Three danger zones to avoid with social analytics

If it seems like you’re swimming in data these days, you’re not alone. More than ever, PR pros are turning to analytics to gain insight into current campaign performance, to help design new strategies or to measure end results. But are you using your charts and spreadsheets to your best advantage, or are the numbers distracting you from your real goals? In this two-part series, we asked three digital experts for their take on things PR people should watch out for as they do the math:


And we don’t just mean getting sucked into Pinterest for an afternoon by mistake. When working with numbers, it’s easy to be distracted by metrics you hear about from other brands’ campaigns.

“Too many of us get caught up in a number. They say they want to hit a million impressions. What does that mean in the grand scheme of things?” says Gary Edgar, managing director of Ruckus Digital, a social content marketing company based in Toronto. Millions of impressions sure sounds good, but it all depends on what it is you’re trying to do.

“More is not always better,” says Eden Spodek, a Toronto-based digital strategist. “What does it mean to have 5,000 Likes on a Facebook page? So you got 36 retweets on a tweet, but is that doing anything for you?” Case in point: she’s worked with one client who has a very small social media following, but a deeply loyal one that would respond with comments (and purchases) to most of her posts.

Set a firm goal for your project or campaign, and track that — while ignoring unrelated stats. “Work backwards,” says Edgar. And don’t be shy about your real goals: if an awareness campaign is meant to drive sales, bypass big-number analytics and track leads generated from your call-to-action, or actual revenue.


“There are so many different analytics tools and they all have terms that mean different things,” says Spodek. Sift through the fine print on all the tools you use and be sure you’re not comparing apples to oranges, or getting invested in a number that is not measuring your goals. As well, be wary of some terms that, generally speaking, are not entirely honest. “Impressions is a nebulous number,” says Edgar. Since this stat often tracks how many people may have seen your information, it often is a number that’s not helpful for tracking a set goal.

Craig Saila, director of digital products for the Globe and Mail says engagement is the hottest term in analytics, as it attempts to measure a reader’s actual connection to content. But it too is a term with limitations — and is measured differently by different tools — though may be useful for many PR-related projects, provided it is used in a consistent way.


Social media metrics are among the most coveted right now because they are relatively straightforward as compared to typical PR measurement metrics, which are more difficult to quantify. Social media metrics also offer immediate feedback as businesses and consumers engage with brands on social media platforms. But the tools that measure social media behaviour do have limitations. Saila cautions that so much social sharing goes on inside apps or via mobile devices that it’s a struggle for most platforms to keep up with the activity. If you know precisely what you want to track on social, you should be able to find a tool that can help, but it won’t be free. “If you are doing a fine-grain attack, these tools get more expensive,” says Saila.

Edgar says the problem with social metrics is they measure a social activity only. “At the end of the day, they’re just numbers. There may be no emotional tie. They’re not linked to purchases.” As more PR professionals expand their roles into content marketing initiatives, measuring effective ties to revenue is no longer a nice-to-have. Many are already including call-to-action links within news releases that drive readers to landing pages tracked by demand generation platforms.

Social sentiment algorithms are becoming increasingly advanced, but they can still miss subtleties of language. “You can have a negative word in a positive comment, and vice versa,” says Spodek. Algorithms can’t detect sarcasm in a comment about a hot issue and may register it as a positive opinion when it’s just the opposite. “There’s imperfection to all this data,” says Spodek. It takes the careful eye of a PR professional to provide effective context and not accept the numbers at face value. 

And while there are gaps and limits to sentiment data, analytics tools can still give you a solid, if not perfectly precise, picture of how your content is being received and by whom, information that is critical to future campaigns. Invest in platforms that provide you with the most realistic picture.

Stay tuned next week for more tips from the experts! In the meantime, let us know how you avoid the danger zones in the comments below or tweet us @CNWGroup!

Fill in your details below :