapsed. You still have a minute and 30 seconds. One minute remaining. Do you have at least one goal written down so far? Push to get two or three and think about how these goals impact your campus not just social media. 30 seconds left. In five, four, three, two, one. 

And we are back. So now you’re thinking strategically you’ve got yourself in the headspace of thinking about goals that social media supports. For the rest of this presentation we are going to be focusing on that last bullet point. What success looks like and how you’ll measure it. I’m going to be honest. Sometimes I get a little frustrated. We spend all of this time talking about important goals and the value of analytics. And then what we get when most people put together a social media report is followers, engagement rate, views and reach, and maybe a sampling of our most successful posts. 

And it doesn’t matter how pretty that report is. No one chartered a university with the goal of having a highly engaging social media account. Your work matters and is supporting goals that are higher than what you can pull out of a social media program to prove. 

A few years ago I was talking about this with Tonya Oaks Smith at Louisiana Tech University. I interviewed her about digital measurement and what she told me then still rings true today. We, meaning digital and social media professionals should have a greater understanding of metrics and what they mean. We need to teach others, including leaders. Metrics that matter aren’t always easy to report quickly or understand as something like page views, something you could pull right out of Google Analytics. You need to dig in. So you can make decisions related to program marketing, course development, faculty hiring and resource allocation. Tonya is talking about those big high level institutional goals. And she’s mentioning what I believe that you practitioners need to understand many different levels of measurement. And that is true across all channels not just social media. 

In this presentation, I am going to give you a measurement framework that you can use to identify what social media metrics you need to measure to serve distinct purposes, improving your content, establishing a presence on a new platform, being an effective steward of human and financial resources. And most importantly supporting your department or institutional goals. 

The following six categories of marketing metrics will help you understand the types of metrics that reflect different aspects of your work. I am intentional today about providing both social media marketing and social listening metrics, because I believe that measuring the entire social media conversation about your institution not just your contribution to it, along with these direct goal related conversions that are prompted by your social media content is a better way to assess your social media efforts than strictly relying on social platform metrics that consider only the content you posted. 

So here are the six categories of marketing metrics we’ll be walking through in the next 30 minutes or so. For each of these metrics, I’ll define it, provide examples of social media metrics that fall into that category and where to find them and examples of conclusions that you can make based on those metrics, conclusions that might end up in your social media reports, for example. We’re going to walk through the categories of activities, viewership, attention, financial, efficiency, and outcomes. 

So let’s dive right in to activities. The definition of activities is very simple. What you published, this is a volume metric. While this may be something that you share with your direct boss it’s likely not something that has a place in executive level reporting. Unless I gave this presentation a few years ago and someone is strictly pointed out, unless you’re required to complete certain activities to comply with funding requirements, a grant, for example then this might be important at the executive level. So what are examples of activity metrics? You’ve seen these before. It’s the number of posts you’ve put out per platform or the number of replies that you’ve sent when engaging with your audience, you probably know how to find these. You can gather them manually from most social platforms or a social media management tool, like AgoraPulse or Sprout Social may aggregate them for you. 

But how many posts you posted each month or quarter or year isn’t actually showing what you achieved? It is simply defining your activities. You can draw some good conclusions from them though. You might say we published more or fewer posts than last month or quarter or year, because we made a strategic choice to focus on video content, which takes more resources or we posted more because we lean into Instagram stories to reach our target audience which demands daily publishing. 

Other possible conclusions you could make from activities metrics are, our focus was on crisis, listening and response; so we couldn’t dedicate as much time to posting. So our replies were higher and our posts were fewer. Or you might say we chose to focus on replies and engagement this year, we increased the number of those by 200%. Activities just explain what you did. But with some context you may be able to add why you did it but activity metrics never really get to the so what, of the work that you do on social media. 

The next category of marketing metrics we’ll talk about today is viewership. This is simply who saw or experienced, if they’re not seeing it visually your content. Saw doesn’t necessarily mean it was consciously consumed by someone. It simply means that it appeared on a screen for all, you know, it was scrolled past immediately but this can include distribution metrics as well as some demographic metrics of whose screen your content appeared on. Some examples of viewership metrics, are your posts or campaign reach, maybe the reach of a collection of posts. 

