Your Guide to Metrics: How to Measure the Effectiveness (ROI) of Social Media and Content Marketing

January 27, 2014

Eager to put your social media skills to use? Check out How to Create a Freakin’ Fabulous Social Media Strategy.

Once you’ve got a social media strategy and content marketing plan in place, the next question on your radar should be this:

How will we measure whether our efforts are actually working?

Image: Measure the ROI of social media

Measuring the ROI of social media

In industry speak, that’s ROI, or return on investment. It’s a buzzword in the content and social space, and for good reason: all that work is worth nothing if it’s not helping you achieve your goals.

There’s another reason for all the chatter around ROI, too: It’s notoriously difficult to measure the effectiveness of social media. The quality that makes social so great for marketing — its ability to affect people’s actions in subtle ways — is also what makes it so difficult to track. Think of social media as a cousin to the word-of-mouth referral; while that communication may strongly influence a buyer, it’s not always easy to track back to its original source.

But just because something’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Too many people make the mistake of throwing themselves into content marketing (which in my mind includes social media) and ignoring metrics altogether. Don’t let that be you! (Click to tweet this.)

Today I’m going to share with you some of the ways my team tracks success for our brands (that’s this blog and The Write Life) and our clients.

Before measuring ROI, do this

To use metrics to your advantage, you first have to take a step back and look at another piece of this puzzle: your goals.

Why are you using social media and content marketing? What are you hoping to accomplish?

The answer to this question is absolutely imperative. Without it, you simply don’t know what to measure.

And you wouldn’t believe how many people incorrectly identify the goals of their own company or their client. For example, you might think your goal is to grow a following online or build brand loyalty. Those are good goals indeed, but they’re likely your secondary goals, ones that support your primary goal.

When you dig a little deeper, asking why you want to build a following and what you’re hoping those followers will do, you’ll likely discover your underlying goal, the one that really matters.

That underlying goal is usually — not always, but usually — revenue.

When we dig deep into primary goals for our clients, most revolve around making money. Clients want more traffic to their blog so they can charge more for advertising. They want more followers on social channels so those people will buy their products or services. They want people to recognize and respect their brand, so their community will want to work with them.

In these cases, building a following online is a secondary goal that supports the primary goal of making a living.

This bottom line, revenue, is straight-forward, but sometimes it’s still difficult to measure. It’s not difficult to track how much money you make, of course, but it can be difficult to place a finger on where, exactly, those leads come from.

Yet even if it’s challenging to figure out how many buys of your client’s product came from social media, it’s absolutely essential that you keep this primary goal in mind. Because this primary goal, revenue, is what your client cares about. If you can show you’re helping the client reach this bottom-line goal, they will continue to keep you around.

So what metrics should you use to determine whether you’re making progress on this bottom-line goal?

Digging into ROI metrics

First, let’s talk about what you don’t want to measure.

By watching how some small businesses and brands act online, you’d think the way to #win is by having profiles on as many social platforms as possible.

But does that help you reach your bottom-line goal? Probably not. In fact, being everywhere probably hurts your primary goal because it means stretching yourself too thin. That’s why we recommend avoiding the be everywhere trap and instead choosing several channels — the right channels for reaching your audience — then kicking butt on those few channels.

Those strategically selected channels often include a blog, newsletter, Facebook and/or Twitter. Also, increasingly and depending on which industry you’re in, Pinterest or YouTube.

So what metrics are important?

My team puts together detailed reports for each of our brands and clients at the end of every month. Depending on which channels we’re running for each brand, here are a few of the metrics we typically include:

Social media

Growth of channels: This is the most obvious metric, how many followers the client has gained since our last report. Some social media pros downplay the importance of follower numbers, and their point is a good one, that quality is more important than quantity. Yet while follower count isn’t the be-all-end-all of metrics, it does give us a sense of how fast the community is growing.

Plus, the truth is that most clients care about follower counts, no matter how much you stress quality over quantity. To put that count in perspective and compare it to previous months, we also calculate percent growth over the previous month.

Engagement: Here’s one way to factor in quality. You can have a huge online community, but if those people don’t engage with you and your content, they’re probably not helping you reach your bottom-line goal. That’s why we offer an engagement metric that shows what percentage of followers have interacted with the brand.

Facebook makes this easy; it calculates engagement metrics for pages under Insights. For Twitter, we use Hootsuite to pull statistics for RTs and @mentions, then create our own percentage that compares activity to the number of followers.

This, however, is only one way to measure engagement, and you could come up with plenty of other ways that will work just as well. Just make sure you’re being consistent month after month, so you have statistics that show long-term growth.

Referral traffic to website: Using Google Analytics, we look at referral traffic to see how much came from social channels. This is important because while social channels can be communities in and of themselves, their purpose is usually also to send traffic back to the main site.

Ad performance: We often run Facebook and Twitter ads to gain more visibility for those posts, so we use the Ads Manager to track how well those ads perform (mainly number of clicks and number of page likes).

Anecdotal: These are often the biggest wins, so they’re worth noting even if you can’t measure them numerically. We track interactions with influencers on Twitter, RTs by large accounts, offers that come via social to be a guest blogger or speak at an event, and any other #wins that help us reach our goals.


