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Business Guide to Twitter Metrics

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How is your business doing on Twitter? Many companies invest significant amounts of time and money in their social programs without knowing the answer to this question. To add to the difficulty, efforts on Twitter snowball, with small initial gains turning into much bigger wins as your audience grows. Measurement is the key to ensuring your efforts are taking you in the right direction. They reveal which campaigns were successful and which fell short.

Deciding to measure is the easiest part. The real difficulty comes in deciding which metrics to care about, when all of them have their shortcomings. The list below gives you the inside scoop on the pros and cons of various metrics so next time you're talking to your community manager or measuring your own success, you'll know what matters for your business.

So, what options do you have and how can they help (and hurt) you?

Follower Count
It's right there on your Twitter profile and it's the most common way the media (or anyone else) reference success on Twitter. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most flawed metrics available to you and easily gamed.

Pros: Simple to measure, requires no special tools and no shades of grey.
Cons: Easily gamed and, in certain cases, has no correlation to other meaningful measures
Best for: when you only have five seconds to judge someone's Twitter presence.

Mentions
You hear about the importance of conversation on Twitter all the time, and mentions are one of the primary ways to measure how engaged your Twitter community is.

Pros: Much better at representing real engagement and conversation.
Cons: The total number of mentions doesn't tell the full story. You need to consider how many unique people mention you and the "influence" of those people.
Best for: measuring the conversation around your brand and brand awareness

Retweets
A Retweet is a very strong endorsement that can lead to more followers, clicks and conversions.

Pros: It's a strong endorsement, thus a meaningful measure.
Cons: You need to consider the quality of Retweets, not just quantity.
Best for: companies that have specific messages (and links) they care about spreading around Twitter.

Impressions
In an effort to make social media metrics comparable to advertising buys, the impressions number has become popular. Impressions measures your potential reach and is the number of times your message (or mention of you) could have been seen, based on the follower count of those talking about you. You can think of it as similar to impressions for a billboard, where you have an idea of how many people drive by it every day, but it may not truly represent how many people saw it.

Measuring impressions generally requires a third party service, as it can get complicated very quickly. Personally, I use SimplyMeasured for this calculation, but Radian6, Crowdbooster and many other social media analytics tools also offer it.

Pros: It's a great indication of a trend you care about -- your potential reach.
Cons: It doesn't indicate your actual reach since you don't know how many people actually saw your message (see issues with follower count above).
Best for: measuring brand awareness and the overall trend of your Twitter progress.

Klout Score
Klout takes most of these metrics (and many others) into account to give a Klout Score which measures online influence on a scale of 1 to 100. They're dealing with a lot of these issues I've laid out here -- for instance, they look not just at total Retweets, but how many unique people Retweet you and how influential those people are. However, they also only share a high level view of how Klout is calculated. This limits your ability to determine how well it maps back to your social goals.

Pros: It's a detailed calculation that accounts for many variables to give an overall assessment.
Cons: It's a black box measure, which makes it difficult to rely on for a sole measure.
Best for: A quick check of your overall progress.

Clicks /Traffic back to your site
If someone clicks on a link you send out, you know they have not only seen your message, but they'd also like to hear more. Link shortening services like bit.ly or awesm allow you to track how many clicks each link you send out gets. You can also see how much traffic Twitter drives back to your site from Google Analytics or other web analytics services.

Whether or not this is a helpful metric for you depends on your goals on social. If you're focused on brand awareness and recall, visits and clicks may not be as important. If instead, your goal is visits and sign-ups, this would be a vital measure for you.

Pros: Indicates real interest from the user and that you've successfully redirected them to somewhere to learn more.
Cons: Doesn't indicate how well these users convert on your site.
Best for: Companies that are focused around driving users back to a site

Conversions
The holy grail in social is to truly measure ROI. This requires finding out how many new users or purchases you gain from Twitter and comparing that to the effort you put in. Measuring conversions (i.e. sign-ups or purchases) takes us a big step towards this end goal, but in most cases measurements will miss many of the conversions that can rightfully be attributed to social.

Tools like Social Argyle use cookies to track customers who have interacted with your social presence, but they still cannot track customers who never click through a link. I may see a tweet about a company and then Google them or check them out later with no apparent connection to Twitter.

Pros: For many businesses conversions best represents their end goal for being on Twitter.
Cons: Most measurements will lead to an incomplete picture of social leads and conversions, causing you to undervalue your Twitter presence.
Best for: Companies whose main goal is increasing purchases, sign-ups or a similar metric.

So where does that leave us? You have to choose the metrics that are right for you, but I encourage you to be thoughtful about them. Once you've chosen, make sure you're tracking and reviewing these metrics on a weekly and/or monthly basis. When trying new social campaigns, use these metrics to set goals and measure success. You can also hold small tests to improve your presence: what time of day should you tweet?; where should the link be located in your tweet?; how often should you share "fun" stuff vs "serious" stuff? Hold your team (or yourself) accountable just as you would for any other part of your business. You know what they say: you are what you measure. So choose wisely.