A social listening metric is your total conversation volume. That’s the number of times your institution is mentioned in online conversations and indicates how many people are talking about you and how much they’re talking. And you might even be able to pull impressions out of that. Video or story views is a viewership metric and reach or reviews by location, age, or gender. Most of these metrics can be found within the platforms themselves in the analytics area, or in the case of total conversation volume that’s within social listening software aggregating a larger number of sources. So what conclusions can you make from viewership metrics? You might say our campaign reached 13,000 parents of prospective college students on Facebook. Or you may say our campus was mentioned 2,800 times on social media last month, an increase of 35% compared to the same month last year, half of these mentions referenced athletics and the next common topic was our guest speaker series. That’s a more contextually reported total conversation volume metric from social listening. 

Another conclusion might be our student life YouTube videos had 150,000 impressions last year and 65% of the audience was under the age of 18. Viewership metrics are good for confirming that you’ve found an audience for your content or to confirm that you’re reaching the right target audience. If a campaign is strictly awareness based, viewership may be part of your, so what if you’re really just trying to get your message in front of as many people as possible. It may also be an important metric to track if you’re working on building an audience on a new platform. 

So moving on to attention. Attention is how many people interacted with your content or created content about you. With attention you are focused on engagement and amplification. Attention is different from viewership because these metrics don’t just track if your content showed up on someone’s screen. To reach an attention metric it requires someone to interact with your content or to consciously create content about your institution or the topic that you’re promoting. Some examples of attention metrics. These are going to look familiar to you.

  • Engagements, which could be number of comments or replies. The engagement rate on a post or across a series of posts or over a span of time. 
  • Amplification, which is going to be when other people pass your message on likely through shares or retweets. 

There’s two social listening metrics here that might be of interest to you: 

  • One is earned conversation volume, which is the portion of the online conversation that doesn’t come from Campus accounts, could be students, journalists, alumni, prospective students. Tracking this as a percentage of your total volume or as a total number you can do both, helps you see how much other people are talking about you if you’ve captured their attention and prompted them to act. 
  • And voices or unique authors as the number of individuals who contribute to online conversation about your institution. As your unique authors number goes up that can indicate a healthy community with diverse experiences and perspectives and a shared affinity for your campus. And as you develop more brand advocates the number of voices in the conversation should increase. 

Now the first three example metrics on the slide here come directly from a social media platform. You might have to go to the data export function to get things like the total number of engagements across a set of posts. The second two examples are social listening metrics that will come from social listening software. Earned conversation requires a bit of a breakdown on your part because you have to separate out the content from your institution, which is owned. And frankly, not a lot of campuses that I’m aware of are tracking this which is interesting to me because most social media content about college campuses is earned, not owned. So I personally think it’s an important metric to track. You’re probably not surprised given the line of work that I’m in. 

Now, what conclusions can you draw from attention metrics? You might say our earned conversation increased by 200% year over year, and it’s in the 75th percentile for our peer group of medium-sized private institutions. Or you might say our posts from the safe return to campus campaign were shared 587 times. Another example with some good context might be our engagement rate on Facebook has been decreasing despite no change to our strategy. We suspect either the algorithm is changed or the audience behavior is changing. So attention metrics can provide some interesting conclusions. 

If you’re tasked with activating a brand, attention metrics may be important to you. It’s not really enough for someone to see your content. They need to act and ideally feel a certain way because a strong brand captures attention not just screens and eyeballs. 

All right, we are halfway through. The next metric is financial. This is simply the cost of activities or a return on investment. I suspect that some of you may not be reporting this metric for social media and no shame from me. It is difficult to do and it should be an aspirational goal. You will likely pay more attention to this if you are doing paid social media advertising or if you’re in an extremely budget constrained environment. Even if you’re not using financial metrics today, think about how they might be useful for you as you demonstrate the value of social media to your institution. 

I’m just gonna go through two examples of financial metrics. The first is the total cost of the social media work that you are doing. This isn’t just what you pay for paid social although that’s a part of it, but also your time and any colleagues time and any equipment and software that is needed to do this work. Not everyone has calculated the cost of their social media activities. And that might be a good metric to keep track of particularly as you look at more outcomes that you’re impacting as well. 

And of course, return on investment is a financial metric. You might not be able to calculate ROI and that is okay, but please, please, I beg of you. Don’t fake the ROI equation. If you want to calculate ROI, you need to know the cost of your inputs, which is investments, so time, paid social budget, everything we just talked about, and you need to know the value of the outcomes of your work in dollars. Dollars or some other currency are the only acceptable type of number used to calculate ROI. And the formula is on your screen. We can’t just make up I to stand for something else and say as return on interest or return on influence. ROI is return on investment. It is a financial metric and you can only calculate it if you have financial metrics related to your social media. 

Now neither of these are metrics that you can pull out of any software. It requires collaboration with the folks who manage your budget and those who see the income from activities that are associated with your work. 

