Social data has become a critical source of strategic insights for businesses of every size and industry. Whether you’re measuring brand health, benchmarking against competitors, or assessing market opportunities, social data provides real-time consumer insights that no other data source can provide.

Social data stands to have a monumental impact on businesses—but only if marketers start tapping into its potential now. Most (89%) executives agree their company’s success will depend on how effectively it can use social data to inform marketing strategy, according to research conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of Sprout Social But currently, only 55% of marketers use social data to understand their target audience, 32% to analyze trends and 10% to inform business decisions, demonstrating that there is still a huge opportunity for improvement.

In this article, we’ll break down best practices for measuring both your earned and your owned social data, how you can use this comprehensive perspective to inform strategy decisions across the business, and how you can do it all with a tool like Sprout.

What is owned and earned data?

When assessing your social data, you need to evaluate the full spectrum of earned and owned data. Owned data measures the performance of content you publish across your brand’s social profiles. This includes both organic content that you create, as well as paid content that you sponsor, promote or pay for. While your owned data serves as a critical input for your social strategy, it’s not telling you the whole story.

To get an accurate picture of your performance, you also need to assess your earned data. Earned data quantifies the larger conversations and trends happening across social, in relation to your audience or brand. Earned data provides important cultural context to help you understand the “why” behind your performance and how your brand fits into the larger picture. Using social listening tools, you can better understand what your audience is talking about, what they care about and how they feel about your brand.

How to measure owned data

The first step is evaluating your organic data, or the performance of social content that you publish from your brand’s social profiles, across all of your networks. Key metrics here include impressions, engagements and click-throughs. You’ll also want to measure overall audience growth to ensure you’re increasing your followers at a healthy rate.

As you dig into your organic data, there are various ways to slice the numbers to get a deeper and more focused understanding of your performance.

Assess performance by network

Every network has its own unique audience, tone of voice and “culture.” You could say that (in general) Twitter is more focused on pithy, short-form comments or conversations with a real-time cadence, while LinkedIn is focused on quality, long-form content targeted to a business-minded audience. These differences impact how you should approach content strategy and how you should interpret your performance metrics.

In addition to our cross-network reports, Sprout also provides network-level reports so you can get that more granular view across each individual network. You can view daily performance or evaluate trends over a longer period of time. Evaluating at the network level can help you understand which audiences you’re resonating with and why, and help you identify where you should be investing more effort going forward.

sprout profile performance report

Dig into the details at the profile or post-level

Digging into individual profiles and post performance can provide illuminating insights into what’s working—and what isn’t. Looking back at content that performed particularly well (or poorly) and assessing the details (e.g., the topic, format or hashtag) can help guide smarter content creation.

Sprout’s Post Performance Report pulls the top posts (across every network) for a given time period by engagement, giving you a way to identify patterns in what grabs your audiences’ attention.

Analyze by content type or topic category

On that note, breaking down your data by category or content type is essential to optimizing your content strategy and performance. For example, you might notice that video content performs significantly higher than other formats, which could help justify a larger production budget for your content team. Or you might notice that a certain topic, such as a product launch or industry conference, is getting more traction than others, and you can adjust your content strategy accordingly.

Sprout’s tagging feature makes this type of analysis easy. Using tags, you can categorize your content in a way that makes sense for your business. For example, you could use tags for specific product lines, sentiment scores or customer care, and use the Tag Performance Report to track the results.

sprout tag report

Benchmark against competitors

It’s not enough to measure yourself in a silo. You need to benchmark your performance to contextualize the impact social media has on your business. One of the simplest ways to do this is by evaluating the social performance of your biggest competitors against your own. Metrics like follower size and growth are easy to compare at a glance and can give you a sense of where you stand. Sprout’s Competitor Reports allow you to monitor your competitor’s performance across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Parse your paid performance 

Many marketers know how effective paid social media can be in boosting the reach and impact of your social posts. And with more dollars going towards these efforts, it’s important to measure your ROI both at a high-level and for each social network. Sprout’s Cross-Network Paid Performance Report provides a comprehensive overview for your paid performance across Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also dig into the details with our network-level paid performance reports. Premium Analytics customers can customize the data to compare your organic and paid performance in one integrated report.

sprout paid performance report

How to measure earned data

The next step in measuring social media’s impact on your business can be accomplished through social listening. Listening has become increasingly important as executives turn to social for real-time insights about their brand, customers and competitors. This earned data complements your owned data, helping you understand the cultural context and the “why” behind your social performance.

Measure brand health

One of the most popular use cases for social listening is measuring your brand health. Using Sprout’s Listening tool, you can evaluate several important metrics to understand where your brand stands:

  • Measure how many times your brand or brand-related keywords or hashtags (products, events, etc.) are mentioned in larger conversations
  • Compare your share of voice against other competitors and products
  • Learn how your audience feels about your brand using sentiment analysis
  • Get to know your audience on a deeper level with demographic information such as age, gender, device type and geographic location

Gather competitive intelligence

Measuring brand health may be the most popular application of social listening, but there are a myriad of other ways you can use earned data to glean powerful business insights. Another highly common use case is competitive intelligence. According to the Sprout Social Index™, Edition XVII: Accelerate, 90% of marketers agree that data from social enables them to stay ahead of their competitors, and 86% say they use competitor insights from social to identify new business opportunities.

sprout share of voice report

Sprout’s listening tool provides out-of-the-box templates for brand health and competitive intelligence topics, along with templates for industry insights, campaign analysis and event monitoring, making it as simple as possible for you to pull the insights that matter for your business goals.

Identify industry influencers or partners

You can also use earned data to uncover industry influencers who have clout with your audience (and could become valuable partners in extending your reach).

The NFL Players Association, for example, uses listening data and their owned analytics to track the impact of campaigns with critical partners like Lowes. “If one player’s post is surging, we’ll dig deeper to understand why. Maybe it was the time of day that they posted or the number of followers they have,” said Kasidee Karsten, Social Media and Content Manager for the NFLPA.

“Being able to share metrics and insights with stakeholders in our organization, our partners and the players is a win-win for everyone. We’re constantly learning from our efforts, which emboldens our collective strategy and strengthens our partner relationships.”

These examples provide a small glimpse into how you can apply earned data to your social strategy. It builds on your owned data, illuminating new insights, feedback and opportunities that brands may miss if you’re only paying attention to your owned social strategy.

Karri Carlson, co-founder at social media agency Leadtail, believes communicating these insights is the key to elevating the role of social in your organization. “Social media managers need to focus on the real opportunity they have to see social data as the key that unlocks. Instead of saying ‘I know what the customers want,’ you need to show the data,” says Carlson. “Social data tells you what people care about, in relation to and beyond your brand, and who is shaping that option. When you bring that data back to your stakeholders, that’s when you have a real say in business strategy.”

Unlock the full power of social data

Individually, owned and earned data are essential inputs for your social strategy. Together, they paint a complete picture that helps you understand the “why” behind social performance and the “what if?” opportunities to elevate your strategy.

To unlock the full power of social data, you need to share these insights with your stakeholders in a clear, digestible way. Sprout’s Premium Analytics feature enables you to create custom reports, so you can pick and choose the metrics that matter to specific stakeholders and teams, and send them via shareable link or pdf. As of August 2021, Premium Analytics users can now include key Listening metrics (such as engagement, impressions and sentiment) within your custom analytics report so you can see your earned and owned data in one place.

If you’re interested in learning more about how social data can elevate your business strategy, click here to request a demo from a Sprout representative. If you’re already a Sprout customer, reach out to your representative for access to a demo or free trial experience for both Premium Analytics and Listening.