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Building Brands

How to get your social media budget approved: Use the best engagement metric

January 06, 2022 · 9 min read

Social media rules the world. Globally, 56.8% of the population (aged 13+) is active on social media. Narrow the sample to North America alone and that number grows to 82%. As marketers know, the product of social media isn’t the app experience, it’s users’ attention — and the customers of every social media app are marketers with budgets to burn. There’s a massive audience of potential customers on these apps, if only you can connect with them.

There are two approaches marketers take to social media: organic and paid. “Organic” refers to the posts and efforts made on a brand account that aren’t necessarily promoted. Theoretically, you can fuel your organic social strategy for just the cost of labor (your own, an intern, a salaried social media manager). “Paid” refers to the paid (sponsored, promoted) ads run through and on social media platforms — which is how these platforms make their money.

A strong social media strategy leverages multiple platforms, and includes both organic and paid tactics. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket — remember The Great Facebook Outage of October 2021? If you don’t diversify, an incident like this can instantly nullify your entire strategy.

Getting an executive’s approval on your social media budget can be difficult, particularly when they don’t understand how to properly measure success on social media. How many times have you been forced to look at follower count as the be-all, end-all success metric? Follower count does matter, but it’s absolutely not your leading metric.

Here’s a quick primer on how to properly measure the success of a social media strategy, plus  a few questions to help plan your social media budget. You can come up with a million wild, exciting ideas, but you won’t get the resources to execute without clear engagement metrics that tie your work and spending to organizational goals. Equipped with these resources, getting your social media budget approved will be much easier.


How do you measure the success of a social media strategy?

Short answer: don’t rely on vanity metrics.

Yes, 100k Instagram followers looks great on paper, but without actual engagement, it’s an empty number. A quick trick to measure engagement is to divide the number of likes on a recent post by follower count.

Say you’re just starting out and have only 40 Instagram followers. As long as even 4 of them like your posts, you’ve got better engagement than many big accounts: a 10% likes/followers ratio. Not many 100k follower accounts routinely get 10k likes per post (seriously, go look). The trick is maintaining that engagement rate as you scale.

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Measuring the brand side of marketing is hard. Digital advertising platforms make it easy to measure cost-per-click, cost-per-impression, and so on. But when you’re posting on social media, what should you measure? Followers? Likes?

Here are a few examples of business accounts with varying follower counts — how well did their most recent post perform?

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Dropbox has 49k followers on Instagram, but their most recent post (3 weeks old at time of writing) only has 207 likes and 17 comments. Only 0.04% of their followers liked the post.

Instagram’s own account has 452m followers. Their most recent post (22 hours old at time of writing) has 299k likes and 6.9k comments. That’s a 0.006% likes/followers ratio — more than six times worse than Dropbox’s.

Chubbies, the shorts brand, has 574k followers. Their most recent post (16 hours old at time of writing) has 14.2k likes and 55 comments. That's a 0.24% likes/followers ratio — six times better than Dropbox’s and in a fraction of the time.

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Chubbies’ meme-forward Instagram account

More followers does not equal better engagement. In fact, the opposite is often true. The more your audience grows, the more difficult it becomes to appeal to every member of that audience — it’s no surprise that Instagram’s own account, which needs to have a broad appeal, has a low likes/followers ratio.

A few caveats. As a rule of thumb, Instagram is a better platform for e-commerce brands than it is for SaaS companies, so it makes sense Chubbies did best here. We only looked at the ratio of likes on the most recent post to followers — that’s a shallow view. Each post had been up for a different amount of time. Lastly, Chubbies is well-known for their excellent social media strategy, the other two are not.

So how do you measure the success of a social media strategy? Engagementbeyond just the likes/followers ratio of an account’s single most recent post. In the example above, Chubbies had a fraction of Instagram’s followers, but their most recent post had 40 times better engagement than Instagram’s, judging by likes alone (just one type of engagement). Let’s dig deeper on what “engagement” really means.


The best way to measure social media engagement

There are three basic types of engagement on social media, each one indicative of more or less interest in a post, product, or brand. Some platforms have more types — extrapolate as needed.

The three primary types of engagement on Instagram.

  • Likes. Lightweight. Easily given. How often do you scroll, look at something for half a second, give it a like, and keep scrolling?

  • Comments. Higher effort than a like. Takes more time to do, tends to show greater interest.

  • Shares. Most valuable. Whether in a DM, on an Instagram story, or embedded, a share is social proof. It gets your content in front of a new audience. It turns the sharer into a sort of brand ambassador.

In the above example, we looked at followers and likes. That’s a narrow way to measure engagement. It’s quick and easy, but doesn’t tell you much unless you go in-depth and measure the likes on many posts from a given account, segment by content type, etc. Which, by all means, you should do if you have the resources — but don’t look at likes alone.

Here’s a smart and scalable way to measure engagement — or in other words, how to measure success on social media.