So what might conclusions of financial metrics look like? You might just simply be able to report costs, our anti-summer melt campaign costs $3,500. And I would encourage you if you can to include direct costs as well as human resources and other costs, or you might be able to say the ROI of our admissions social media activities in the spring semester was 300%. Now, the only way you’d be able to calculate that is if you knew a few things. So for this example, my assumptions were that the costs for social media staff plus software plus equipment for the five months that were dedicated to this campaign was $50,000. And that as a result, they got $200,000 worth of enrollment conversion say deposits or applications. In that situation, you could say the ROI was 300%, but if you don’t know those numbers, you can’t calculate ROI. And that is okay; don’t fake it. 

The next metric is efficiency. This is how you’ve stretched your dollars or your human resources. Similar to financial reporting you might not be reporting this right now but you’re more likely to be if you’re engaged in paid social media advertising. And those are the example metrics I’m going to share with you. You’ll often see CPC, which is cost per click, CPM, which is cost per 1000 impressions or maybe you’ll see a cost per inquiry if you’re working directly with admissions. These efficiency metrics are most often used with paid advertising. 

But if you were accounting for human resources as well you could consider some other efficiency metrics. You will find these metrics in the advertising platform that you’re using or from the agency that you work with to purchase ads. And one conclusion you might make from this say is Facebook is our most efficient form of social media advertising because it’s only 75 cents per click compared to $5 per click on LinkedIn. Or if you’re trying to describe why you did some of the work you did, you could say we redesigned our social media ads to ensure every image included a logo and original photography with a goal of improving relevancy, and decreased our CPM by 30%. Both of these are valuable conclusions. 

Now, unless you’re reporting to somebody who is a subject matter expert in paid advertising, the context you add to the conclusion like that last example, can make them much more valuable. This is the type of conclusion that will help you prove you’re using your budget well. 

And lastly, we’re going to talk about the outcomes category of metrics. Spoiler alert, this is my favorite category. This is what people actually did as a result of your effort on social media. It’s usually a conversion or an action. You could come up with a variety of examples, and I’m going to ask you to in a little bit, but some of them might be:

  • Application starts like applications for admission, requests for information from prospective students
  • Donations if you’re working on the advancement side of the house
  • Event registration if you work in special events or maybe alumni or the arts
  • Ticket purchase, if you work in the arts or athletics
  • A newsletter subscription if you’re simply working to build an audience

These are all outcomes. In most cases, unless you’ve enabled e-commerce directly within a social platform, which maybe you have, but I haven’t heard about that from campuses yet, these metrics are not going to come from your social media software. They are most often in your web analytics software, your CRM, or other social or other software programs that are supporting your campus operations. 

These require cooperation, but they allow you to make conclusions like this: In August, our admissions related organic content on Twitter and Facebook referred 161 users to our website where 36 of those people started an admissions application which is worth approximately $77,000 in expected tuition revenue. I didn’t make this one up. This is an actual outcome from the social media team at West Virginia university. They’ve gone a step further and added a dollar value to their online conversions. And they calculated those using a combination of the average net tuition revenue per student which someone on your campus knows, and their expected conversion rates at different parts of the enrollment funnel. So they know what an app start is worth, or what a visit sign up is worth in actual dollars. Reporting conclusions like this tells a very different story than relying on metrics from social media platforms. 

Now new applications worth about $77,000 with one month of effort is much more reflective of the work of the WVU team than the number of retweets and likes they got on a post. In this instance, a post that performed well in terms of conversions, this tweet was one of the first of many that they posted in August to get that stat. It doesn’t seem very effective when you only look at the retweets and likes but Twitter analytics is not going to tell you if someone clicked through to the website and started an application for admission. The web analytics software will. 

So those were the six categories of metrics, the last being outcomes. It was a lot of information. And I’m going to give you a minute to reflect on that. Just one minute to ground this information in your personal experience, Grab that piece of paper again. Share in the chat if you want, but no pressure. And write down any metrics you’re collecting that fall into the outcomes category. If you need to glance back at your list of goals to jog your memory, that’s fine. I’m gonna hide my camera and give you one minute exactly starting now. 30 seconds left. And we’re back in five, four, three, two, one. You probably have some thoughts and feelings, and if you need to express them in the chat, that’s fine. 

But we’re gonna wrap it up by talking about how exactly it is that you get to outcomes. ‘Cause they’re my favorite metric they’re also one of the hardest ones but usually what is worth doing is what is hard. So first to get to outcomes you need to know your institutional goals. If you haven’t read your strategic plan for your institution, do that. Maybe your division has one of its own or you have some sort of guiding charter, read that. It’s no one else’s job to read it to you. Go read that information. 

