The trouble with relying on Facebook’s Insights

Why the author puts little weight into the social network’s metrics. By obsessing on only them, he says, you’re missing the big picture.

I’m going to get smacked by a few friends on this one, but I’m going to say it anyway: Stop looking at your Facebook Insights.

That’s right. You’re spending way too much time looking at the analytics for your Facebook page.

Now, before I go any further, let me stress that I’m not anti-analytics. I believe that it is important to measure both our online and offline marketing efforts, and that analytics are incredibly important.

But I’ll say it again: Stop looking at your Facebook Insights.

There has been a lot said about Facebook’s changing algorithm for EdgeRank, and many folks are bemoaning the lack of reach they get from the content on their Facebook business pages.

I get that.

By isolating Facebook Insights and obsessing over them, we’re missing the big picture.

Clearly, the system is broken and the constant tweaking is changing things. It confuses my clients when they see something working really well, and then a week later the numbers plummet when those clients are doing the same thing. I honestly put very little weight in Facebook Insights. They change how things are measured on a regular basis, and if you spend any time poring over the numbers, you know they clearly don’t add up. I wish they did, but they don’t.

The good news is that when I look at other analytics and factor in anecdotal evidence, I don’t worry so much about the numbers on Facebook.

So although I think numbers are important, and though I’m a proponent of tying data to your goals and results, here is why I worry less about the specific insights provided by Facebook:

1. Facebook does not exist in a vacuum. Facebook, in and of itself, is not a strategy. If you are not tying it to your overall communications plan, and measuring it as such, you’re doing it wrong.

2. Online does not exist in a vacuum. Anything you do using traditional offline methods, new online methods, and even face to face or on the phone, can have a cumulative effect.

3. Looking for ROI from one platform is going to be increasingly difficult. One client isn’t seeing direct sales from Facebook, but since we implemented a new plan for using Facebook to drive traffic to his website, he has seen some progress. He has one goal: to sell his product. The items on his website range in price from $25,000 to $450,000. Though our new Facebook strategy gave us a dramatic and immediate increase in Web traffic, he wasn’t sure that he could tie that to any particular sales. Although the straight traffic from Facebook to the website didn’t indicate that, what we did notice is that he was getting an increase in inquiries.

If a person travels from Facebook to your website and doesn’t purchase anything right away, that doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t working. With products of this price range we realized that visitors often return directly to the website without going through Facebook. Also, we are now seeing direct inquiries within the Facebook messaging system.

4. Facebook isn’t just marketing. It’s fairly easy to measure efforts that are strictly marketing, particularly in terms of ROI. But what you are doing on Facebook isn’t necessarily marketing. You might just be answering questions, providing customer service, or merely just offering useful information. You can’t look at each individual status update as a marketing message that can be measured. Your entire presence on Facebook creates a much more complex entity that is more difficult to measure. Don’t look upon it as merely a snapshot in time.

5. Your most important numbers will happen beyond Facebook. Are you trying to drive traffic somewhere, such as your website? Look at those numbers in your other analytics. What is your purpose for using Facebook? Remember, it’s not just out there on its own. What are your goals? How are you using it? Hopefully, it’s not just about Facebook but is helping you drive traffic elsewhere. Perhaps your website, or perhaps even the doors of your brick and mortar. There are ways to measure both of those, so be prepared to do a little work.

Rather than focusing on whom you are reaching (or not reaching), focus on the quality of the experience for those do reach. Determine why you are using Facebook, and what your goals are for the platform. I suggest the goals should be less number-centric, and more focused on content and engagement.

Yes, you should measure, but only when it makes sense. Not everything can be tied to a number.

Facebook is less about what you are doing online than about how you are running your business. John Jantsch, in his post The Far Reaching Implications of the Social Business Model notes:

“My belief is that the real opportunity is to build a fully social business model, one that addresses the total picture of social behavior. One that moves beyond social tactics to a place where social is the business, is a part of every consideration.”

Stop focusing on Facebook for Facebook’s sake, and focus less on the insights. Focusing so much on the insights is like putting a timer on your customer service reps and expecting them to create a sale in a certain period of time. That makes a mockery of the process.

Yes, I believe in research. Yes, I believe in numbers and analytics. Yes, I believe in the importance of measuring ROI.

No, not everything can or should be measured in the same way.

So, go ahead. Go back and look at your Facebook insights. Just do so with an understanding of what they can tell you and what they do tell you.

Ken Mueller is the proprietor of Inkling Media, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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