How to Measure Facebook

Before I get started, I want to make clear that what follows is not a definitive guide to Facebook measurement for all businesses in all contexts. In fact, I feel quite strongly that anyone who claims that they have a definitive guide about Facebook measurement is lying to you and making things worse for all of us in this field. I feel the same for almost any aspect of social media measurement, actually — we simply don’t have enough data from every type of business and every context to make claims like that, and we probably won’t for some time. That’s ok. It’s the elephant in the room for many of us and I’m sure I’ll address how to handle that elephant with clients in a later post.

Let’s start with a 40,000 foot view. Why is your (or your client’s) business on Facebook? I suspect it’s one or more of these reasons:

  1. Everyone else is, so we need to be too
  2. We see Facebook as another marketing channel and want to drive sales (or other lower funnel activities) through it
  3. We want to understand our consumers better
  4. We want to encourage advocacy of our brand through our fans

If you have another reason I’d love to hear it, by the way. But assuming this is a fairly comprehensive list, I think your measurement plan is dictated by which of these things applies to your business, so let’s address each in turn.

Everyone else is doing it: Yes, yes they are. But many of them have real business goals here and you should, too. My advice? Start with #3, move on to #4 while continuing to measure #3, and ignore #2 unless you meet very specific criteria. Which leads us to…

Facebook is another marketing channel: No, no it’s not. Well, almost never. Facebook is a place where people like to keep in touch with friends and colleagues by sharing things with each other. Brands get to play there too by giving some value back to fans that is commensurate with the value of hearing from a friend — whether it’s insider information, something entertaining, or something of value like a coupon. I think it’s a bad idea to treat Facebook as a marketing channel because you place your brand in a context of dishonesty, and social media for brands is all about being open and honest: you can’t sell to your fans while pretending like you’re not. If you are only concerned about selling something to your fans, then any post that is not about selling will be seen as a waste of time by the brand, and any post that is about selling will be a turn off to the fans. Your brand presence becomes schizophrenic. I have plenty of data showing that posts that have a “marketing” feel to them under-perform consistently because they don’t offer value to a fan, and a brand’s job in Facebook is to offer value. The ONLY way you can turn your Facebook page into a marketing channel is if you can somehow convince your fans that selling is the only reason for the page, and they should expect to be sold to consistently — whether it’s via coupons or deals or early access to sale events. If you can pull that off you eliminate the dishonesty, are no longer schizophrenic, and can track everything through Facebook the same way you would track any direct marketing efforts: with impression, click and conversion metrics via tracking cookies.

Understanding consumers better: Seriously, if you have a Facebook page and you’re not doing this, then start right now. Measurement around this can vary widely in both depth and scope; anywhere from periodic updates of the basic demographic information that Facebook supplies via Insights all the way to popping surveys via Facebook content and asking very detailed questions about your fans and their attitudes toward your brand and your Facebook presence. Lots of ways to do this, here’s some guidelines:

  • Determine what types of posts resonate most with your fans by categorizing them and then measuring reach and Facebook’s “talking about this” metric for those posts. And I don’t mean categorizing based on media — photo versus text versus video — because photos almost always do better and that isn’t very informative; I mean what kinds of content resonate and get engagement? You are there to supply value, so optimize that.
  • Track your demographics monthly and a) see how they are changing (if they do), especially if you are buying ads in Facebook, and b) see how those demos line up with your current overall customer base — are they different in any way? And more importantly, are they more or less in line with what you want your customer base to look like?
  • Facebook knows a lot more about your fan base than you do. Ask them if they can supply any psychographic or like-based affinity data — they may be willing to, especially if you are buying ads. This data can be evaluated the same way the standard demographic data can and can give valuable insight into your fans’ tastes.

Encouraging advocacy: I hope this is one of the reasons you’re there, because it’s the best reason. Even if you were clueless about your fans’ demographics and psychographics and interests, they are your fans and like you well enough to consume content you create AND to share that content with their friends, whether they realize it fully or not. This is what participation in social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the rest — is all about. Measuring it is fairly straightforward; it’s about growing your fan base while maintaining or growing that base’s engagement with your content:

  • Count how many fans you have gained each week or month, and try to keep that growth consistent; I generally see around 2% growth monthly for large, established fan bases and much more for newer pages.
  • At the post level, pull your Facebook Insights and look at two columns: “Lifetime Post Total Reach” and “Lifetime Talking About This.” This tells you how many people saw the post, and how many people engaged in a way that their engagement was shared to their social graph. Divide that engagement number by the reach number and you have an engagement rate that actually means something. If you’re around 1% you’re doing ok; anything lower is substandard and anything higher is doing well.
  • If you have paid media running, note that your engagement rate will drop, because the (potentially millions of) people seeing your content will not be as engaged as your fans. It’s important for clients to understand that reach, impressions, fan growth, and raw engagement numbers will all go up during buys, but the rate of engagement will not reflect this benefit.

And just to be clear, advocacy matters because the goal of all of this is to create an environment where more consumers are exposed to positive, authentic messages about your brand delivered to them by people they trust. Though we haven’t gotten to a place where we know the specific impact of that environment on the bottom line we can all safely assume that it does impact it.

A final note — if you are trying to get to some sense of advocacy ROI by adding tracking codes to your Facebook posts to count clicks and lower funnel activity, consider that much of the influence your fans will have on their friends will not be visible via click tracking. Social ROI is hard to measure accurately not because it doesn’t influence buying behaviors, but because it has the potential to influence it in so many ways, and many of them will be difficult or impossible to track.

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