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One of the biggest digital myths being told today is “Social media isn’t measurable.” Studies across the board show that even though we recognize social media is important to business and reaching our customers, we aren’t measuring the effect it’s having on the bottom line. According to Hubspot, 25 percent of marketers are concerned with proving the return on investment (ROI) when asked about top marketing challenges yet at least 53 percent of companies aren’t even trying to evaluate their efforts.

 The excuse that social media actions aren’t measurable is about something else entirely. Most likely they: don’t have the right tools to collect the data; when they get the data, they don’t know what to do with it; can’t or won’t invest in the resources to analyze; or fear of what measuring will reveal about effectiveness. The truth is, we have more data than we ever had with traditional methods of advertising. Nielsen and Arbitron offered us limited information on our television and radio reach and we believed their numerical vagary for decades. As a result, we spent millions on advertising to the masses and rarely questioned the data.

 There are many advanced (and expensive) tools available for social media metrics tracking but I want to start you off with a simple data collection tool that every business can use to track performance. Create a spreadsheet and, in the far left column, list all of the digital tools you are using to provide information, promote, or communicate about your business. List the easy ones such as Facebook, Twitter, Yelp!, etc. but don’t forget your Google+ Local (formerly known as Places) listing, comments on your blog, and subscribers to your email newsletter.

 In the top row, you will need the months of the year. I believe the best time to review your numbers is when you close your books. Build it into your month-end process list along with account reconciliation, billing, and inventory. This takes me about one hour to complete. If you only use a few tools, it will be brief. Recording your numbers at month-end will allow for a month-over-month comparison for reporting to boards or for simple review of performance, depending on your needs. You will also want to do a periodic check-in of your numbers at other times of the month.

 After you’ve listed each of the tools your business uses, you will list the metrics that these platforms provide you as a default. Facebook has items like fans, people talking about this, most viral post, and sources of traffic. Your blog has subscribers and comments. Your email marketing has total subscribers, opens, bounces, spam reports, opt outs. Google Analytics has enough data to choke a horse. Start with the basics: visits, unique visits, bounce rate, average time on site, pages per visit, and number one source of traffic.  You will add more metrics as you determine what’s important to you and as the channels themselves offer more.

 The danger with data is that you can spend your entire day reviewing and obsessing over it. I call this “geeking out” on data. The result is that you will be so worried about the outcome of each action, the organic feel is lost and it becomes stiff.

 When reviewing, think about what may have caused the numbers to go up or down by using critical thinking. Fluctuations are usually easy to figure out. Maybe your website was down for a couple days, no one has posted a blog in months, you sent out an email newsletter on a low ranking day, Facebook changed it’s algorithm and your reach has dropped, your company was on the radio that day, or you drafted a tweet that went viral. Look at a calendar to see what you did because it’s cause and effect. If you did something that worked, try to do it again!

 As you review your metrics, ask yourself this question, “Are you achieving your goals?” You may find there are tasks that need to be undertaken to get there. Testing differing marketing messages. Alter the times of day or frequency you post to social networks. Fix nagging problems on your branded channels. If one of your tools isn’t performing the way you want, it may need adjustment. You may realize that a tool simply isn’t working for you and there’s been no return on investment but it will take monitoring over a period of time to see the pattern.

 What’s the most important metric you can ever track? Conversion. As your online and social media presence grows, you will see more and more conversion coming from your digital efforts. Without measuring your campaigns, you are only guessing at what’s working.

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Kerry Rego 707-520-4572, kerry@kerryregoconsulting.com, kerryregoconsulting.com) is a social media trainer, technology consultant and keynote speaker in Santa Rosa. She is the author of What You Don’t Know About Social Media Can Hurt You: Take Control of Your Online Reputation.