Everyone's hungry for data. That's especially true when it comes to social media.
There are plenty of free management and analytics tools to get you started as you get a handle on tracking and benchmarking your brand's social initiatives. Even Twitter, for example, put forth an offering of its own by opening up its analytics last year to users, for free.
Native analytics might not cover everything you need, but they're worth exploring.
"One of the major reasons I advocate getting comfortable in native analytics is because every third-party tool has their own definitions for their proprietary metrics," said Annalise Kaylor, social media director at Atlanta-based Sixthman. "How one defines 'engagement' is not the same as another, and certainly almost always slightly different from the actual definition of either Facebook or Twitter themselves."
For April Wilson, president of Digital Analytics 101 for example, she defines engagement as the percent people who comment, like, or share content, divided by the number reached.
Eitherway, engagement is that golden metric marketer are trying to tease out of their data and then leverage for future success.
"[Facebook shares and Twitter retweets] are most telling because they show you how many people found the content compelling enough to pass along - which is generally a strong endorsement," said Gartner analyst Martin Kihn.
Here are five things you should know about Twitter's built-in analytics.
Export the data
"First, ignore the pretty GUI they have in their tool and just export the data directly into Excel," said Wilson said. Exporting the information into a spreadsheet gives you the bare data.
According to Kaylor, it can also surface a metric not immediately obvious — the negative feedback.
"Too often, organizations are only looking at indicators that imply growth, like engagement, likes, or shares. Third-party tools tend to focus on those same metrics, as well, instead of also showing which types of posts are content are hindering the page, too," Kaylor said.
If a brand has noticed a drop in engagement, learning which posts are commonly hidden or reported can help determine what type of content is leading the brand strategy awry. Also, if a fan has muted a brand, then that person is lost to them unless they voluntarily remember to check the page, Kaylor said.
You're only seeing your accounts
When you use native analytics, it's important to remember you're only viewing your brand's information. While some third party analytics platforms can pull in information about competitors to help track and benchmark, the native view is a bit more limited. Monitoring a competitor and the conversation around them can be a complicated, laborious process without a tool.
So, that is something to consider in in determining whether built-in analytics are enough for your your brand.
"You can't use Facebook or Twitter itself to easily pull all the public posts about your brand that aren't on your own feeds, are on networks you don't use (like maybe Pinterest) or are about your competitors or industry trends," Kihn said.
Checkout impressions versus retweets
On the main page of Twitter's analytics, you can see a count of how many impressions each tweet has gotten. This number needs a bit more context, though. Kihn said to look at impressions versus retweets.
"This gives you an estimate of what percentage of your audience engaged in a meaningful way," he said.
He also said to look at the posts individually, and then pick out the trends that emerge that are true for your audience.
"Take into account their individual attributes and build up a picture of which attributes drive higher engagement," Kihn said. "'Attributes' are a fancy data science way of saying tags or labels — time of day, day of week, type of post (image, video, text, link), length of post (short or long). If you line up these labels with your engagement ratio, you will quickly see patterns emerging."
Don't forget the follower tab
In case you haven't sufficiently clicked around, there's a "followers" tab in Twitter's built-in analytics in the top left portion of the screen. This tab gives you a few useful stats on who is in your audience.
Aside from a gender breakdown, and information on location based on cities, states, and countries. Wilson said this info is most useful if you're a local business or planning a local campaign. You can also see percentages of "most unique interests' (things like "marketing" or "business and finance") as well as "top interests" ("tech news" or "politics," perhaps).
Twitter's analytics also gives you percentages on who else your followers follow. All this information put together gives you a sense for who you're talking to when you're on social media, and how you can better tailor your posts.
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.