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Who’s Driving the Data Movement? Social Media Managers

What if the most valuable data person on your team is your social media manager?

It certainly might not seem that way at first blush. When you think of all the many data roles on a team, social media rarely bubbles to the top. Instead, you think of: 

Data scientists.

Growth marketers.

Analysts and quants.

Or maybe there’s no data team and it’s just you and your closest confidantes, poring over the numbers together. 

Regardless, teams with social media managers are sitting on a goldmine of data and information. And it’s data about the most important people in your company’s world: the customers and the audience. At the end of the day, this group of people will drive results and progress for your brand. They will be loyal to you (if you’re building genuine trust); they will purchase from you (if you’re delivering relevant value). It’s this group of customers and audience where you want the strongest relationship.

Shouldn’t we be listening to the person who understands this relationship best?

If you’re serious about making data-informed decisions for your brand, then give social media managers a seat at the table.

Here’s why.

1. Every bit of social media data is behavioral data

Steve Jobs had a reputation for taking customer research with a grain of salt. It’s a similar refrain to another visionary, Henry Ford, inventor of the automobile, who famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse.’” Jobs is known for a related, widely-circulated quote that picks at the same issue:

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. 

Well, on social media, guess what? You are constantly showing things to people!

Your data is REAL data.

It is data based on how people are literally responding to you. They’re clicking (or not clicking). They’re liking. They’re commenting. They’re congratulating. They’re complaining. 

Social media analytics dashboard from Buffer Analyze

If you want your brand to solve problems for people, then social media is going to tell you exactly what problems people have. 

We’ve seen this at Buffer with our social media data, which has informed products like Stories Creator and Shop Grid. We built these in order to solve problems for our audience. Similarly with the content we share, we can tell which content resonates most and what problems are real, today. Some of our most popular posts on social media are about Instagram marketing and data studies. Our audience is speaking to us in replies and comments, yes; but also with their actions.

2. Social media managers can see the future

When you think about all the many signals that social media managers pick up on a daily basis, you begin to get a picture of just how many leading indicators there are. 

Take a typical day in social media, for instance:


8:30-9am: Check-in on all social media platforms9-9:30am: Measure social results and add to spreadsheets9:30-10am: Respond and engage with community10:00-11am: Read and learn11am-12pm: Content creation (podcast, writing)


1-1:30pm: Respond and engage with community1:30-2:00pm: Curate content2-2:30pm: Read and learn2:30-3:00pm: Schedule content to Buffer3-4:30pm: Content creation (video, graphics)4:30-5pm: Emails and voicemails5-5:30pm: Check Buffer queue

The very best social media managers are picking up data points all day long: what topics are resonating with audiences today, what posts are taking off and which aren’t, what conversations are people starting, what’s getting clicked, liked, and replied to.

Social media managers can condense all this data into trendspotting. They’re in the perfect spot for it: they’re on social, reading content and making content and talking to people all day long.

One of Gary Vaynerchuk’s best ways to get a pulse for new markets is to track how apps are trending in the iOS and Android stores. Guess which apps are the highest rankers and the movers and shakers? It’s the social media apps! Your social media manager is sitting at center court while the game is being played; they’re in the perfect spot.

Top apps in the iOS App Store, July 2019

3. Social media managers are in the sales pipeline

One of the more recent trends with the role of a social media manager is that more and more these teammates are tasked with directly influencing sales through organic and paid.

You can, of course, run paid ads for product sales on social media. 

Now you have a growing list of options for organic sales as well with shopping on Instagram and Pinterest.

The point is that the data of social media managers is not restricted solely to top-of-funnel, brand-oriented initiatives. Social media managers touch the full customer journey from top to bottom. 

3. Social media managers can optimize

When do you launch a marketing campaign?

When should you plan your tentpole product launches?

Let’s ask the social media manager!

On social media, you get specific datapoints on when an audience is most primed to receive messages, click, engage, and respond. You can look at weekly trends to find the most popular day and time to post. You can look at historic data to see when campaigns were most successful in the past and which trending topics and calendar events are on the horizon. 

Social media insights and answers from Buffer Analyze

At Buffer, we’ve used social media extensively to test headlines, either via an organic series of tweets or a paid ad set with multiple options. 

Social media is a playground for optimization.

