Matching Metrics to Goals

What comes to your mind when you hear the words measurement or metrics? I've actually asked a lot of people that question and go into some of their answers in our new book. As a community, we need to get serious about measurement. If campus leaders aren't requesting metrics that accurately assess the results of your work, it's up to you to help them understand what metrics actually matter. They likely aren't easy metrics to measure—but they should help us make important decisions. 

Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses has a chapter on measuring the effectiveness of your social media content and why you need to do it—I’m giving you a sneak peek here. The book also includes a chapter on goals and purpose, explaining how to continue to ask why to determine if you've clearly articulated your goal. The process for determining if you have the right metrics to measure your goal is similar—but you’re continuing to ask how. If you're trying to prompt someone to take action, how will you know they've done the thing? If you're trying to impact something larger like brand recognition, how will you know it's changed?

For social media marketers, it's important to look beyond social media platforms when asking how. If you want someone to apply, attend, or sign up for an event, it's likely they're doing that on your website, so the ultimate metric may live in your web analytics software, with attribution to social media. If your goal is related to fundraising, you may need to connect data from social media efforts to your donor database. You'll quickly realize that uniting all of your online marketing data is necessary to measure what actually matters.

How to Connect Digital Data Sources

The good news is if you have web analytics software (e.g., Google Analytics) and an organized approach to online content, you can unite your data. Your CRM and email marketing software may also be helpful. There are two essential tactics to connect your digital data sources: UTM codes and tracking pixels.

UTM codes allow you to identify exactly what brought a user to your website, so you can tie any actions they take back to its original source. This could be a social media post, email campaign, or even a printed flyer. 

In addition to UTMs, you can capture valuable data from tracking pixels. A pixel is a snippet of code you embed on your website that allows other platforms (including social media platforms) to capture user browsing data. Your campus website likely already has pixels on it for Google Analytics, your email marketing software, or other digital marketing tactics. A Facebook pixel, for example, allows you to connect Facebook user activity to website actions such as filling out a lead form or watching a video. Social media managers regularly tell me their leadership or legal counsel tell them they can't use a Facebook pixel because of FERPA. That is false. Facebook pixels don't pass along any sort of identifying student data. The only thing Facebook pixels may violate is your campus website's privacy policy, which could be updated if necessary (see Brenau University's website privacy policy for a good example of how to do this). Learn more about Facebook pixels from The Facebook Pixel: What It Is and How to Use It.

Determining and Documenting Your KPIs

Once you identify the best metric to accurately assess progress toward your goal, you've established a KPI. Combine this with your goal to construct a goal-based measurement framework. This framework is an excellent summary to include in your social media strategic overview. It looks like this:

<Marketing strategy or tactic> will achieve <goal> as demonstrated by <KPI>.


  • Our “Love it Here, Live Here” multi-media campaign will increase housing contract requests from current students by 10 percent as measured by online form completions referred from our social media posts.
  • Our digital young alumni engagement activities will increase the number of new donors from the graduating classes of 2015–2020 as measured by new donor conversions from social media.
  • Posts on our flagship social media accounts will increase brand recognition by increasing traffic to campus news articles, as measured by website visits referred from social media (both total and as a percentage of visits).

Platform vs. Campaign Metrics

You've probably noticed that most of the metrics cited in examples so far aren't coming from social media platforms. In fact, you could use the same metrics to measure the impact of efforts in email or paid digital advertising. This is by design, because measuring outcomes at the program or campaign level (e.g., applications, form submissions, website visitors) gives you the best data to make business decisions. 

Knowing your engagement rate, post reach, followers, or video views may improve your social media tactics that support campus goals, but by themselves they likely aren't relevant to your campus. As a social media manager, it's your job to understand platform metrics and regularly assess them to ensure you're using platforms effectively and identifying opportunities to improve your work or spot your best-performing content. But they're not the high-impact metrics that help your leadership make decisions. It's your responsibility to report the right metrics to the right people at the right time.

Consider the six categories of marketing metrics and how they apply to social media. Whenever possible, focus on reporting outcome metrics to leadership. Certain circumstances may require other categories of metrics like financial or efficiency, but outcomes should always be the focus.

Metric Category

What it Measures

Social Media Example

Activities A volume metric and captures what you (or your team) has done.
  • Number of posts
  • Number of replies to inbound messages
Viewership Who saw your content.
  • Reach, impressions, demographics
Efficiency How far you stretched your financial or human resources
  • Cost per click (CPC)
  • Cost per impression (CPM)
Financial The cost of activities or the return on investment.
  • Money invested in campaign
  • ROI of campaign
Attention How many people interacted with your content.
  • Engagement rate
  • Amplification (shares, retweets)
  • Total conversation volume
Outcomes What people did because of your content.
  • Conversions from social media

If you determine the metrics you'll measure in advance, and choose metrics that best assess progress toward your goals, you should never find yourself anxiously searching through spreadsheets to find just the right numbers to include in a report.

Reporting Your Results

“What should I report to my boss?” I hear this question a lot, and you should be able to answer it by considering the following.

  • Who is getting the report? What's their job like? What are they responsible for? What sort of decisions should they make? This determines what context you should use in your report.
  • What do they need to know in order to make their decisions? Focus only on this, and fight the impulse to include other numbers that look good.
  • When do they need information to make decisions? This should guide how often you report your results. Don't default to weekly, monthly, or quarterly just because it seems right. Find out when they'll use the information.
  • So what? Ask yourself this repeatedly when looking at the data you're trying to report. Get to the actionable insight and make sure it's highlighted. Make sure your report supports strategic decision making.

After you answer these questions, make sure your report:

  • Is as simple as possible. Avoid jargon and include explanations when necessary.
  • Connects directly to your goals. Restate your goals in the report if necessary.
  • Is easy to read. Consider visuals instead of all words. Google Sheets or Slides or even Canva can be helpful to create simple graphics.

I've seen some campuses get excited about producing flashy, branded reports with lots of metrics like followers, impressions, engagement rate, retweets, story views, etc. I look at these reports and wonder what the purpose truly is. Can leadership use these reports to make decisions? Or are they simply a tool to say, “Look at me! I'm here! I'm doing stuff!” and if so, is that serving the needs of the campus?

As I’ve said before, social media and digital professionals aren't just the new, shiny parts of the institution. Aim for substance over flashiness, and you'll make strides toward leadership viewing social media as an essential part of campus strategy, rather than a vanity point. Download our free resources, Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses to find more best practices for social media managers.

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This post originally appeared on Campus Sonar's Brain Waves blog.