And then once you feel that you have at least some information about where the institution is headed and what their priorities are talk to your boss or your grand boss. (That’s your boss’s boss.) And see how they feel those priorities fit into the work that your unit is tasked with doing every day, come to an agreement on what goals are actually driving the work you’re doing if it hasn’t been made clear to you already. 

And if it is unclear just keep asking “why” until you know the answer. Now you might not want to act like a two-year-old and literally say, “why, why, why, why” to your boss or grand boss but as this conversation continues, they will, why do we do this? Why do we want students to engage with us on social media? Why are we trying to tell a story in this way? And eventually you will get to an outcomes-based goal. I can walk you through this process step-by-step in the first chapter of my book, “Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses.” I’ll share with you how to get that in just a bit; it’s free. 

Next, after you know your institutional goals and how you’re supporting them you need to get out of the social media software. A lot of those metrics attention and viewership and activities. Those can be pulled out of social media software. Usually outcomes metrics can’t, you need to know your way around web analytics. And remember the Google Analytics Academy is free. Or you need to be friends with the folks on your team or on your campus who are doing that work. Some of the prior sessions that happened during this Analytics Academy are likely already getting you part way there. This information matters to you if you want to prove the outcomes of your work. 

You likely are going to have to implement UTM Codes if you haven’t already; that is a whole other presentation that has been given before at HighEdWeb 2019. It was a lightning talk actually from Jackie Vetrano that will help you tie posts and campaigns to outcomes on a website. 

And you may need to implement tracking pixels on various social media platforms particularly for paid advertising. But unequivocally visibility into web metrics is the key to reporting outcomes. And if you are being asked, what impact social media has and you don’t have visibility into those metrics, you are missing a key piece and you need to advocate for that visibility. 

And then eventually you need to report your results. And I wanna give you a really quick guide to how you can report results in the most effective way. Because I often hear the question, my boss wants a social media report, what should be in it? It can help you with this, but first and foremost, you will not use the same social media report for all stakeholders. Not every person in your organization should get the same social media report. To decide what should be in the report that meets the needs of the person who requested it, or the person you want to make a case to, consider the following:

  • First who, who is getting this report? What is their job like? What are they responsible for? What sort of decisions should they make? This determines the context of information that you should use in your report. 
  • Next, think about what, what do they need to know in order to make decisions? If you want your report to be effective focus only on this and fight the impulse to include other numbers that look good. If they are not relevant to the decision at hand. 
  • Next when do they need information to make decisions? This should guide how often you actually report your results. Or you submit reports, don’t default to weekly, monthly or quarterly, just because it seems right. Find out when they will use the information and report it then. 
  • And then finally ask yourself, so what? Ask yourself this repeatedly, when you’re looking at the data that you’re trying to report. You need to get to the actionable insight and make sure that is highlighted in the report. That is what the decision-maker sees. Make sure your reports are supporting strategic decision-making. 

To end this presentation, I wanna take some inspiration from Tony Dobies. He is leading the team that did that WVU outcomes reporting that was mentioned earlier. When I spoke with him about how his team is evolving their measurement this is what he told me, “Likes and followers and pretty pictures don’t prove the worth of social media. We had to find something that senior leadership, up to the Board of Governors, could understand. That’s money and enrollment.” Frankly, I hope to see more campuses operating like this in the near future. If you’re one of them, please get in touch with me so I can start bragging about you too. 

And one last note, these six categories of marketing metrics, they’re not just for social media. These apply to every marketing channel. So if you are in a leadership role of a multifunctional marketing team, you can apply this framework to other channels. I didn’t make it up. You can Google it and find more information about this out there. And you can use this to guide your reporting and measurement, to get to the results that you desire. 

Now, this was a lot and I wanna help you take it further. So I put together your Metrics that Matter Kit. This is going to have a downloadable handout with a KPI identification and reporting plan to really help you determine which of these metrics matter to me and who should I report them to. I’ll link you to some helpful articles that will guide you along the way and provide examples of other institutions that are doing this already. 

And of course, I will get you these presentation slides and you’ll have the option to get the “Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy” book, which has chapters on goals and measurement and reporting. 

You can get all of that at, which I know I or one of my colleagues is gonna drop in the chat like right now. And with that we should hopefully have about 10 minutes for questions. So I am going to pop on live and answer anything that hasn’t already been answered in the chat. 

Thank you so much for spending your time with me today. And I wish you happy measuring.