The most important step to success with social media is also the most basic: becoming involved and participating on a regular basis. Once an eyecare practice has established accounts and initiated some regular activity on a couple of social networks, the next step is to see whether that activity has any affect. Social networks themselves facilitate this kind of monitoring in a rudimentary way, and affordable, cloud-based tools are available to track activity across multiple social media platforms.
What to Measure?
The simplest and most obvious social media metrics to track are the number of “likes” on Facebook and followers on Twitter. Both are important measures of reach, especially for a business. While people who have “liked” a practice on Facebook may not independently return to the page again, they are automatically opted-in to its updates and will continue to see its posts on their home feeds.
After gaining a handle on the number of “likes” and followers, it is useful to get a sense of the level and nature of engagement happening on a practice’s social networks. Are messages generating impressions? Is the number of comments increasing, and what is their tone? At the outset, the rather loose term, “engagement,” can be gauged by observation—how much traffic is there, and are the comments generally positive, neutral, or negative? But as one’s social media presence grows, it can be helpful to invest in more quantitative tools.
A number of different web-based packages are available that can be easily configured to monitor Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. Tools include Radian6, Argyle, uberVU, Viralheat, Crowdbooster, and more; and each contains its own set of features and uses. Some collect and analyze data about how many people “like” a Facebook page, for example, and then go a few steps further to look at the breadth of those people’s own social media connections. In addition to looking at how many messages a practice has put out in a given time, these tools can gauge the degree to which these messages have been shared again and passed along by followers. Aggregating and comparing mentions across blogs, the web, and social networks allows many of these packages to offer a robust analysis of an individual or organization’s online presence.
Increasingly, social media monitoring software adds linguistic analysis, attempting to arrive at an evaluation of the “sentiment” of social media activity. While this analysis may not have quite the sensitivity of a human reader, it can, in some cases, efficiently provide an overall sense of how a campaign has been received. This can then guide one’s social future social media efforts.
Some social media monitoring tools can also help stagger and schedule messages in advance to multiple platforms; and they can even help determine the best days of the week and times of day to reach a target audience.
Increasing the breadth and number of one’s social media connections is beneficial to improve reach; but knowing who the audience is can guide activity in more specific ways. Having followers with relatively high influence online can mean a much wider reach for the posts they share or respond to. Services like Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex use algorithms that consider how many followers a person has, how often he shares messages, whether those messages are original or “retweets,” and how often these messages are themselves re-broadcast.
While these tools are still in their infancy, identifying followers who are influential may allow a practice to engage directly with these people—sending them messages, sharing or retweeting their stories, and, where appropriate, asking for their opinion.
Because it can be difficult to tease out a direct business- or revenue-related return on one’s time investment in social media, the feedback provided by social media measuring tools help make sense of whether a social media campaign is making progress. In general, increasing a practice’s visibility and engagement on social networks should lead to increased online recognition and patient flow.
Luca Sergio, CEO of Ethis Communications, Inc., is Refractive Eyecare’s technology correspondent. He can be found on Twitter @lmsergio, on LinkedIn /lmsergio, and +Luca Sergio on Google+. Refractive Eyecare managing editor Jennifer Zweibel contributed to this manuscript.