4. Social media is one of the few places you get data on your brand

If you follow our weekly newsletter, then you’ve likely seen just how many unique and original social media strategies pop up daily. Brands are doing so much great stuff in online marketing. 

Where it can get tough to measure is how this all impacts the brand perception and positioning. 

Social media managers are one of the few roles with a strong sense for this. Case in point: sentiment.

Sentiment graph from Brand Grader

One of the great things about social stats is that they span the spectrum from micro (clicks on a single tweet, for instance) to macro. Sentiment falls into macro. It’s taking all the social conversations in aggregate and looking at the overall tone of them. Are they positive? Are they negative?

Social media managers can understand this on a gut level because they’re talking to people all day. (Your customer support team will know this data very well, too.) You can also get it from free tools like Brand Grader and Mention.

Beyond sentiment, social media managers can tell brand health by seeing how fast follower growth is happening, how well your ads are received, how engaged is an audience. They’re all signals of brand health, which can often be a tricky thing to measure. This isn’t the case with social media.

15 key stats from social media

Data and creativity are not mutually exclusive, and the idea that you can only create in a total vacuum is a farce. … We’re getting data inputs all the time. In no way is it replacing human decision-making; it’s just giving insights that we historically have never had.

This quote from Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian speaks a lot of truth to the world of social media today (and the world at large). There are so many data inputs. 

Here are some of the ones from social media that could be big differentiators and decision-makers:

Referral traffic — Helps you understand what content drives people to your website

Owned vs. earned — A breakdown of how often the content you share on social media drives website traffic versus the content that others share is driving traffic (word of mouth)

Sales — You can track social media attribution through a typical funnel, or you can check sales numbers from direct social shopping

Sentiment — Are people talking positively or negatively about your brand?

Conversation volume — Track whether you’re being mentioned more or less often and how that’s trending over time

Clickthru rate (CTR) — A useful measure for advertising. Is your message resonating with people enough that they’ll click?

Cost per thousand (CPM) / Cost per click (CPC) — These ad measures tell how efficiently your copy, creative, and call-to-action are performing

Relevance score — Another ad measure. Are your targeting and your creative a match?

Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) — Similar to Return on Investment (ROI), this looks at the dollars-and-cents impact of advertising

Budget spend — Useful for noting the trends in how social media and markets are shifting.

Reach rate — How many people does your average post reach

Engagement rate — How many people like, comment, click, and share your content

Completion rate — At what rate does your audience watch all of your Instagram Stories

Swipe ups — Does your Instagram Stories content drive conversion and action?

Followers — A good measure for brand health. Follower counts should rise if the brand is doing well

If You’re a Social Media Manager Looking for a Seat at the Table …

So a lot of this might sound great, especially if you’re a social media manager. Being among decision makers is a great place to be.

Some companies might be ready to embrace social as a key data source right now. Certainly some of the best DTC brands out there are already doing this (Away, Warby Parker, etc.). That being said, you might find yourself needing to give your role a nudge into these discussions.

Step one: Stay data-minded (or get data-minded if you feel that you’re not quite there yet).

Beyond that, there are a couple of different ways to take a proactive approach to advocating for yourself and your role.

1. Report on your area and show what the data says

If you’re not already doing it, start making reports to share with your team and your boss about how social media is performing.

A sample social media report from Buffer Analyze

On these reports, you can include an executive summary: a few bullet points about what you’re seeing in the numbers and how it might impact the business. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of a TON of data. Make it easy for others to see what you’re seeing by listing it out in a shortform summary.

2. Experiment consciously

You can lead by showing.

Begin with the basic systems you have for the way that you experiment and try new things on social media. One of the ways we do this at Buffer is framing our hypotheses in a certain way. The construction looks like this:

If we do this, then this will happen because of this

The key, data-informed part of this sentence is “because of this.” Ideally, your “because of” is based on data and evidence. Not only will this make the hypothesis stronger, it will show good on your abilities to make data-informed decisions with the reams of data you have at your disposal.

Over to you

Does this emphasis on data resonate with what youre feeling on social media?Where does social media sit within your company and among your stakeholders?

Id love to learn from your experience and opinion. Feel free to leave me a comment here on the post or connect with me on Twitter or Instagram. It’d be great to hear from you!

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