These Are the 7 Best Social Media KPIs for Steering Your Activity

Don't get lost in social media metrics. Find the right KPIs to guide your small business to social media success.

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There are stats, there are metrics, and at the top of the digital data food chain, there are KPIs: key performance indicators. You typically put your KPIs into a dashboard.

Wait, isn't a dashboard something you find in a car? A car’s dashboard presents you with a few selected and essential "KPIs" to help drive your car: speed, acceleration, fuel level, and left and right turn signals so you know which way you're going.

Social media KPIs are similar: They are the metrics that help you understand your social media strategy's effectiveness and success — and where you should head next. Let's figure out what those essential indicators, or KPIs, are.

Overview: What are social media KPIs?

Social networks produce massive streams of data, nonstop. In the case of Twitter, there is so much data available to analysts they have named their data offering "the Firehose."

To succeed with social media, you'll need to access some of that data, track a number of metrics, and identify the best indicators of success. The most relevant KPI metrics can vary from one business setting to another, but our list below contains the most common ones.

What to consider when monitoring and tracking social media KPIs

With so much data available, it can be a challenge to define the best KPIs for social media. Let’s look at some of the things to consider when setting up your dashboard.

What is your objective?

There are many business advantages of social media, but your strategy will focus on a limited number of objectives. Ultimately, you are aiming to sell more, but your sales might not take space on social media.

Instead, it may play a supporting role in the user journey. It influences, it qualifies, or it reaches out. Perhaps it helps define or build your brand. Your KPIs should focus on the most important function your social media plays for your business.

Can you measure success?

A great way to define KPIs is to consider how you measure success. What indicators define success? Is it an invoice, a payment, a lead, a delivery? Some success points are easier to measure than others.

What important data don’t you have?

Business metrics and social media metrics aren’t always directly compatible. When you consider what your social media business approach is, you must consider what data social media networks DON’T provide you with.

This will help you put your social media KPIs in perspective and keep your business on the right track.

The 7 best social media KPIs your small business can track

The best social media KPIs measure your activity, your connections, the level of engagement you generate, and the resulting impressions and reach of your operation.

1. Growth of connections

Connections are critical on social media: These take the form of followers, fans, and relations, depending on the platform. The higher your follower count, the higher the organic reach — and therefore visibility — of each post you publish.

Once people have connected, they'll only disconnect if you post something they dislike. Growth in your number of connections is therefore a healthy indicator for your social media activity.

Tips for tracking growth of connections:

Each social platform has its own notion of connections but will readily provide the data to measure this KPI. Most social media management tools will provide this in their basic reporting.

  • Growth per network: As "connections" mean something different from one social network to another, it's difficult to compare them. One thousand followers of a LinkedIn page have a much higher value than one thousand followers on Twitter. LinkedIn connections are harder to obtain and they provide higher exposure for your posts.
  • All fans are not equal: In Facebook analytics, the growth of fans can sometimes appear mysterious. If you're seeing new fans every day, or a peak in the number of fans you can't readily explain, try looking at the profiles individually to make sure they correspond to your target audience.
Facebook insights on followers

Facebook analytics provides statistics on follower growth configurable to the timeframe you’re interested in.

2. Activity per week

Your activity is all the actions included in your social media management: posts, comments, likes, shares. The most important activity to track is your number of publications.

This shows how active you are and can be compared with other time periods to explain movements in other KPIs, such as engagement and growth of connections.

Tips for tracking activity per week:

Activity can be tracked by quarter, by month, and by week. You should compare similar or identical time periods. Use weekly reporting on this metric unless your activity level is very low.

  • Strong indicator: The number of posts per week determines your overall output. Each type of post will have a different impact, but an increase in the overall number is likely to be significant.
  • Maintain the pace: Users perceive your brand by your communication frequency on social media. If you stop or communicate less, they'll wonder why. Aim to always maintain or increase the pace of posting rather than stopping and starting.

3. Engagement rate per post

One of your most important metrics is social media engagement. Firstly, engagement creates a higher reach as engaging posts are favored in social media algorithms and therefore distributed to more people.

Secondly, engagement can be an indicator of the inherent quality and fit with your social media audience since it triggered a reaction.

Tips for tracking engagement:

You can't measure what happens in people's minds, but as soon as they take an action on social media, it leaves a trace that can be interpreted. In this manner, user engagement is interpreted by the actions they undertake (and the intensity of them).

