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Social Media

Social Media Glossary: Working Definitions & How to Use Them


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Editor’s note: This blog has been updated in May 2020.

In order to reach your digital marketing goals, you have to know your analytics. If you’ve worked with us, you’ve heard us call ourselves translators.

At the start of every project we work on, we ask our clients what their goals are. These usually sound something like:

  • I want more sales or new clients from my website
  • I want my brand to be seen more
  • I want more foot traffic

These goals are useful to have in mind, but “more” isn’t actually helpful when it comes to setting goals, creating a results-driven strategy, and meeting expectations. When these “more” goals come up in our kickoff meetings at the start of a project, we put our experience to work and translate them into quantifiable goals. This is incredibly important for every project. It keeps everyone on the same page (nothing is subjective), allows us to create an ambitious and realistic strategy, and the ability to create milestones and a timeline for reaching these goals.

If you want to understand the metrics in reports you’ve received from us or your other social media consultants, then refer to our social media glossary below. It will help bring some transparency and understanding of your social media efforts. We’ve broken them down into two different categories: social media and website.

To skip ahead, feel free to click on any of these and jump right to the metric you want:



Social Media Terms

“I want my brand to be seen by more people”

If you’re trying to measure how many people are seeing your content or how many times your content is actually being seen, then you’re going to want to pay attention to the reach and impressions metrics.

Reach (General)

The number of people who have seen your page or content.

Impressions (General)

The number of times your page or content has been seen. There are actually a few different types of reach and impressions metrics.

Organic Impressions

The number of times your page or content has been seen without paid advertising

Viral Impressions

The number of times your page or content has been seen because someone else (perhaps an influencer, fan, etc) mentioned your page in content of their own, engaged with your content by reacting or commenting, or sharing your content.

Paid Impressions

The number of times your page or content has been seen because of paid advertising on the platform you’re using.

“I want my social media content to resonate with people”

If your priority is to build trust with your audience (this should definitely be a priority!) and measure the effectiveness of your social media content, then you should be paying close attention to your engagements and engagement rate. Engagement rate is one of my favorite metrics and I think one of the most useful.


An engagement is any time someone takes action on your post. Depending on your platform, engagements may include comments, likes or “reactions”, and shares or retweets.

Note: A reaction is Facebook’s new-ish term for the old school Like. Previously, Facebook users only had one way to easily engage with a post. This was the simple “Like”. Facebook users and developers alike determined that one option was not enough for the endless types of posts that were being created. For example, if someone posted about a pet passing away, many felt it wasn’t appropriate to “Like” this content, but still wanted a way to quickly show support and sympathy. Cue reactions. We now have a variety of options to go with the old “Like” button – heart, happy face, sad face, etc.

Engagement Rate

The percentage of people that have engaged in the total number of people who have seen your content. Engagement rate is a super important metric to review to see how your content is performing. Visibility is great, but unless people are engaging, they are not buying your product or hiring you. No engagements = no website clicks or website sales.

To calculate your engagement rate:

The Number of Engaged Users/Reach

It is important not to use impressions in this calculation because you’re trying to figure out the percentage of PEOPLE who engage. Remember, reach is the number of people who have seen your content or page and impressions are the number of times your content or page has been seen. Someone could see your content or page multiple times, which is why your impressions are always (in our experience) greater than the reach.

Also important to know is that people, agencies, and analytics software companies, calculate engagement rates in different ways. If you’re crossing platforms or using different software, make sure they are calculated the same before making comparisons.


This metric comes in handy when you’re investing a little extra cash into things like sponsored content or even influencer marketing.

To calculate your cost-per-engagement:

Total Cost of Service or Goods Invested/Number of Engagements

When you calculate this, you can then determine if your investment was too expensive for the cost or if it was cost-effective and you should repeat the effort. I like to keep my influencer cost per engagement metric to $0.50 or lower. This means that if I hire an influencer to create an Instagram campaign for $600, I am going to expect at least 1,200 engagements on my client’s sponsored content. If I work with an influencer and our cost per engagement is around this mark and we meet our goals, then I will happily hire the influencer again.

Pro-Tip: Before you hire influencers, take a look at their post comments and engagements to make sure that it is comparable to the number of followers they have. I also look for meaningful conversations in the comments. If someone has over 40k followers on Instagram, but there are only 6 comments on a post, then that’s a red flag that they either bought followers or their following really doesn’t care about what their posting and won’t care about your brand’s product if you work with them. More on this in another blog post… stay tuned.

Click-Through Rate

Similar to engagement rate, click-through rate is the percentage of people who have seen your content and have clicked through to your website or whatever landing page your post is attempting to drive them to. This metric is useful so that you can determine which content you’re creating drives the most web traffic. For most of us, new clients and customers start on our website. More web traffic generally means more opportunities for more sales and leads.

