Spotlight on Social Media: Social Media Analytics

This post is part of Spotlight on Social Media Strategies, a new series designed to help you make the most of the changing landscape of social media.  In today’s article we will be guiding you through the world of social media analytics to help you get to know your audience better and maximize the reach of your content.

What are Analytics?

Social media analytics generate information about your online presence. The data that your posts and profiles create can be aggregated and analyzed for better insight into the impact and influence that your content is creating. This data can be broken down into a series of metrics that, taken together or as standalone units, help you gain a better sense of how your content is performing online. As online marketing tools become more and more refined, metrics are also getting more specific. As a result, there are several ways to track the performance of your content. Today, we’ll give you an overview of the most commonly used key indicators to get you started diving into your own social media analytics.

When tracking your analytics, there are several terms and metrics you may be hearing about on a regular basis. These include:

  • Mentions: one way to track your reach is to count the number of mentions you receive. Mentions can be tracked for individual posts, for your profile as a whole, as well as for the number of times your organization’s name, hashtag or keywords are used across social media.
  • Reach: your reach refers to the potential audience that will be exposed to your content, and it is determined by your follower count. For example, if your account has 2000 followers on Twitter, this means that your reach is potentially 2000 people. If you’re curious about your ‘reach percentage’, simply take your total number of followers and multiply by 100. You can follow a similar equation to calculate your post’s reach, as shown in the graphic below:

                                                                   Image credit: Hootsuite.
  • Exposure: this metric builds on your reach and expands your understanding of your audience by measuring not simply your own reach but the reach of your own followers as well. This is done by taking into account the number of followers each of your audience members have. This can be a potentially valuable metric to track because every time something is shared on social media your followers’ followers will also have a chance of seeing it (what is known as an ‘impression’).
  • Engagement: if reach and exposure give you a general picture of how your content is performing on social media, engagement breaks it down further by starting to paint a specific picture of how your audience is interacting with what you’re publishing. As a metric, engagement can be measured in several different ways, many of which are informed by the platform that you are using. On Twitter, for example, this could mean tracking the number of replies, retweets, or modified tweets that your posts are receiving. On Facebook, this could be the number of likes, shares, and comments. So on and so forth for platforms like Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram.
  • Audience growth rate: if your nonprofit has a presence on more than one social network, you’ll want to track audience growth rate for each of your profiles to determine how your following is increasing or decreasing over time. To do so, simply divide the number of your new followers by the overall number of followers you have and multiply by 100 to get your percentage rate. (Pro tip: this activity is made much easier if you routinely perform a social media audit!)

                                                       Image credit: Hootesuite.
  • Influence: your influence is a data point that translates how people respond to your online activity into a numeric score. The score, in turn, helps you gain a better sense of how influential your account is––especially when compared to comparable ones on the internet. If you’re curious about your influence, you can find your score through tools like Klout Score.
  • Traffic: this metric helps you learn how people find your profiles online, if and how your social media accounts help bring more visits to your website, and how you can optimize your content to increase your overall traffic. (Pro tip: Integrating SEO tools into your outreach strategy is one great way to work with traffic data.)

Why Do Analytics Matter?

Analytics help you eliminate a lot of the guesswork involved in creating and sharing content online. They help you make better use of your resources by generating insights that you can then leverage to make sure that what you are posting is useful to your member and helps you meet your outreach goals––ideally faster and without duplicating labour.

As social media management platform Hootsuite puts it, “if you’re not analyzing the data behind social, you’re missing out on important insights that can inform important decisions and help you achieve real results.” For example, the data generated by your online presence can help you find the right windows of time to post your content, target the right demographic for your goals, get to know your audience member––down to their gender, age, location or interests––and measure the reach of your campaigns.

By getting into the habit of understanding your users’ engagement habits, you will be able to develop content strategy that elevates your messaging and has the potential to enhance your online activities––from giveaways to membership drives and beyond.

How Do I Track My Engagement?

If you are new to analytics, it can be daunting to learn new terms and add routine reviews to your outreach plans. The good news is that most social media platforms now offer free analytics that are already integrated into your profiles. This means that they automatically track your progress––even if you weren’t already checking this data! Many also offer the option of customizing the metrics that are being tracked so that they can be refined to more closely match your needs and goals. You can find these free analytics tools on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo as well as Google Analytics for your website.

There are also a number of premium tools that you could explore to get even more specific with the data you collect. This article by SproutSocial, for example, lists 10 of the more popular tools available online.

If you would like to get started on your own, this article by Hootsuite guides you through the process of tracking the 19 most common social media metrics for your account. They also offer a free guide, available for download, if you’d like to deepen your knowledge of analytics.

Going Beyond “Vanity” Metrics

As a nonprofit, collecting information like the one above can be very valuable in helping you achieve more on what for many are thin budgets. At the same time, working for social change means that the way we measure our impact has to go beyond ‘engagement’ in the form of likes and shares. For many of us, engagement must also include tangible action of some kind.

As a result, it is important for nonprofits to track their online influence beyond what the folks at Mobilisation Lab call “vanity metrics”. As Michael Silberman & Jackie Mahendra explain in this article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “‘vanity metrics’—raw numbers totaling the number of times people view a webpage, for example, or the number of email subscribers—are widely used, and by definition, impressive and easy to access. But they offer questionable value to member-focused organizations that rely on people power to achieve impact.”

For this reason, Mobilisation Lab and Citizen Engagement Laboratory have created a free report to help nonprofits and grassroots organizations deepen their audience engagement according to metrics that more closely support the type of transformative change they are working towards. The report explores the benefits and pitfalls of vanity metrics, offers tips on how to go deeper, and shares helpful lessons learned and prompts for alternatives in measuring member engagement. These insights apply to both social media as well as overall outreach strategies.


Does your organization track engagement metrics? How are social media analytics helped you make decisions about your communications strategy? Are there recurring challenges you are encountering when tracking your online presence? As usual, leave us a comment below to share with the TechSoup community. We’d love to hear from you!

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