Over the last few weeks, we’ve shared a lot of insights into our social media programs at Voxus and examined a lot of exciting trends and tools for your online toolkit. Today, we’ll round out the discussion by talking about something a little less glamorous, but equally important: social media metrics.

You can have the best social media program short of Lady Gaga, but if you can’t explain your results to your client or boss in a meaningful way, all of your work could be for nothing. Blindly throwing out content and hoping it sticks is not a winning strategy, either. You need measurement and reporting to give you the data required to make smart decisions and to justify your efforts. To help with that, here are a few common measurements, and some insight into why they may be less valuable than you thought, and a few obscure ones that might add better value.

The Basics

Impressions. Impressions can vary widely based on factors such as post popularity, promoted spend and Facebook’s changing algorithms, as examples. While tracking impressions can give you a rough idea of the reach of your posts, this number offers no information beyond that. It doesn’t do much good to serve a tweet to 50,000 people if it’s only relevant to 200 of them. This lack of insight, plus the huge amount of variance in impressions, makes it useful only in a limited situation or when combined with other metrics.

Engagement. Engagement is a key part of most social media campaigns, but can be fiendishly difficult to measure accurately. The sum of your retweets, favorites, replies, organic mentions and link clicks is a good place to start, but these numbers leave a lot out, such as the size of your account. Seventeen retweets might be a big deal to a small startup, but only represent an average weekday morning for a tech magazine. Twitter offers an “engagement rate” percentage for each tweet, (number of engagements over impressions) which is a good way of measuring the success of individual posts, but offers no way of doing this over a period of time. Calculating that for a month’s worth of tweets would be possible, but takes a lot of legwork. Raw engagement numbers also don’t capture whether an interaction was of good quality or led to further action. Integrating with Google Analytics and tracking tags such as Marketo can give you an excellent way to follow customers through your social program and see if they take action afterwards. If you can prove that your program drove sales, you’re doing amazingly well!

Deep Cuts:

Organic Mentions. This is a great way to see whether your audience is passively assimilating your content or actively engaging with you. Conversations are the lifeblood of social media and are the key pieces that distinguish it from other kinds of advertising.  Using organic mentions as a metric gives you a way to determine the value of conversations. This may not apply to all social programs, but it’s always a good thing to know who’s talking about you online and what they’re saying.

Time of Day. Simply Measured and other social measurement tools can give you a graph of when your posts go out against when people are retweeting, replying and engaging with you. This can let you pinpoint when your audience is most active on social media and plan your posts and tweets more effectively. This can reveal surprising insights, like how many people check Twitter in the middle of business meetings!

My Favorites:

Percentage of Engaged Users and Engagements Per Person. Available in Simply Measured or on your own with Twitter’s data and a calculator, these are my favorite tools for getting a sense of your audience. Higher engagement per person and a lower percentage of engaged users means you have a small but active group of followers. Track them down and you know who to focus on. If a high percentage of your users are engaging, then you know you’ve found the right audience.

So, what are the best metrics to measure for your social program? Like the question, “What should my company do on social media?,” the answer is “It depends.” Your key metrics should reflect your goals. If you want to drive sales, track conversions and link clicks. If you want to reach a wide audience, look at your retweets and shares, and see how many new followers your posts are obtaining for you. Want to test brand recognition? Keep an eye on organic mentions. A good reporting program will change as your social program changes. Do it right and you’ll get valuable insights into your customers and obtain the knowledge you need to make your client or your boss say, “Wow!”