A basic rule of marketing is measure everything. As content marketers, we rely very heavily on data and analytics; but if you are managing your own social media, you may skim over those oftentimes confusing numbers.

Here’s why we recommend you don’t skim, and instead dive in: these numbers are the breadcrumbs to success. They let you know what your audience likes and what they don’t like. Based on this information, you can adjust your content marketing strategy to reach and engage more people, with less time and effort.

Figuring out where to begin is where overwhelm can set it. Each social media and content marketing platform has data available and often they have multiple data points. You can literally track thousands of numbers, but there is no need to track everything.

We recommend identifying your goals first: Are you trying to increase your audience size?  Do you want to engage people? Are you promoting or selling a product? Once you know what you’re trying to do with your content marketing, then you can begin to monitor the metrics that reflect on your progress.

Here are three of the data points we track, plus how we use this information to drive results.

Social Channel Growth

Clients often come to us with social platforms they want to grow, email lists they want to build, or website traffic they hope to increase. Growing platforms is a top goal and one of the easiest to monitor. In fact, I bet you’re keeping track of your growth metrics right now.

We recommend creating a spreadsheet and comparing your audience numbers, platform to platform, every month. This will help you chart growth and also determine if you see an increase or a slowdown, if there are cyclical trends, or if big news events impact your channels. For instance, we know that growth slows every summer starting around July 4th for our American clients and it picks up again in September. Web traffic drops then, too. We see an increase in growth every January. These are cyclical rhythms we’ve observed by monitoring client growth over time.

This knowledge helps us plan content marketing initiatives or content experiments. For example, if we have a new lead magnet, we likely won’t unveil it in July or August; but if we want to experiment with a new type of content, these slower months may provide the perfect soft launch platform.

Social Engagement

Having a large platform is helpful, but it’s more important to have a connected and engaged platform. I often cite the example of a large consumer brand I once consulted for — the brand had more than one-million Facebook fans, but the fans didn’t feel any loyalty or connection with the brand and responded negatively to content, if they responded. Fans were not engaged, because the brand wasn’t sharing content relevant to their customers. Follower numbers painted a rosy picture, but engagement gave us the real story. That’s why engagement matters.

Engagement can be tracked across social platforms and at the post/tweet level. That spreadsheet you created to track growth — add a column for engagement and see how it’s trending for you. If you see a dip or an spike, it’s worth diving deeper. Your content-sharing cadence, the time of the year, the time of the post, and other variables can impact engagement, and often you’ll notice patterns.

If your text-only content gets poor engagement while your graphics do well — you have some actionable data. You might also notice that content shared at certain times of the day normally performs well or not so well. Adjust your posting accordingly.

The most important step you can take is to find out what really gets your audience excited and share more content like that! By checking post/tweet level engagement, you’ll know exactly what your audience wants to see from you.

Social Actions

You can dive even deeper into engagement and take a look at the actions people are taking on your content.

Retweets and shares are the most valuable social actions because they expose your content to a wider audience, plus it creates social proof that you can be trusted, that your content has impact.

Comments are also important. You want to create conversation. Comments show whether you have succeeded here. One note — we’ve seen a big drop in comments on blog posts. That doesn’t mean your post isn’t successful. In this instance, we’re seeing more people sharing blog comments on social media instead of posting on a website. You can track this activity in your mentions across platforms.

Likes and favorites are nice, but they are the low-hanging fruit of social actions.

If you have content that’s really sparking action, take a good look at it and try to determine what is igniting conversation and sharing. Then, try to create more of that content for the future.

The numbers don’t lie. They can help you create a content strategy that engages and excites interest, or they can reveal some painful truths about your efforts. Either way, that information is powerful to help you refine your message, your delivery, your format, and your timing. Without it, you’re driving with your eyes closed and that’s never a good idea.

Tell us, what have you learned from your social metrics?