In recent months I've come to realise that we as marketers are lying to ourselves when it comes to social media, we've got it all wrong.

We live in a world where totals are everything. More fans, followers and shares. These are numbers which most marketing is measured by in 2015. ‘Was the campaign a success? Well it reached 289,324 people so yes, I’m sure it was’.

We take large numbers in any of these areas as signs of success yet rarely question what this actually means. In a world where advert and social media impressions often become so big they often become meaningless. Whether a number is in the hundreds of thousands or millions, is often neither here or there. More scale does often not mean more interest or more value.

If you are a business take a look at your own Facebook feed. If you are personal user of say Twitter, take a look at your analytics. View your latest post and see how many people saw it and then see how many people actually did anything with it. Even if it’s your personal account, my guess is that the first number will be very large while the second will be incredibly small, less than 1%.

On a wider scale for brands and social, it’s perhaps unsurprising to know that the average paid for page like % rate on Facebook comes in at a staggering 0.04%.

We spend a lot of our time as business owners and marketing managers taking macro views. We don’t have time to delve into the details. Whilst I think we can get away with this approach in business, when it comes to social I think we’ve got it wrong. Top line numbers give a good overview but often tell the real story.

I believe the main reason this is wrong is because we are talking about people. People are complex and complicated things. Yes, I know that all businesses are made up of people. These people work a set amount of hours to deliver or sell some products. How much is sold is only ever influenced by how good our teams are at selling or delivering. In the business context, the output and measurements are nearly all monetary based in one way or another.

Yet I think social media data is often treated like business data when it shouldn’t be. A P&L or department report will outline valuable numbers like either time, product or money; things which have significant value

Social media, as the name rather helpfully suggests, is about people (social) and communication (media). Humans in front of one screen, pressing buttons to interact with another human, miles and miles away.

It’s been often quoted that 93% of human interaction is non-verbal. 93%! Even if this number is say 20% off, it still means even our best attempts to try and capture any real and meaningful communication between ourselves is incredibly limited. We must be more honest about how futile our current measurements and MI data is when it comes to social.

We are lying to ourselves if we think success is just measured through followers and fans.

Without any context of engagement, relationship or depth of discussion, these top level social media numbers are a futile. It’d be a lot like measuring the success of a high street shop by how many people happened to go through the doors.

If I ran a shop, I’d be more interested in knowing how many customers I sold to or tried to help through speaking to, not how many how many times the breeze swept in. Measuring just door opens will not keep my business going for long,

Whilst eyeballs and attention are most definitely useful and can most definitely help to shape the success of businesses and brands, continued oversight of depth is short-sighted. It’s at this point I always refer to the effervescent Gary Vaynerchuk.

“i’ve said it before, and i’ll say it again: it’s about depth, not width. having one extremely meaningful connection with someone on twitter means far more than fifty pointless ones.”

Although I’m a huge sucker for numbers and stats and spend a lot of my time looking at them, I know that they do not tell anywhere near the full story most of the time. It’s something I’ve learnt the hard way over the last decade. I’d now much rather ask someone for an honest opinion and view of how things are going before looking at a report. I wonder how many marketing mangers ask their team or agency how they think their social media profiles are working? Do they trust intuition or do they trust the data?

My hope for 2016 is that we start to look at social media with more realistic and human eyes. Did we speak to the people who follow us or are fans of our business? Do we ask them for their opinions? Do we know if they even care about what it is that we do? These are questions that more marketing and business managers need to know.

If we can spend more time thinking about people, interacting with them and then backing up our activity with reports, and less time lying to ourselves that our 4,523 fans and 2 interactions per post counts as success, I think we’ll start to see greater success from social media on a more personal and deep level.

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Meet the author ...

Andy Headington


Andy has been part of Adido since it was an idea in a pub nearly twenty years ago. He loves to work with the Adido team and all of the clients on board asking challenging questions and ...