Why Social Analytics are Mostly Fluff

Brands can't grow without being on social, but knowing how you’re doing on it is easier said than done. With each platform changing their algorithm basically daily, the questions team face isn't just what to post, but how to post, when to post, and how often to do so. Add in the fun fact that social metrics rarely ever match 1:1 with internal numbers like sales, and it's a recipe for dashboards that are never looked at and people feeling like they’re throwing content against a wall. 

Know Your History

Behind every social platform is an army of experts focused on two things: content and time. Simply put, the more engaging content your platform has, the more time users spend, and the more money you make. 

In the early years of Facebook, the network effect (ie all your friends are there, so you should be too) drove growth and that put the emphasis on organic content. Facebook was built to show you content from your friends, which later expanded to things like your favorite TV shows or local mouth-watering donut shop- and boom: brands saw massive organic reach on the platform from about 2008-2014. Then it all changed when Facebook went public, and what used to be free organic timeline placements got replaced with paid slots. Most businesses saw their reach fall faster than a first-time skier. Fast-forward to today and the likes of Instagram and TikTok moved even further, and mostly serve suggested content- meaning that even if only follow your favorite restaurants, you'll still get dog videos. For brands, it changes the game from building a following, to building one-off hits. 

Cut Through the Fluff

Think back to the last time you scrolled- I’ll bet a 5-star steak dinner that you can’t name the last 5 posts you saw. Turns out, most of us can't. Putting ideas like brand recognition aside, social platforms love showing impressions (“look at how big we are”) but it's arguably the most misleading metric. For starters unless there's paid media support, brands have zero control over how their content is shared: impressions go up and down daily because AI-driven decisions taking nanoseconds decided to show a corgi video instead of your new sale. There’s also no gauge on quality- someone scrolling a mile a minute gets weighted the same as someone who stops and stares. 

Fighting their bottom line?

Ask any org leader what the endgame for social is, and it follows the same story: 

  1. Users are on Instagram doing their thing
  2. They see our content, and maybe browse more of it
  3. Either on that post, or a different one of ours, they click out to our website to learn more
  4. They make a sale, signup, or do whatever generates revenue

Lose that last piece, and everything else crumbles (why invest in "trending" social channels when there's zero ROI?). The problem is with incentives- Instagram benefits when users discover new profiles and go down a well of new content. They lose out when users leave to visit your site, which is why you see friction for it across the board: Facebook demotes link posts, Instagram makes you go to the bio, and YouTube buries them. 

This is where engagement comes in- it's a tried and true metric because its one of the few cases where brands and platforms are on the same page. 

I recommend engagement, specifically the engagement rate (what percent of a profile's audience interacted with a post) to clients since in most cases, a user has to stop and engage. Let’s be clear- engagement doesn’t mean they're about to buy- but it does mean they saw and recognized you. 


The best approach to social is looking at how a channel is performing historically, and more often than not- as compared to your competitors. In other words, think month over month instead of day by day. 

I recommend brands focus on engagement rate- it's typically the most consistent week over week, and when zoomed out over multiple months and years, tells a story about how your channel is performing:

  • A month-over-month decrease says that you're probably putting out too much sale-sy content, so your audience isn't engaging, and the platform isn't showing promoting. 
  • A sudden drop might mean the platform changed, and you've got to revisit your content strategy. 
  • A steady or growing rate says you're on the right track, and can complement those posts with paid media. 

A past client wanted to know how to 5x their following to keep up with their biggest competitors. The straightforward solution is to dump tens of thousands into paid media to boost those numbers. The data solution is discovering that while those competitor channels are bigger, their engagement rate was abysmal. Turns out, the channels were launched back when social media platforms were new, but a large share of those followers likely stopped using the platform. Or they moved on to other topics years ago (ex they no longer care about energy drinks) and haven't been shown the brand’s content since (again, a follow doesn't mean you'll see actually see that brand’s content)

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