In order of ascending value: Likes < Comments < Shares. Common, uncommon, rare.

The key: weighted engagement measurement. Create one all-inclusive number and give different types of engagement different weights. Instead of thinking in terms of “likes,” “comments,” and “shares,” think in terms of “points.” You should adjust point value based on how users interact with your content, but here’s a usable example:

  • 1 like = 1 point

  • 1 comment = 10 points

  • 1 share = 30 points

Combining the point system with the likes/followers ratio is an effective way to add further context to your social media performance. Just use points instead of likes. Every time you make a post, wait one week, record how many points it accrued, how many followers you have at that moment, and calculate the ratio. This will allow you to maintain an understanding of your audience behavior as that audience scales.


Perform qualitative analysis on your audience engagement

One like is not necessarily equal to another. Neither is one comment as valuable as the next. Who is actually engaging with your posts? If it’s just your coworkers, there’s a problem.

When you aren’t getting much engagement and your follower count is low, you should absolutely be reviewing all the likes, comments, and shares on your posts. At a point of scale, this manual process won’t be possible anymore — but it also won’t be as necessary.

Here are a couple of tactics to get smart on engagement quality:

1. Fine-tune your weighted engagement system.

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Give coworker engagement half the point value of all other engagement. If you have the resources, go even deeper: weight shares from high-follower accounts more, for example. Depending on your business, there are different routes you can take here. 

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2. Segment your content by type.

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You need to understand both the quality of your audience engagement and the crowd-sourced quality rating of the actual content you’re posting. Let’s say you have three different categories of posts on your Instagram account: User-generated content (UGC), new product announcement, and customer spotlight. Compare engagement quality within each category and across categories. 

Is one category attracting higher-quality engagement than the other? You may want to double down on the higher-performing category. It’s much easier to both plan your future strategy and get executive approval on your budget when you have data illustrating what works and what doesn’t.

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To summarize, when you’re working to get your social media budget approved: 

  • Gather engagement data and educate leadership on the metrics that actually matter.

  • Show how those metrics connect to high-level business goals.

  • Show that you have a system in place to record those metrics.

Once you understand what metrics to track and how to do so, planning a budget becomes much easier.


7 questions to ask when planning your social media budget

To get your budget approved, be realistic. Start with your business goals and let your answers to those big-picture questions guide how you address tactical issues. Here are 7 questions you should be asking, in order of importance.

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  1. What do we want to achieve?

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Are you planning a social media budget for the year, for a platform, for one campaign? Define your scope. Within that scope, are you trying to gain followers, build brand awareness, send people to your website, or drive conversions?

Let’s be clear: the role of social media, for a business, is to attract engagement and create awareness. You cannot and should not attempt to measure success in terms of clickthroughs, singups, or cost per signup. It’s not possible to cleanly measure social’s effect on those metrics.

We walked through how to measure engagement above. Essentially, what you should be trying to achieve with a social media strategy (and budget) is one of two things. Either you’re experimenting (you have not yet found a channel or tactic that works) or you already know what works, and that’s what you’re investing in.

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2. What do we want to accomplish long-term?

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A good social media strategy leads to compounding growth both on-platform and for your business as a whole. Will your strategy and budget support this? How? Think in terms of long-term audience building. Don’t waste all your resources betting on one virality play.

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3. What’s our overall marketing budget?

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How much of the budget do your teammates need for their projects? How much money can realistically be earmarked for social? Is your data strong enough to ask for more than expected?

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4. What is social media’s importance to our brand?

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Does leadership see it as important, or are you facing a major value-proof hurdle? Do your customers, present and future, live on social media?

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5. Which platforms are relevant to our business?

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Does your ideal customer live on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok? Do you want to take a focused approach with two or three platforms, or invest in all of them? Different platforms reward different tactics and require different resources.

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6. How much can we afford to spend on paid ads?

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If you already know your budget will be small, it’s best to focus more on organic. Paid spending is relatively easy to predict — figure out exactly what you need to spend to hit your goals before you move to plan organic projects. If there isn’t much to spend in the first place, organic might be more effective than paid.

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7. What can we do in-house and what do we need to outsource?

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Do you have capable designers, copywriters, videographers? Is anyone on the team good at TikTok? Are you skilled at building community and growing an audience, or do you need to bring in new talent?

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If you can’t clearly answer these questions for yourself, you’re not going to get buy-in from your boss.


Getting your budget approved every time

Start using weighted engagement metrics and you’ll start securing what you need every budget season.

The more you practice these data-driven budget planning techniques, the more your boss will trust you to create a strong budget proposal over time, the easier it becomes to get your budget approved every time. Start with hypotheses (Example: “Customer stories perform well on our Instagram account”), then validate those hypotheses through experimentation, with tracked metrics. Always, always measure the effectiveness of your strategies as you execute — gather more data to guide your future strategies and budgets.

The more data you have, the easier it is to make decisions — both for you, and for your boss.

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