There are a lot of social media platforms available to communicate to and converse with your users: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn being a few of the big examples. Just like any online medium for communicating with people, the data it generates offers you opportunities to learn more about them.
Social media can very quickly give you plenty of quantitative data in the form of things like follows, likes, reactions, retweets, etc. A lot of companies will have one or more people watching these numbers to determine the success of campaigns and reactions to content.
It also provides a place to gather more qualitative feedback from individuals in the shape of comments, praise, and complaints. In both the qualitative and quantitative cases it’s easy to lose the signal amongst the noise, so you need a plan for digging through it all.
Just as there are lots of social media platforms there are also many tools for measuring impact. If you’re putting social content out daily it’s worth signing up to one of these in order to track your social performance (see tools below). Of course how you measure success on social media should be tightly related to what you are using it for.
However as a UX designer marketing metrics on their own don’t do much to help you understand your audience. In terms of gathering evidence of behaviour, social media can be better as another source of unfiltered user opinion and feedback.
Are people complaining about features or bugs on your website? Are people reacting (positively or negatively) to the titles of articles you post? Are people praising or telling of frustrations with a service? You should have a system to record the repeated ones, and combine them with other user feedback, to use when redesigning.
It can also be a good starting place to discover real-world problems people have that you otherwise weren’t aware of, as you can be sure people will moan about them online. For example if you’re looking to improve airport parking, then a search for that term along with words like ‘annoyed’ or ‘stressed’ will throw up plenty of real life problems. You can then take these specifics and research them further by surveying or interviewing more people.
Be careful not to track vanity metrics—defined as numbers that don’t help you improve your product. If you're trying to promote an article then the meaningful action would be clicks though to read it. It doesn’t matter how many likes and retweets you get if no one actually sees the content.
Social media is full of noise and it's easy to think things are going well just because there is a lot of activity. It’s easy to convince yourself that having loads of followers is a big success but they are far from the same thing as active uses or paying customers. It’s a better idea to tie this to your website analytics and track how many of those followers are going on to visit your site.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that what people say on social media is not necessarily the same as what they actually do. Take feedback on these platforms with a pinch of salt. It’s such an easy, low friction way to communicate that people can say things just to fill their timelines.
In addition the default on social media is for people to move to the extremes (like saying they’re super happy or very angry) and you tend to get much more negative emotions than you would from people on a phone call. If a user is complaining, try to move them to a more nuanced channel for feedback, where you can get to the bottom of their issue.
There are a lot of options for tracking social performance and I’ve only dabbled with a couple of them. Buffer (for decent analytics it starts at $99/mo) helps you learn what time of day your posts work and shows quant reaction data for each one. Hootsuite (from $25/mo) allows you to manage a dashboard of different social feeds and see analytics and reports on performance.
For finding comments you can always just use the search tools on social sites, which vary in quality. If you use Facebook and Twitter adverts you gain access a lot of demographic data on users who engage, which can help you learn more about your audience.
To just check social accounts for feedback and comments can be done in an hour a week.