It took some time, but the art and science of search engine marketing eventually emerged from the shadows and shed its “snake oil” image.
That’s mostly because entrepreneurs came to demand accountability from search campaigns and the companies behind them. And like SEO, social media initiatives aren’t some magical, ethereal wizardry that can’t be tracked, analyzed and adapted.
Small business owners have to bring that same spirit of accountability to bear when it comes to utilizing social media tools, whether they’ve hired an outside firm or are handling things in-house. Finding concrete ways to assess the efficacy of social media strategies and initiatives is crucial.
Entrepreneurs can’t tweak strategies or double down on successful ones if they’re unable to track performance and payoff. There are scores of ways to make that happen. Here’s a look at just a few, for starters.
Dig inside Facebook
Creating an engaging Facebook presence and consistent, high-quality content for fans is imperative for businesses seeking a foothold in the social networking realm. But entrepreneurs can get their hands dirty and really dig into the metrics surrounding user growth, content consumption, referrals and traffic.
The key is to get the most from Facebook Insights, the network’s back-end data hub for business owners and Web developers. Insights allows entrepreneurs get an accurate look at how effective individual posts are and what kind of sharing, if any, follows publication.
You can track statistics by the hour and use the findings to shape not just the type of postings you release, but when to release them. Being able to see who shares your content and when can help business owners more narrowly tailor their Facebook presence and focus on boosting conversions.
Track traffic and mentions
Setting up Google alerts for your company name and other key terms is an important part of any online reputation management strategy. But these simple notifications can also help business owners track the ripples of social media initiatives.
You can also go a step further and utilize new, free tools that are more geared toward social media. Social Mention is a great site that provides real-time social media search and also allows businesses to create social media alerts, which are in essence more nuanced Google alerts.
Entrepreneurs can also purchase services like Vocus, which offers more traditional public relations and media management software along with social media tracking.
The focus is finding and capitalizing on tools that can help track brand mentions and social chatter across the Web. Some of it may wind up being more anecdotal, but casting a wider net allows you to get a sense of how consumers are responding. It can also help you identify needs, communities and online influencers that can help you shape future social media strategies.
Shares, tweets and links
Sometimes, the less complicated the better.
Likes, retweets and links are all important metrics that don’t require a big budget or exhaustive research to track.
Simple things like tracking shares, direct traffic and conversions can help when it comes to social media efficacy. You can use site traffic tools from Google Analytics, WebTrends, Bit.ly and others to get a better handle on who’s consuming your content, who’s visiting your site and how they’re getting there. SEOmoz and others have excellent tools that allow you to track a specific piece of content at a given time.
There are scores of ways to drill down. Personal branding blogger Ryan Rancatore calculates a “retweets per page view” metric for his content, which is basically a ratio of eyeballs to shares. If a content piece has 500 views and 50 retweets, that’s a rate of one retweet per 10 page views. You can track these numbers in a spreadsheet, search for patterns and seize on the key topics, phrases, headline choices and other elements that seem to spur greater engagement.
“We have recently increased our social media efforts by frequently commenting on Facebook posts and retweeting content on Twitter,” said Nikki Lyman, marketing communications manager for Solar Power.org, which provides news and resources regarding renewable energy. “Engaging with others in the solar industry using social media platforms has allowed us to see a 15 percent increase in website traffic and knowledge of our service.”
Link growth and search trends are also important. Keeping tabs on your links and standing in the search results is simply a part of daily business living. Or it should be. Pay close attention to how those results ebb and flow in relation to specific social media campaigns.
Make a commitment
It’s easy to set up a Facebook page or Twitter account for your business and jump into the fray. It’s much more difficult to carry the same fervor and ferocity day in, day out for months and months.
One of the best ways to keep accountability at the forefront is to embrace the power of social media, which gives entrepreneurs an interactive platform to build and strengthen brand, generate leads and lower the barrier to conversion. Committing to social media as an integral part of your holistic marketing vision is a great place to start.
Chris Birk is director of content and communications for VA Mortgage Center.com, the nation's No. 1 dedicated VA lender. A recovering journalist, he also teaches at a private Midwestern university. Follow him @cjbirk.