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Why are social media marketers still relying on “soft” metrics?

SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

This week, we asked: Do you believe that “soft” metrics such as “likes,” comments and follower counts are effective measures of social media performance, and do you personally rely on them? The results:

  • No, but I still rely on soft metrics to measure performance: 30%
  • No, and I don’t rely on soft metrics to measure performance: 26.88%
  • Yes, but I don’t rely on soft metrics to measure performance: 25%
  • Yes, and I rely on soft metrics to measure performance: 18.13%

There’s a long-standing debate in social media circles about the usefulness of so-called soft metrics — likes, comments and shares — basically, the stuff that’s really easy to measure. On the one hand, there’s no ambiguity about the number of likes your campaign has. On the other hand, it can be tricky to link these engagements to business outcomes — and remember, only money is money. And yet, most social media marketers say they still rely on these kinds of metrics to establish the return on investment for their social media efforts.

Are marketers using soft metrics because they believe these metrics are the best measures of social media success? Are they confused about social media ROI? Or is it for lack of other options? If you look at the results of this week’s poll, 3 in 10 SmartBrief on Social Media readers say they don’t have confidence in soft metrics, but use them to measure their performance anyway. Less than 1 in 5 readers say they’re using soft metrics and actually think they’re an effective measure of performance. The good news, of course, is that a majority of readers say they’re not relying on such metrics at all.

To be clear, I’m not saying that retweets, etc. are worthless — just that they probably shouldn’t be your end goal, so much as a means to accomplishing some other task — such as getting people to sign up for your free daily newsletter. And they certainly shouldn’t be your primary measure of performance if you know, deep down, that they’re not effective metrics for what you’re trying to accomplish via social channels. Be honest with yourself and measure what really matters to your brand.