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How to Set Social Media Goals That Will Move Your Marketing Forward

Oct 2, 2014 7 min readTips / How To
Photo of Kevan Lee
Kevan Lee

Former VP of Marketing @ Buffer

How do you know when spaghetti is ready to eat? Throw a noodle against a wall and see if it sticks.

It’s a super simple hack for Italian dinner night. It’s not such a great metaphor for social media goal-setting.

That being said, I have participated in more than my fair share of spaghetti strategy sessions, often times contributing to the “see what sticks” mentality with my suggested goals. It’s an area I’d be keen to improve.

Have you ever felt a bit unsure when coming up with goals for your social media marketing? Would it feel great to have a better grasp on what to aim for and how to get there?

I’d love to share what I’ve learned and what I’m trying.

Copy of Quick Wins Social Media (2)

Social Media Goals: How to Find an Intriguing Metric

An intriguing metric—even the name sounds like we’re headed down the right path!

An intriguing metric is unique in how it can directly relate to growth. There’re tons of metrics out there: followers, likes, clicks, impressions, etc. How do you know which social media metrics are worth pursuing as goals?

Here’s the test that we use at Buffer, thanks to some awesome advice from KISSmetrics cofounder Hiten Shah.

We view our metrics as fitting into one of four buckets:

  1. High traffic, low conversion
  2. Low traffic, high conversion
  3. High traffic, high conversion
  4. Low traffic, low conversion

The first two buckets are the ones where you’ll find the biggest opportunities for growth. Bucket No. 3 isn’t half bad either. Bucket No. 4 is best to be left alone.

intriguing metric

As an example, let’s say you are setting goals for your Twitter marketing. You have a huge number of impressions per post yet you aren’t seeing many clicks. You’ve got high traffic, low conversion. Your intriguing metric would be clicks.

Another example, let’s say you are setting goals for Facebook. Very few people see your posts, yet engagement percentage is super high. You’ve got low traffic, high conversion. Your intriguing metric would be reach.

Once we’ve got an intriguing metric, we move on to the next steps in our growth and goal-setting. But first, a quick aside.

Should your goal be a target number or a growth rate?

Let’s say you want to get more clicks on your tweets.

Do you set a goal to reach a click rate of 200 clicks per tweet?

Or do you set a goal to improve click rate by 10 percent every month?

The two ideas seem pretty close to one another, but there’s actually quite a big mindset change here. Growth rate continues on exponentially. A target is static.

Going back to our example from the previous section, let’s say you’ve set the growth rate for Twitter at 10 percent click growth per month. If you start at an average of 100 clicks per tweet, after one month you’d hope to be at 110 clicks per tweet. The next month, you’d want to improve another 10 percent, so your goal would be 121 clicks per tweet—a 10 percent improvement from 110. The following month, the goal rises another 10 percent based on the prior month’s rate of 121 clicks per tweet. In six months’ time, you will be aiming to go from 100 clicks per tweet to 176 clicks per tweet—with the growth rate continuing from there.

Targets are quite different. A target of 200 clicks per tweet might involve the same strategies for getting there as you’d use for growth rate. The big question becomes: What do you do when you reach the target?

Target goals lack the exponential, constant growth variable of a target rate. If you set a static target to reach, and if you reach it, then the onus is there to set a new target or to call it good and move on to the next project.

In both cases for target number and growth rate, you’re headed in the same direction; you’re just using different mindsets for goal-setting.

The 4 Pillars of Growth

4 Pillars for Growth

Finding an intriguing metric is the first stage of a four-part growth process we’ve been experimenting with at Buffer. Here’s how each of the four stages breaks down.

1. Metrics

Find an intriguing metric (see above).

2. Hypothesis

In many cases, this might be an educated guess. If the intriguing metric is growing your Facebook reach, your hypothesis might be to rearrange your posting schedule.

All hypotheses should fit this basic mold:

If ____, then ___ due to _____

Don’t scrimp on the “due to” part; it’s super important!