There are so many more metrics we could include here but chose to start with these top tier ones. If there’s anything you’d like us to add, go ahead and write them in the comments and we’ll update this blog post as we receive them!

Website Analytics Terms

For most businesses, your website holds all of the money-making opportunities like web sales, lead forms for new clients, and email subscribers. If you’re using a tool like Google Analytics, then at a minimum, you’re going to want to make sure you understand what the metrics in the “Acquisition” menu are so that you know where your traffic is coming from and what social media platforms are most useful to you. In this blog, we’ll go over the most comment metrics in the “Channels” section of the “Acquisition” menu.


This is your web traffic from search engines. If you click on “Organic” from the “Channels” section, you can see the keywords that are bringing traffic to your website. Unfortunately, this keyword list isn’t very insightful because it’ll only show you keywords from people who are viewing your site and not logged into their Gmail account. Gmail protects its users from its own platform (Google Analytics) and if someone is logged into their Gmail account while they’re searching the web (most everyone), then their specific keyword will not get listed. This is why you see “(no data)” as one of the keywords listed. Google Search Console is the place you’ll want to look to find what keywords are bringing people to your website. It’s a free tool that connects seamlessly with your Google Analytics account.


Referral traffic is any web traffic from another website to yours. For example, if you were speaking at a conference and they listed you on the conference site with your website link, then you would probably start seeing an increase in referral traffic. If you click on “Referral” from the “Channels” section, you can see what specific websites are bringing you traffic.

I love this section. It’s an excellent way to find press about your company that you didn’t know existed or even to develop new partnerships with other brands and websites. If I see that a site is writing about Potluck and linking to our site, but I don’t know them, I’ll reach out to thank them and try to further the relationship if appropriate. This section is also useful for tracking your influencer and submissions to publications marketing efforts. I recommend checking for new referral traffic monthly so that you don’t miss out on any unexpected opportunities.


Paid traffic is exactly what it sounds like – web traffic from paid advertising. This could include paid social media or Google AdWords. There are two important things to note here.

  1. Paid Social Media efforts are not tracked in the “Social” section of the “Channels” area. They are added here under Paid and lumped in with your other paid efforts.
  2. This is why it’s incredibly important to track your paid ads and differentiate them with things like UTM codes (more on UTM codes in another blog post). We prefer Google’s URL Builder tool since it plays so nicely with Google Analytics.


Direct social media traffic, in its true sense, happens if someone types in your exact URL and goes to your site or copies and pastes it into their browser. Essentially, this happens when there are no hyperlinks to click on.

There are a few reasons your Direct traffic might be high:

  • If your brand is pretty popular and recognized. For example, many of us habitually type into our browsers every week without needing a hyperlink to direct us on how to get to the website.
  • If you run a print ad with a simple URL. People will receive the print, then can type in the URL you’ve advertised on your ad.
  • You haven’t set up a filter on your Google Analytics property and you’re tracking yourself and your office’s web traffic to your own website. In an effort to get accurate analytics, you should definitely set up this filter. Here’s how to block yourself from analytics to get accurate web data.
  • Dark social, see below.

Dark Social

Dark Social sounds scary, but this number is actually good!

It is a marketing term that covers web traffic from social messengers, native social media mobile apps, email, and chat. Traffic from these sources are generally categorized as “Direct Traffic” in Google Analytics, but should actually be categorized as social media traffic.

Dark Social is important to pay attention to because it is showing you that your social efforts are actually more effective than Google Analytics’ Channel categories are actually leading on.

More on Dark Social and how to filter it here, if you’re curious.


This section tracks your web traffic from social media platforms. If you click on “Social” from the “Channels” section, you can see which platforms are providing the most traffic. For example, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

To Note: This section doesn’t distinguish between web traffic from your own social media content and content that other people posted with a link to your website. This is why it’s always good to pull your Post Level data from Facebook, Twitter, or whatever platform you’re using to drive traffic to your site. On top of this, you’ll probably want to utilize links with UTM parameters in your social media content so that you can customize them and determine your own social traffic vs others’.


This section tracks your web traffic from promotional emails sent through platforms like MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc. Like the social metric, it does not distinguish between your own emails and traffic from someone else’s promotional email unless you set up further tracking. If you’re using MailChimp, you’ll want to utilize their “Google Analytics link tracking” feature to add a campaign UTM parameter to all of your email links. This way you will be able to determine traffic from your own emails and which ones performed best. You can also use links with UTM parameters in your email setup on any platform.

Well, there you have it!

As we mentioned above, if you don’t see a metric in our social media glossary that you need to be explained, go ahead and write in the comments below and we’ll update this blog post with the missing information.

Found this social media glossary useful? Bookmark it for later use and share to your own social media to share the love. Thanks!

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