Traffic: For all the blogs we manage, traffic is the biggie. We track unique visitors, page views, and how both of those metrics compare to the previous month. We also look at where that traffic is coming from: social, referrals, the newsletter, search and more.

Referrals: Scrolling through referral sources (those are other sites that linked to the blog) is a smart way to gain insight about which of your marketing tactics are working best, so you can replicate those efforts. You’ll also notice websites you didn’t even know wrote about your site; if you’re really smart, you’ll hop over to those blogs to comment or thank them via social media.

Popular content: We note which posts did best over the last month and why (which you can determine by looking at referrals for each post). This will help you figure out what type of content is most popular with your readers, as well as what’s catching on in search engines.

Ecommerce: For some of our clients, we use conversion funnels in Google Analytics that show how visitors converted into buyers. This is a bit more complicated, but if your client cares about produce revenue that comes through the website, it might be worth finding someone who can set it up for you. (Whenever I’m looking for someone who has a specific skill like this, I search on

One final tip: For blog traffic in particular, it’s sometimes helpful to create a bar graph that shows growth over time. This visual representation of your work is often more powerful than statistics. Lots of free tools will help you turn your statistics into a graph, including ChartGo.

For example, here’s a chart that shows The Write Life‘s traffic since we launched six months ago. We keep track of unique visitors each month in a Google Doc, so it took me just five minutes to put this together (and it was free):

Image: The Write Life traffic, unique visitors

Traffic for The Write Life during our first six months


Even when clients come to us asking for blog and social media management, we strongly recommend building an email list. A newsletter will help grow your online community, and it’s an important piece of a comprehensive content marketing strategy.

List growth: This is akin to your follower count on social media; it’s a log of how many new subscribers you’ve gained since last month, plus percent growth to put it in perspective.

Open rate: While list growth is desirable, your open rate is what really matters, the Holy Grail of email marketing. This is the percentage of subscribers who opened your latest newsletter — because who cares if you have a huge list if none of your subscribers actually read what you send them? We typically explain how that compares to the client’s average open rate, as well as the industry rate. (Here’s MailChimp’s list of average open rates by industry.)

Click rate: In addition to open rate, you’ll want to look at the percentage of subscribers who click on links in the newsletter. This gives you a sense of how many people are truly interested in the information you share. If you test different types of content, you can use click rate to see what’s most popular.

Anecdotal: This covers any additional #wins from the newsletter, including encouraging responses from readers and opportunities that arise from that communication.

Why metrics are more important than you think

Many of us have a general idea of where traffic is coming from or how well we’re performing on social media, even if we don’t lean heavily on statistics. But when you put aside a few minutes to analyze the data, you might find some surprises — incoming referral traffic from a source you didn’t expect, awesome search traffic to one particular type of post, a higher open rate for newsletter campaigns you send on a certain day of the week, or high engagement (aka quality followers!) for a social channel you worried was growing too slowly.

This is why I LOVE DATA. It’s the bearer of ah-ha moments, and it opens the door to all sorts of opportunities that will simply pass you by if you don’t poke around the numbers. (Would you stop reading if I told you that looking at Google Analytics is one of my favorite parts of the day?)

Best of all, this data will help you demonstrate your ROI. Offering data-driven reports that prove what’s working will not only make you look like the professional you are, it will also help you make the case that your work is driving results that affect the bottom line. And if you can show your boss or client the precise benefits of your work, they’ll no doubt keep coming back for more.

Questions? What other metrics do you use to measure the ROI of your work?

Don’t forget to check out my ebook, How to Create a Freakin’ Fabulous Social Media Strategy!

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    8 Replies to “Your Guide to Metrics: How to Measure the Effectiveness (ROI) of Social Media and Content Marketing”

    • Alex Ivanovs says:

      Hey Alexis,

      I agree that knowing what you want is essentially the one thing that measures the rate of your success. I’ve blogged before, without having any sense of direction – while it worked 5 years ago (because of easy SEO tactics) – in the new era it’s all about heading in the set direction.

      It’s not even that hard either, you just need to set a couple of goals and see where they take you. By the end of it, you’ll have new skills and ways of doing things that you never had before.

      Great post.

    • A great article and very useful for businesses! Thank you.

    • This is a great article Alexis. You cover everything and you make it easy to understand. I especially like what you say about social media — \’Think of social media as a cousin to word of mouth referral.\’ You\’re right about the primary goal being revenue. I also find great success with LinkedIn, if you use it correctly. Connecting with people; building a community and a following, posting regularly and also commenting on other articles is an important way to gain clients and awareness with your work.Thanks for an excellent article. You truly show your knowledge…that you\’re an expert.My very best – Michael

    • I agree, Michael!

      I really appreciate the insight and info, Alexis. Feels great to get clear confirmation from an expert. Awesome!

    • Actually IMO one of the most important things when thinking about metrics is how you can aggregate them across all channels — social or not. And then also pull contributory stats.
      That’s more important to stakeholders than pure channel-specific KPIs at least in my experience.

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