Thursday, March 8, 2012

Measuring Twitter Performance: Tools and Tricks

"How do I analyze the performance of my Twitter account"? If you've ever done any kind of social media marketing, you've probably asked yourself this question or been asked it yourself at some point. After all, Facebook bombards page owners with extensive and complex graphs along with per-post view counts, and Google Analytics provides detailed in-depth information about every aspects of every visitor.

Twitter, on the other hand, offers just three statistics - number of tweets, number of accounts followed, number of accounts following. You're notified when someone mentions you, but no overall count is given. The only per-tweet statistic tracked is how often a particular tweet has been re-tweeted. With that in mind, it's no surprise that people have looked everywhere in search of ways to get more detailed information...but do we really need them?

There are dozens of third-party tools out there designed to provide metrics of Twitter performance, each claiming to give a reliable measure of how well your campaign is performing. Some of them, like Klout, position themselves as essential measures of social media influence, while others, like Crowdbooster, promise to be the biggest help you can have for tracking the performance of your tweets. Each one uses different numbers and formulas to come up with their results, and no two tools are exactly alike. Some will output their information in beautifully-designed charts and graphs perfect for inclusion in a spreadsheet, while others will give simple numerical scores to provide a one-glance measure of each aspect of performance. However, all of those utilities have one thing in common: they don't have any information that you don't have.

Twitter doesn't have any secret analytics info that these apps can access, nor are there any special tricks they can use to get info you wouldn't normally be able to see. Each and every one of those sites simply grabs the publicly-available information from Twitter, such as number of followers and number of mentions, and simply either graphs them for you or runs that data through secret formulas to come up with their results. There's no doubt that many of these sites use clever techniques and formulas. In most cases, though, it's simply using complex mathematics to confirm what you could already figure out from simply checking your Twitter account daily.

Twitter doesn't give you much data, but if you look at what info it does provide, it tells you what you really need to know. To measure how many people are seeing your tweets, you don't need daily tweet-by-tweet charts or a mysterious "Total Reach" statistic - just look at your number of followers and how often you get retweeted. To measure engagement, just look at how often people retweet, reply, and mention you and your tweets. These techniques may seem a little too simple, but it's exactly what the third-party tools do to come up with those same numbers. Sometimes they modify their numbers using things like the ratio of tweets to mentions or the ratio of following to followers in order to get an idea of how frequent engagement is and how authentic the followers are, but a human that's been running the account for a few weeks shouldn't need to use math to figure those out.

That's not to say that Twitter analytics apps are useless - they're simply not essential. If you've been newly assigned to a social media account or don't have the time to keep an eye on it directly, they're a great way of getting a quick summary of the account's performance. Some tools can evaluate social media accounts you don't have the credentials for, which is great for competition research or just to satisfy some curiosity. And if you'd like to show off how well an account is performing, it's far quicker to use a tool to create the fancy charts than to do it yourself. On the other hand, some of them can use unreliable methods to determine their scores; Klout, for instance, is known to increase your Klout score if you use certain functions on their own site.

Although tools can be helpful at times, it's quite possible to live your social media life without relying on an outside tool to tell you how your Twitter account is performing. In particular, it's almost always a waste of time to try to game the statistics, since your focus should be on improving actual engagement and influence rather than trying to cheat third-party measures of probable engagement and influence. If you find yourself worrying too much about what goes into a particular app's scores and categories, it's best to step back, take a deep breath, and check your account's fundamental stats on the main Twitter site to determine whether there's really a problem at all.

The social media world is constantly coming out with tools and apps to measure and quantify performance, but most of them focus on providing as many numbers as possible and end up distracting you from your real goals. Engagement, conversions, and brand awareness are the most common social media goals, and the only one that really requires outside tools to track is conversions. The level of brand awareness being created by your social media posts can be estimated from the number of followers, and the level of engagement is something you should know without needing to look at metrics. Of course, the more detailed numbers created by outside tools are good for reporting the stats to others, but the person actually maintaining the account shouldn't need third-party metrics for day-to-day monitoring.

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