The Truth About Social Media Measurement & Marketing Dashboards

With the growing number of social media monitoring and community management software products, the definition of a marketing dashboard seems to have taken numerous forms.

For the purpose of this article, a marketing dashboard will be defined as “the digital display of the most important information needed to track activity related to achieving one or more objectives.”

In the context of social media, a relevant example was an article published by Search Engine Watch author Nathan Linnell nearly two years ago that resulted in one of the top five most popular SEW posts of 2010: “6 Key Metrics for a Social Media Measurement Dashboard“.

Over a year prior to that article, two friends of mine, Tom Markiewicz and Derek Scruggs, also had a vision about tracking key metrics specific to social media.

While most marketing dashboard products of the time were helping to track various forms of field sales activity and common web analytics – Markiewicz and Scruggs recognized few were addressing the kind of real-time data and social media metrics that could facilitate a level of predictive analysis that might impact immediate decision-making.

The Plan Meets the Reality

In 2009, Markiewicz and Scruggs worked the business plan together, articulated the value proposition and delved deeply into the feature set. Their new company, StatsMix, was selected to participate in the TechStars (early-stage business) accelerator program, and quickly piqued the interest of investors who intuitively understood they were onto something big.


Sample StatsMix dashboard, combining web orders, customer phone support and social media metrics.

But as they raced to achieve their minimal viable product and continued to collect feedback from early beta customers, they soon became aware of a stark reality that completely altered their development roadmap over the following two years.

Beta customers began asking a common set of questions that seemed very rudimentary, and not relevant to what StatsMix originally had set out to do.

“How can we take the company data we have in our spreadsheets and chart it with your dashboard? This social media stuff is neat – but we’ve got other data sets we are already working with. Can’t we get that aggregated and displayed first?”

Can You Handle the Truth?

Today, StatsMix is much closer to the original vision they had, but only after working tirelessly to develop a scalable platform that would start by answering what marketers were asking for first: tracking and display of any/all data sets.

About the same time StatsMix began pivoting around what they had learned, my business partner, James Clark, had taken his own deep dive into marketing dashboards – hitting the road to collect his own marketer feedback while delivering 2-day training events on “Data and Dashboards” for the American Marketer’s Association.

StatsMix and Clark were on different paths, but discovering the same truths – most marketers often don’t know where to begin when it comes to:

  • The data they should be collecting, aggregating, and displaying to assist in decision-making among any given audience in their organization.
  • Articulating the pros and cons of using a marketing dashboard (social media and/or other relevant data).
  • Designating key performance indicators (KPI’s) to track the most complete picture in the context of marketing objective drivers (not just outcomes).
  • The tools best suited to match their requirements.
  • Best practices for visualizing data for decision makers.

5 Lessons for Navigating Your Dashboard Success

The truth is we as marketers are more likely to succeed when building upon sound fundamentals. While we may be eager to pursue the horizon, we are also grateful when taught/reminded about the best place from which to start and excel. I hope the following offer a few coordinates for setting your own course.

Lesson 1: Understand Why You Need a Marketing Dashboard

Ultimately, your dashboard should “ladder up” to one or more of your current, overall business objectives (example: survival, growth, profitability). Associated goals should be:

  • Assessing the health of your organization at a glance.
  • Providing historical, as well as (as close to) real-time data to facilitate prompt decision-making.
  • Making sound decisions based on relevant samples of data.

Lesson 2: Understand the Pros and Cons of a Marketing Dashboard

The common pros include:

  • Saving time / streamlining data management.
  • Real-time accessibility from anywhere.
  • Ability to keep your eye on the prize/goals (front and center).
  • Decision-making based on designated key performance indicators (KPI’s).
  • Organizational alignment.
  • Greater opportunities to spot trends and/or correlations.

The typical cons include:

  • You’ll never get all the info you need or want.
  • Tools can be cost prohibitive.
  • The data won’t be useful if it can’t be made actionable (no clear objectives).
  • Internal adoption rate can be slow if the value isn’t articulated well or the user experience is poor.
  • If data is incorrect or misinterpreted, decisions could be bad.
  • Associated setup and optimization might be an unwelcomed process.

Lesson 3: Understand the Audience Your Dashboard Will Serve

This is important when considering the number of (digestible) metrics you’ll display, based on the level of management reviewing the data. Tom Kawamoto’s “Key Success Factors for a Performance Dashboard” article offers the following recommendations:

  • CEO/Board Level: Six high-level metrics
  • VP/Director Level: Between 12 and 20 metrics
  • Strategic Level: Between 12 and 50 metrics
  • Operational Level: Around 20 metrics each

Note: In my own experience, regardless of the level, people are appreciative of written summaries near or ahead of the data. Think in terms of SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. This might be a consideration for dashboard tool selection (i.e., does the tool enable the entry of textual content near the data?).

Lesson 4: Understand Why and What You Choose to Measure

This is predominantly associated with matching the best KPIs to quantify objectives that reflect performance and illuminate insights to assess the direction in which those objectives are headed. The following are a few insights offered from Stacey Barr:

  • Only measure what you’re going to do something about.
  • Measure drivers, not just outcomes.
  • Measure not what you can control, but what you can influence.
  • Measures impervious to change are useless.
  • There is no “set it and forget it” with measuring performance.
  • Use data and not opinion to determine causality.
  • Performance measurement requires humility and transparency to work.

Lesson 5: Do Your Homework When it Comes to the Tools

Like any other software selection, some best practices include:

  • Creating an evaluation/selection team to first understand requirements with respect to integration, data and KPIs.
  • Consider dashboard providers who have worked in your industry.
  • Consider sending an RFI (request for information) based on your requirements.
  • Create a standardized process for evaluating multiple options.
  • Ask for a proof of concept.
  • Consider your desired type of dashboard (Victoria Hetherington identifies the following types of dashboards in her “The Dashboard Demystified” article:
    • Strategic: Quick overview of company’s health. Looks at what has been going on without requirement of real-time data
    • Analytic: Drills into causes, and is used to set goals to correct issues (may include comparisons, extensive histories, performance evaluation)
    • Operational: Monitors functions that need real-time, minute-by-minute attention – generally used by specific departments
    • Vertical: Specialized for a specific industry (banking, healthcare, energy)
    • Lateral: Designed for internal departments (financial, marketing, HR, etc.)

The tools range widely in functionality, customization and pricing; from Do-It-Yourself, Mid-grade and Enterprise level. Some of the tools include:

And the Truth About Social Media Measurement…

Depending on the community you and your competitors have developed, the data you need to inform your digital content and advertising strategy is now available for your taking.

To a degree, I’ve implied marketers need to get grounded in some of the basics, but this isn’t in conflict with those who are advancing the discussion around social media measurement.

For example, I’d say the Linnell post referenced at the beginning of this article holds as much relevance now as it did then – and it’s exciting to see how his thought (along with the technology) has evolved by reading his most recent post on “How to Move Your Social Media Analysis from the Platform to the Individual Level“.

Talk about horizon.

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