Analytics has become a hot topic over the last 12 months as middle-managers are asked tough questions by their executive stakeholders.

For all the insanity around social marketing, mobile apps, and "conversations", many CMOs, CIOs, and CFOs want to know exactly what they're getting for their money.  Budgets are growing and advertising spend is fluid.  People want to know the impact of strategy changes and tactics tweaks. But don't worry.  This pattern is not just familiar to you in your business, it's happening everywhere.

Middle managers have turned to analytics to rationalize what has happened — to measure success and failure.  But I'd contend that some of the early analtyics offerings are doing a bit of a disservice to the very clients who rely upon them.  Charts, graphs, and data visualizations are compelling — so they must be authoritative.

But are they really?

The one question you should ask of any analytics offering is simple:

Do I truly understand the metrics presented in this chart?
As a marketer, do I understand how to improve the metrics presented in this chart?
And finally, do I understand clearly how these metrics impact my company's ability to make more money, save money, and generate a return on investment (ROI)?

As I talk with corporate marketers about social marketing, content, and advertising measurement, I'd say that at least half the people do not understand the data presented to them by Facebook Insights.  Few, if any people, understand what Facebook's Reach and PTAT (People Talking About This) metrics really mean.  Almost none understand how those metrics should be used and interpreted.  And fewer know exactly how they'd improve upon those numbers.  The same goes for abstractions on hard metrics provided by third-party analytics providers.

The only way to get a true understanding of your performance is for your metrics to match the things you know how to do.  On Facebook, it's simple:

  • Page Likes — how many Fans do you have, and is that number growing?
  • Posts — how often do you post?
  • Post Type — how often do you post different types of content to keep your Page fresh?
  • Shares — how often are people inspired to share content with their friends?
  • Comments — how often do people comment on your Page?
  • Likes — how often do people like content that you post?
  • Engagement Rate — by time period or post, how well does your content truly perform?
  • Clicks — how do your ads and/or Page Posts generate clicks to a web site?

Facebook is the top of the funnel for many consumer marketers — it's an awareness vehicle that can help you create a better conversion rate for other online activities.  It can also identify your top fans and people who advocate for you online and offline.

But (and I'll pick on Facebook Insights for a moment) if you're using metrics such as Reach and PTAT as religious metrics that you watch feverishly, I think you're missing the point.  You're succumbing to the folly of analytics as opposed to the data-driven answers that big data analytics can provide.

If you go to the effort of measurement, you're ahead of the game.  But you're really ahead of the game if you take a data-driven approach.  Be sure to measure the very things you know you can affect.  Otherwise, you're just guessing.