Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Tristan Handy from Argyle Social, a service SME uses and a company that sponsors our events. But I think you’ll agree, disclosures aside, it’s awesomeness. 

You’ve spent all year writing and sharing great content. And from time to time, you check to see how your posts perform. But when you look at that report—whether it’s in bit.ly, Google Analytics, or your social media management tool of choice—how do you interpret it? Is 100 clicks good? Is 1,000 clicks good?

If you don’t frame your performance correctly, your boss won’t recognize your impact. If you want to demonstrate success, you need to go further than simply reporting on the raw traffic you drove.

Fortunately, demonstrating your success can be easy. Just follow these three steps:

  1. Measure the right stuff
  2. Know how you stand up to your peers
  3. Choose outliers to tell a story

Read on as I explore each step in detail.

1. Change your metric—Measure clicks per follower

The core measure of performance in social media marketing is clicks. A count of clicks answers the all-important question, “How many people read the content I shared?” But the number of clicks is an insufficient measure when it comes to evaluating your performance, as it just doesn’t provide enough information on its own. Obviously, getting 100 clicks is pretty impressive if you have 200 followers. It’s less impressive if you have 100,000.

To give your metrics more weight, start measuring clicks per follower (CPF). Just take that click data you already have and divide by the number of fans or followers for that account. If your tweet had 200 clicks and you have 7,000 followers, your CPF is 200/7,000, or 2.86%.

Normalizing by audience size is important for two reasons. First, hopefully your audience will grow over time, and it’s important that your idea of “good performance” scales with your audience size. If your audience has tripled in the past year, a post that got 100 clicks last year is more impressive than a post that got 100 clicks today. Second, it’s important if you want to compare your performance to your peers.

2. Benchmark your performance against your peers

The best way to determine what performance is “good” is to compare yourself against your peers. But this is often easier said than done. Fortunately, I’ve done all the hard work for you.

It turns out that audience size is the single biggest and most reliable factor that affects engagement (CPF). This is reflected in a recent study published by my company, Argyle Social, and seconded by a recent report from EdgeRank Checker.

If you compare the average CPF performance of hundreds of business social media accounts of varying sizes, smaller accounts perform better than large ones. This relationship holds true for both Facebook and Twitter.

Average Clicks Per Follower - From Argyle Social

(source: Argyle Social)

When you stop and think about it, this makes intuitive sense. At Ma & Pa’s Corner Store, the owner likely has a personal relationship with much of their audience. At a global online retailer, this clearly isn’t true. Closer relationships translate into greater engagement.

Does this mean that you should try to keep your audience size as low as possible? Probably not. If your goal is to maximize engagement, then larger accounts still get more clicks per post, even though followers engage less frequently.

Average Clicks Per Follower and Post - Argyle Social

(source: Argyle Social)

So, if your peer group is based on how many followers or fans you currently have, what we need now is a set of performance benchmarks for your peer group. The table below is just that.

Peer Group Click Per Follower - Argyle Social

(source: Argyle Social)

Let’s run through a quick example so that this makes a little more sense.

You’re a regional B2C retailer with 12,000 Twitter followers. You tweet a link that gets 12 clicks. That’s a CPF of .1%, which puts that tweet right at the 50th percentile in your peer group. Not great, but not too bad either. Then, you tweet another link that gets 180 clicks. That’s a CPF of 1.5%, which puts you in the 95th percentile. Awesome!

Running the numbers on your annual performance works the same way. Put together a big spreadsheet with all your posts, all of their clicks, and get an average CPF for the year. (Or use your social media management tool of choice.) Then compare yourself against the benchmarks above.

How do you perform? If you’re at the top of your peer group, great! Go brag about it and demand a raise. If you’re not, that’s OK—use this process to inform your 2012 goals. Create an action plan that will have you ahead of your peer group by this time next year.

 3. Select outliers

Now that you’ve diligently measured your CPF and normed it against your peer group, it’s time to select outliers. Rank your posts from 2011 by CPF. What do the top ten have in common? The bottom ten? Pull these out as success stories to celebrate and epic fails to vilify.

This step is particularly important in your year-end review because it helps you tell stories. Numbers are important, but human brains are wired for storytelling. If you can support your industry-benchmarked numbers from step 2 with some really excellent success stories and lessons learned, you’ll make a much bigger impact.

Want some of our success stories? Here are three of the best performing posts in the data set used for this research:

  • Who’s been more influential in 2011, @PiersMorgan, @TinieTempah or @CharlieSheen? Vote for the Top 49 Men UK Edition now %link%
  • Everyone #likes to WIN – Win A 25th Anniversary Nintendo Wii Bundle! #Wii #Retweet #Vancouver  %link%
  • Facebook Achieves Majority – NEW Research from Edison and Arbitron: %link%

As you can see, looking at individual outliers is quite powerful. These three posts immediately beg the question, “Should I be posting more surveys, contests, and research?” Use anecdotal evidence like this to frame the larger conversation and to ask questions that should be looked into further.

Dominating your performance review

There you have it—three easy steps for success when it comes time to summarize your performance.

Do you use this process already or have a favorite of your own? Let us know in the comments.

Methodology

The data behind this analysis comes from a sample of customers’ activity on Argyle Social, a social media marketing software provider (and my employer!).

The selected sample included more than 150,000 posts from more than 1,000 Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts between November 2010 and December 2011. Our customers are professional marketers representing a range of company sizes across all major industries.

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Tristan HandyTristan Handy is Director of Operations for Argyle Social, a social media marketing dashboard that helps businesses create real returns from the social channel. Follow him on Twitter @jthandy.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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