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That’s awesome, but by itself, the number of people who like your brand’s Facebook page is pretty much meaningless. In the marketing business, it’s called a “vanity metric,” something that might boost the ego of people in the corner offices but that doesn’t really tell you how your business is doing. By focusing only on vanity metrics, businesses are at risk of feeling like they are succeeding without knowing anything about what is actually driving results.

You need to measure what matters when it comes to online marketing.

You could run a Facebook promotion to “buy” likes for your page, and if you throw enough money at it you will reach a reasonably large number of followers. But if those likes don’t translate into engagement, and more importantly, sales, then that impressive number doesn’t really matter. The same goes for your Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and other social media pages.

The number of people who follow your brand is largely meaningless to the success of your company. A thousand engaged, active social media followers who believe in your brand and buy your product is much more valuable than 100,000 followers who clicked “Like” once and then never came back.

Yet building a robust social media following is mission critical for many businesses, particularly those that sell a product online. Having a large, engaged following means you own your audience, and you don’t need to pay a publisher or ad platform to rent the audience you want to reach.

We’ve written before about establishing the right Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for a social media program. But going beyond social media KPIs is also important.

After all, there is only one reason to do marketing – to support sales.

Without sales of your product or service, well, you won’t be in business very long. So how do you measure what matters when it comes to both social media marketing and online advertising like display ads, sponsored content or SEM?

The key is to establish “actionable” metrics.

These are metrics that reflect how a business is doing relative to its overall objectives. They allow you to measure how marketing tactics drive sales, and they allow you to experiment to optimize your results. Vanity metrics are often “top of the funnel” indicators – you need to move toward the bottom of the sales funnel to find more actionable metrics.

If a social media post drove someone to your website, what did they do while they were there? If you are selling online, the ultimate measure is of course sales. That opens up a range of very useful KPIs including customer acquisition cost and customer lifetime value. Selling online will also allow you to get a clear sense of your return on marketing spend.

Not every business sells online but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have clear conversion metrics. Go beyond the number of users or pageviews and go deeper into customer behaviour – did they visit multiple pages, watch a video, book a demo, download an ebook, sign up for your email, and so forth. While these aren’t perfect, they are more indicative of engagement than someone who simply came to one page on your site.

There are new ways emerging to measure online to offline attribution which are equally imperfect. But watch for this to improve dramatically in coming years.

Every business will be different, but establishing formal conversion metrics is key – you need to get that customer or prospect to do something that promotes engagement. Use Google URL builders and Google Analytics to define several conversion metrics for your marketing campaigns that make sense for your business. Then assess them to find out what tactics work best for your business.

Do that and you will be well on your way to measuring what matters to your business.

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