We’ve found that the “due to” part is most helpful when it’s informed by data or customer feedback. For instance, if we were to have an idea about changing our posting schedule to grow Facebook reach, we might want to pull numbers from Facebook insights and poll readers about how and when they visit our page. Then, our hypothesis might look like this.

If we post to Facebook at off-peak hours, then reach will increase due to lower competition in the news feed and our fans’ desire for entertaining content in the evening.

3. Experiment

Run an A/B test, and try to find statistical significance.

We’ve covered the idea of A/B tests before. Basically, you’ll want to have a control group (what you’re doing now) and an experiment group (what you wish to try). Test any differences with as few other changing variables as possible. For instance, if you’re going to change the timing of posts, you’d want to avoid posting different types of updates outside the norm (e.g., photos versus text).

For statistical significance, HubSpot has an A/B test calculator, and the website Get Data Driven has a useful tool for calculating as well.

Both calculators work the same way.

  1. Enter the number of attempts at the test (visits, views, etc.)
  2. Enter the number of successes (conversions, clicks, etc.)

The calculators will do the rest.

statistical significance

(Statistical significance is quite the detailed topic. Technically-speaking, it is the low probability that you’ll achieve at least as extreme results given that a null hypothesis is true. Put another way, it is the certainty that a particular experiment will indeed work on a larger scale.)

4. Act

Did the test work? If so, turn it on for everyone.

If not, then you can go back to the drawing board and try out another test.

How to follow up on a goal

We’ve recently undertaken an exciting new project management style where each of us at Buffer take ownership over different areas. We set our own goals and take responsibility for seeing them through.

One way that we’ve found to follow-up on these goals is to track every big decision with a template of sorts.

Here’s what a current version looks like:


A brief description of where we want to head and what might get us there.

If ___ then ___ due to ___


Some factors that go into the decision where advice would be helpful.

Factor 1
Factor 2
Factor 3
Factor 4
Factor 5


Any feedback, suggestions or learnings from teammates or advisors.

Decision: (Date)

What was ultimately decided.

Review: (Date)

Any learnings, thoughts, or challenges after the decision was made.

Another neat way I’ve come across for tracking social media goals and experiments is via to-do list apps like Trello. Rob Sobers detailed out a template for organizing growth initiatives with a Trello board. One of my favorite parts of Rob’s template is the way he stays on top of his goals. Each task card includes a reminder of the intriguing metric, the goal, and the hypothesis.

trello template

Keeping the goal and the hypothesis front and center during this process seems like a great way to go. Whether that’s in an external document or a Trello card, the benefit here seems to be that the goal and the rationale are never far from mind.

Is there value in setting no goals?

Here’s a rather radical way to think about goal-setting: Don’t set any goals.

I’ve known a number of successful individuals who achieved great things without ever setting goals. How’d they pull it off?

Regardless of goals, they set out to improve and grow, and they were determined to do great things.

Let’s say that we want to really push the needle on Facebook reach and engagement for our page. I can come up with five or 10 hypotheses about what might work, and I can put all my effort into making these happen. Would the final outcome change if there were a target number or a growth metric to aim for?

For some people, it wouldn’t. There may not need to be a specific goal in mind for them to keep pursuing excellence.

This topic was the subject of a fun debate between Tim Ferriss and Leo Babauta, each of whom come at goal-setting from a different perspective. Perhaps in watching the video you’ll find yourself leaning one way or another.


How do you set goals for your social media marketing?

I’m definitely still learning the best methods and styles for goal-setting on our many areas here at Buffer. The system we’re using now feels great. I’d love to know your thoughts on it, too. Please do share any ideas or questions in the comments.

And if you’re working on your own social media marketing goals, Buffer can help you drive traffic and engagement as well as measure how you’re doing. Sign up for free and give it a try!

Image credits: Death to the Stock Photo, Magnus Helding, Paomedia

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