Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Three Levels of Digital Media Metrics

Posted on | April 17, 2013 | No Comments

As the web transforms both user and institutional practices across the digital media sphere, the search for useful metrics intensifies. Traditional techniques for measuring eyeballs and eardrums for television and radio are insufficient in an environment where digital technologies offer so much more in terms of interaction and transaction capabilities. Social media has increasingly embedded itself into the fabric of both profit and nonprofit organizations as senior management recognition of its importance has led to increased budget allocations for staff, technology, data collection and advanced analytics. As the Internet becomes more complex, mobile, and socially-oriented – understanding how your digital media is doing and contributing to organizational objectives becomes more complicated – but also extremely valuable.

So what are the metrics we should be planning to use and looking to analyze? This is not a simple question to answer, but I want to approach it by referencing two books that I used in my undergraduate classes, Social Networking and Digital Analytics: Social Media Metrics: Secrets by John Lovett and Digital Impact: The Two Secrets to Online Marketing Success by Vipin Mayar and Geoff Ramsey. (I guess we are in the unlocking secrets phase of digital media) Both of these books construct a hierarchy of digital media metrics as well as address many other issues such as metrics for mobile, search, and online video. I draw on both as I grapple with my own understanding of a priority system for measuring digital media.

These metrics can be roughly organized into three levels:

1) At a fundamental level, social media metrics involve counting simple, short-term actions like check-ins, tweets, likes, impressions, visits, numbers of followers, click-through rates, etc. They measure the immediate impact of an action or a campaign and can provide some simple but useful diagnostic numbers to gauge effectiveness. In general they provide more tactical information and can also include less quantifiable involvement such as reviews and feedback.

John Lovett in the video below warns against an overemphasis on counting metrics and encourages collecting and evaluating metrics from a more strategic approach.[1]

2) At another level you can start to determine and measure more strategic calculations that provide both benchmark numbers for future analysis or for evaluating a campaign in progress. These strategic measures provide more context for your numbers and give more insights into the actions of your audience. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)are metrics that help identify and support others that advocate for your brand, share your content and widgets as well as influence others in your key target markets.[2] Key strategic metrics include engagement, conversation volume, sentiment ratios, conversion rates, end action rates, and brand perception lifts.

3) At a “higher” level are the metrics that relate to organizational sustainability. These include financial metrics that measure return on investment (ROI) and efficiencies such as cost per fan/tweet/post/vote, etc.[3] They connect to key concerns about the financial and legal risks involved in digital media activities and acknowledge the importance of social media across the range of corporate or non-profit organizational objectives that involve legal, human resources, as well as advertising and marketing activities. They are of particular concern to upper management who want to see the connections from social media to product development, service innovation, policy changes, market share, election votes and/or stock market value.

Like most analytics, the metrics of digital media require the production of meaningful connection and context to be valuable. Wall Street stock prices became significantly more interesting after Charles Henry Dow and Edward Jones started to chart trends over time in the Dow-Jones Industrial Average (DJIA). Likewise, the number of social mentions or Tweets become more meaningful when tracked over time and perhaps correlated with campaign events. Metrics in general need to be tied to specific goals and objectives to be useful and not all the results are likely to be tied to bottom-line results.

The three levels of digital and social media metrics mentioned above are part of a process of producing valuable information to understand the effectiveness and success of campaigns, products, and services as well as their contributions to organizational sustainability.


[1] I highly recommend John Lovett’s (2011) Social Media Metrics Secrets John Wiley and Sons.
[2] Strategic metrics include both metrics and key performance indicators which Lovett characterizes respectively as the dataflow or “lifeblood” and the “vital signs” of digital analytics such as pulse and temperature.
[3] Another important book I use is Digital Impact: The Two Secrets to Online Marketing Success by Vipin Mayar and Geoff Ramsey. It has a useful perspective on financial metrics and particularly ROI.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is the Professor of Global Media at Hannam University in South Korea. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas and was on the faculty of New York University from 2002-2012. He also taught at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and was a Fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii in the 1990s.


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    Professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea since 2016. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, digital economics, and strategic communications.

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