The Very Best Benchmark

forecast-chartThe social media world is quickly becoming more and more data-centric. And it should! After all, analyzing data is the only way to know if your marketing strategy is working and if changes that you’ve made to that strategy are having a negative or positive impact on your overall engagement (or whatever the goal is). But there’s a right way and a wrong way to use data to drive your online marketing strategy forward.

All too often, I get asked “How many likes are we going to get in 3 months?” or “What’s a good number of unique website visitors for a website to get per month?”. And while these questions seem important, the values themselves are arbitrary. Here’s what most small business owners don’t realize: your individual growth rate is much more important than your absolute values. The millions of followers that your competitor has is a terrible benchmark for you, because you have no way of knowing (a) what the ad budget looked like (b) how they accumulated all of those followers (c) how long it took them. What you do know is how many likes, followers, website visitors, comments, etc. you received this month and last month and the month before that. If you can be improving your growth rate month over month, then you’re doing something right.

I was once speaking with an entrepreneur about his upcoming year in 2014. He told me that he was unhappy with how many units he had sold in 2013, but that he was certain he’d have a better year next year. So I asked him, “What are you projecting to do this year?”
“What do you mean?”, he asked me.
“How many units do you think you can sell in 2014?”
He looked at me and dead seriously responded, “Quite frankly, I’d like to sell as many as possible.”

To me, this is exactly the logic a small business owner uses when he decides “I want 10,000 website visitors next month” without knowing what that growth rate would look like, or what his previous month’s performance has been.

Instead, use yourself as your own benchmark. If your web traffic grew 5% last month, try to make it grow 10% this month. If your Facebook community grew 15%, aim for 20%. This is a much more scientific and effective way of ensuring long-term growth, as long as you are doing two very important things:
1. Make subtle changes to your strategy month over month. Every good experiment needs a control and a variable, so don’t change too much at once or you won’t be able to effectively monitor the results of the changes you’re making.
2. Designate key performance indicators and goals ahead of each month’s campaign and then go back and grade your performance against that benchmark. It’s okay to fall short, as long as you can understand why you fell short and make the proper adjustments going forward.

Goals wouldn’t be goals if they were achieved 100% of the time. They’d just be part of work.

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