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Social Media Benchmarking: What You Might Be Doing Wrong

“So…Is that good?”

This is a question I hear constantly from social media managers when they’re digging through their data. As the space becomes more competitive, and the level of sophistication around social data has grown, so has the need for greater context…but how do you get to that context?

If you’re setting up bad benchmarks based on unreasonable or unreliable data, you’re doing more work, developing unsound tactical plans, and missing crucial components of your social business. Sometimes, you may even wind up with no clue where to go next:

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In the midst of confusion, we have a natural tendency to over-simplify:

“My competitor has XX number of fans, so that’s my benchmark.” or “Last month I hit XX visits, so that’s my benchmark.”

This may be an easy shortcut to take, but it misses the entire value of benchmarking: gaining actionable context and insight around your owned and earned social activity. Benchmarking is such a crucial tactic in social media marketing because there’s often no direct ROI calculation, and in many cases, ROI isn’t even an applicable term.

One of the main places we see this is with competitive benchmarking. This is an amazing resource when done correctly, but the tactics are different than they would be when measuring your owned channel against previous activity. The context is different.

When setting up your strategy and developing a plan, there are four key areas to focus your benchmarking:

1. Aspirational Benchmarking: Learning from social leaders.

2. Trended Benchmarking:  Setting goals, projections, and standards based on previous activity.

3. Earned Benchmarking: Comparing campaign or promotional efforts against a standard for success.

4. Competitive Benchmarking: Setting goals and baselines for performance and growth based on your direct competitors.

Each of these benchmarks will require different tactics, metrics to focus on, and level of detail. Lets take a look at the components of each.

Aspirational Benchmarking


Aspirational benchmarking is a valuable tactic when used in the correct context. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve seen our monthly studies on how the top brands in the world use specific social networks. These studies can provide great benchmarks for social media marketers focused on tactical standards across a very large sample set.

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These brands have dedicated teams interacting with massive audiences, giving you a good tactical understanding of what works, what you should focus on, and how to plan your own content, based on data.

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Studies and broad aspirational sample sets like these provide the added value of industry segmentation, giving you a look at how established, successful social media programs work with your specific audience type.

When benchmarking this way, focus on specific tactics like content type, post length and frequency, and other factors that you can justify comparing, like engagement rates. Focusing on rates as opposed to totals factors in any differences like audience size that may skew totals and make benchmarking impossible.


Trended Benchmarking


Sometimes, other sample sets aren’t even needed to benchmark. Benchmarking your own social activity is imperative to developing projections and strategies for campaigns.

Our community manager Jade Furubayashi recently conducted a study of @SimplyMeasured’s posting cadence and frequency. This test gave Jade a benchmark of how many tweets she should be posting on a given day based on follower growth and loss, engagement per Tweet, and other factors.

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She was able to determine engagement rate , the causation behind it, and develop an actual tactical plan to move forward.

This type of benchmarking can be done with almost any metric, on any network. If you’re interested in tracking engagement over time, you can focus on the growth rate you’ve seen in the past to project future, your engagement per post as it relates to the number of posts you plan on publishing, and just about any other growth metric you’re looking for.

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Earned Benchmarking


Benchmarking based on previous campaigns can seem like wasted time. Each one has a different strategy, different set of tactics, and different goals. But when setting these standards for an upcoming campaign, it’s imperative that you know what to expect, what works, and what is likely to go wrong.

Screenshot 2014-04-04 08.10.48Understanding your daily expectations, and goals for individual pieces of content will help you set reasonable – or aggressive – goals based on data.

The beauty is that this tactic can be done with campaigns that weren’t even yours. If you’re trying to get an understanding of what you can accomplish, or should expect, from your first attempt, you can learn a lot from another brand’s campaigns.


Competitive Benchmarking


Competitive benchmarking is my favorite – and arguably most useful – type of benchmarking. Understanding what your competition is doing can give you unparalleled insight into your own social programs, and what your audience expects.

We hear from a lot of customers that they’d like to benchmark against their industry, but they have no clue which brands and companies they actually compete with. Understanding your context in the marketplace, and self-defining these competitors is the first, and most crucial step to competitive benchmarking. Choosing random brands with related products won’t give you the insight that you’re looking for.

It’s also important, when benchmarking against your competition, that you focus on comparable figures, like engagement rate or engagement as a percentage of fans, as opposed to totals, which may be skewed based on audience size.

Screenshot 2014-04-04 08.26.38As you can see from the above example, the total engagement is not always directly proportional to “engagement as a % of followers”. If I were benchmarking based on this competitive set, I’d focus on the former rather than the latter, to get a better understanding of the metrics that I can actually control.

What are some of the best benchmarking tactics that you’ve found successful? From cross-channel measurement to competitive, let us know in the comments section below, and to run these types of analyses on your own profiles and competitors, get a free trial of Simply Measured today.

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Kevin Shively

I lead marketing for Simply Measured. Recovering journalist. My team is embarrassed of my hilarious jokes. Firm believer that the best marketers are the best storytellers and the best storytellers use the best data.

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