Skip to main content

You are here


The 3 Styles of Social Media KPIs

Social Media

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are a core component of measuring your business objectives. They’re often viewed as critical mileposts of success as specific KPI targets are both set and achieved. Before you establish which KPIs you’re going to track in your social media activities, however, it’s important to know the three styles of them—the KPI “buckets,” if you will. They are:

  • Zero-Sum Games
  • Collectibles
  • High-Water Marks

Zero-Sum Games

There can only be one winner for this metric. “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” Ricky Bobby would remind us. 

This means that one person’s gain is the equivalent to another’s loss. It’s common in sports (one winner, one loser) and in business as a whole. An example of this style of KPI is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking. If you’re not showing up first for your ideal keyword or key phrase, someone else is. And if you want to take over first place, you need to displace them by taking a competitive approach. Find the leader in your space, identify what is setting them apart, and incorporate those tactics into your strategies. Setting the zero-sum expectations at this point gives you the opportunity to truly see your progress and reach that No. 1 spot. 

What happens if you accomplish this goal? You’ll be proud and a party will ensue. But then you’ll have a bullseye on your back. Once you’re ranked first for something, everyone will be coming after you.

When tracking zero-sum game-style metrics, it’s important to begin with the end in mind and ask yourself this question: “If we take over first place, then what? And what if we lose first place at some point? What will we do then? Will we feel bad if we lose that ranking? Or will we feel inspired to take back the title of first place?”

We need to be proud about what we have accomplished. If we no longer have the trophy, what do we do?  


This style of KPI is one that’s set up to grow continuously. Unlike Zero-Sum Games, however, this KPI can be set up for you to win again and again. How? Let’s use the example of social media followers.

If you’re active (i.e., producing content and engaging in conversations) on social media, your follower count will start to grow steadily. While it’s natural for some of your followers to unfollow you for myriad reasons, your net followers will be positive month after month. What does a steadily growing chart result in? Feelings of power. 

An upward trending chart every month is a great way to give yourself credit for your work. Since the follower count graph will increase each month you take a snapshot, that feeling of power will also result in confidence—an affirmation of a job well done. 

If your follower growth is stalling on a platform, what’s an easy fix? Just add another. If you’re only on LinkedIn and Facebook now, add Twitter. Or Instagram, Pinterest, Clubhouse, YouTube, or any number of other channels. 

These social media channels differ from each other and cannot be lumped into a single category. Twitter has different audiences and functions than TikTok, TikTok than LinkedIn, and so on. When deciding to add a social channel, the decision needs to be predicated on your clients and your competition. Evaluate whether your clients are active on the channel and/or your competitors have a strong foothold before choosing where to place your efforts.

Read more commentary by Spencer X Smith here

While having a powerful presence on an immense number of channels may be enticing, it’s not always practical. An excellent place to start would be to identify channels you don’t wish to join and place those on your “not-doing list” with as much confidence as the ones you are targeting. When attempting to improve indicators like follower count, it comes down to recognizing where to direct your attention.

Collectibles help us feel good about having a following for the content we create, so make sure you’re concentrating both time and effort on this feel-good style of KPI. 

High-Water Marks

This style of KPI is the trickiest of the three. Why? These measures, by definition, can only grow so far before naturally retreating. Like an ocean wave or the water level of a lake, they can’t grow indefinitely. 

An example here is website visitors. Let’s say you start a campaign to improve traffic to your site. The first month into a campaign, and maybe for several months following, you’ll see the number of visitors rise and rise. At this point, however, it’s important to begin tempering expectations. Eventually, you’ll have one month in which that visitor count drops. Then what should you do? What if your main determinant of success is website visitors? 

Each high-water mark KPI is constrained by design, and it’s important to consider this when building this style of metric. Instead of just designing high-water mark KPIs that are aggregates, consider subsets.

For example, in addition to website visitors as a whole, consider tracking stats for specific pages or posts. Maybe you start a campaign initiative for a specific line of business or area of practice. Make sure you show the before and after snapshots of the campaigns, and also set expectations for that number to both rise (during the campaign) and fall (at the conclusion of the campaign). 

Instead of setting yourself up for an eventual down month by using an aggregate number like website visitors, campaigns that focus on a given high-water mark will give you the feeling of progress. Like the Collectibles style of KPI, feelings of progress instill confidence in your initiatives. That power will spill into future campaigns and encourage trust within your team. 

When building your next set of Key Performance Indicators, first consider these three buckets— Zero-Sum Games, Collectibles and High-Water Marks. First decide which style of KPI you’d like to track, then understand how it will eventually make you feel, and only then pick the proper metric. 

This three-style framework will help you make better business decisions.

Spencer X Smith is the founder of AmpliPhi Social Media Strategies. He’s a former 401(k) wholesaler, and now teaches financial services professionals how to use social media for business development. This column originally appeared in the Fall issue of NAPA Net the Magazine.