A like or a favorite is considered a small engagement, whereas a share involves the user’s own connections and is therefore considered a stronger engagement. A comment requires some thought and action and is also considered a strong engagement.

Applying weights to different actions is a commonly accepted method to measure overall engagement.

  • Weighting engagement: Likes, comments and shares have different degrees of importance. In order to create a single engagement indicator, you can weigh the various actions and add them together. For example number of likes plus number of comments multiplied by 5.
  • Engagement for influence: Engagement helps increase the reach of a post. But you can also create social media engagement posts with the purpose of influencing users. Taking a provocative stance and standing up for things you believe in is sure to win engagement, win hearts, and also make you some enemies.

4. Coverage: Organic reach among your connections

The coverage KPI is a qualitative measure of how effectively you reach your existing connections. It assumes your connections match your target audience and your objective is to reach this audience with your posts.

A social media audit that reveals low coverage may recommend that you narrow your audience targeting more, or that you increase the relevance of the content you publish.

Tips for tracking coverage:

The coverage KPI is unique to each social network. You should focus on this metric for your primary social network.

  • Increase engagement: Organic reach within one's connections is generally low. One of the ways to increase the coverage is by increasing engagement within your existing connections.
  • Boost posts: In order to increase coverage, you can also use advertising boosts. These allow you to reach a key audience within and outside of your connections by adding a small advertising budget per post.

5. Impressions per post

Your posts will perform differently. Engaging posts may generate many more impressions than your commercial posts. Comparing the number of impressions generated by similar posts can help improve your content strategy and results.

Tips for tracking impressions per post:

Social networks readily provide this information on company profiles and business pages. It is difficult, though, to include personal profiles in your tracking.

  • Compare likes to likes: Certain types of post will perform better on this KPI, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should do more of that type of post. You still need posts with calls to action that generate leads or revenue for your business despite their generating fewer impressions than more entertaining posts.
  • Observe timing: When extracting best practices from an analysis of impressions per post, remember to look at posting times. A post’s timing can influence its performance as much as its content. If you post when your audience is online, the post will generate more impressions.
Instagram's insights on content posted

In Instagram analytics, the content view shows an ordered list of recent posts and the number of views of each.

6. Impressions per week

Overall, what impact are you creating via social media? There are two ways of looking at that question: eyeballs and people.

Whereas you may be more interested in understanding how many different people you reached, it's much easier to count eyeballs, or “impressions” of your ads, as you don’t have to de-duplicate the views by the same person.

Impressions can be added together and provide a consistent measure of the impact you generated over a time period.

Tips for tracking impressions:

Impressions are readily available across all social media platforms and are a simple metric to track the performance of your social media operation from week to week.

  • All impressions are not equal: Although all of the social platforms provide data on impressions, these appear in different contexts and are not directly comparable. Focus on your improvements from week to week rather than comparing between channels.
  • Automate: Some social media management platforms will automatically aggregate your overall impressions per week. Alternatively, it can be interesting to extract data via the social media APIs and show them in an automated dashboard.

7. Cost per impression

Whether you manage your social media organically or add social advertising campaigns to your setup, the cost per view or cost per impression is a useful KPI to measure your return on investment (ROI) on social media.

It measures the cost to generate an impression of a post or a banner. The notion of CPM (cost per thousand impressions) is used for paying social advertising campaigns. You can apply it to your entire social media operation to gauge your efficiency and measure ROI.

Tips for tracking impressions:

While you measure the number of views for videos, you use impressions for posts and banners. These metrics are readily available across all social media platforms. Your cost will be the sum of salaries, overheads, outsourcing, social media tools, and advertising.

  • Cost per view: Videos require more work, adding to costs. And they generate a different metric, namely views rather than impressions. Cost per view can be a separate KPI if your social media operations rely heavily on video content.
  • Aggregate cost: In a small business with an ad hoc social media management setup, it can be difficult to estimate exact costs. However, rough estimates of time spent added to external costs can be a good baseline to establish this KPI.

Define your KPIs and automate your dashboard

In order to drive your social media activity effectively, you need at least four KPIs to cover the areas of activity, connections, engagement, and output. But try to limit the number of KPIs you track so you can give appropriate attention to each of them.

Aggregate them in an online dashboard that updates automatically at set frequencies so you can concentrate on building your business, accessing your KPIs when you need to.

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Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.