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3 Ways to Grow Your Business With Free Social Media Analytics Social media is about the long game and does require thoughtful planning, but there's no need to break the bank for in-depth analysis and strategy-building.

By Natalie O’Grady Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

JGI | Tom Grill | Getty Images

You know your business needs to be on social media, but are your efforts contributing to sales?

Eighty-six percent of marketers believe that social media is important for their business, and U.S. spending on social media marketing is expected to top $17 billion per year by 2019. Yet only 3.4 percent of business leaders report that social media contributes very highly to their organization's performance.

Social media's impact on a business needs to be measured in order to prove -- and improve upon -- its ROI. But though delving into social analytics can be exciting, it also can be overwhelming. Marketing teams at startups or small businesses, if unable to invest in expensive analytics platforms, can quickly burn out trying to keep up with the endless data, and therefore will have no time left to apply their findings. In the end, if the analytics aren't being supported by real-time social campaign improvements, the investment is worthless.

Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing

Though specialized social listening and analytics platforms can offer a wealth of information and support long-term strategy, businesses with tight budgets don't necessarily need to invest in pricey tools right away. If your business has a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, you can access a plethora of data from their built-in analytics platforms at no cost. Focusing on three key insights can take you far.

1. Engagement: The yardstick for social media advertising

Over the last year, more marketers and businesses have finally realized that while having a million followers looks cool, it doesn't always equal more sales. Grow your audience and broaden your reach, but don't forget that your engagement rate is the magic number. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest all provide information on engagement with your followers. This includes the data on the different ways they're interacting with your content -- liking, sharing, commenting, retweeting and repinning. If followers like your content enough to react to it publicly, they are more likely to return, continue growing their relationship with you and (hopefully) open their wallets.

When you review your most engaging posts, look for similarities to identify what's engaging your followers. Replicate this type of content and let it serve as a guideline for designing your social media ads. Most social media users hate advertising and are unforgiving of brands that inundate their feeds with ads. But social media ads still have their place, and you can make the most of yours by utilizing your best content. "Boost" your most engaging posts on Facebook and push them to a broader audience. You can also design the content and visuals in your ads based on your most popular posts to keep them in line with what your audience is already drawn to.

Related: 3 Ways to Use Snapchat for Marketing

2. Audience demographics: Fine-tuning your customer profile

The free social analytics offered on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest provide you with a detailed look at the demographics of your audience. You'll see the basics like gender, location and age, but some platforms (like Twitter's) provide details about their likes and hobbies as well. If your audience likes food, travel, dining out and cooking, does that fit your business's customer profile? If the answer is yes, then your social channels are probably attracting the people you're hoping will purchase from you, and you can focus your content on what will drive them to buy (just keep it within the 80/20 rule).

If you discover that your social media audience doesn't align with the customers you've set out to target, it's time for some adjustments. Go back to your customer profiles and think about what their social media use looks like. What content do they want to see? Don't be afraid to get creative: The best content might not specifically be about your product. For example, the audience for a pasta sauce company's social media might also like content about traveling to Italy, cooking tips and videos about making Parmesan cheese. Your social media channels should add value that goes beyond providing another touchpoint for a potential sale. You also might consider that the "different audience" you've attracted to your social media could still be interested in your products. It may be time to revisit your marketing plans and draft entirely new customer profiles.

Related: What Working at a Social Media Company Taught Me about ROI

3. Monitoring competitors: Compare and contrast

Facebook lets you keep track of your competitors' pages. You can see their engagement rate for the week, how quickly their likes are growing and how many posts they've published during the current week. See how their stats compare to yours: Are they getting higher engagement? Are their likes increasing at a higher rate?

Compare your most successful competitor's content against your own. If theirs has a higher engagement rate, how often are posts going up? Consider scaling back or adding more content based on how their posts are doing. You also can browse through their old posts to get a feel for what their audience is responding to, and how you can apply those tactics to your own strategy.

Social media is about the long game and does require thoughtful planning, but there's no need to break the bank for in-depth analysis and strategy-building. You can access the data you need to grow your business and boost sales with the free insights built into your social platforms. Use what you find to adjust your content and posting tactics, and you'll see better ROI in the long run.

Natalie O’Grady

Social PR Specialist

Natalie O’Grady is a social media specialist and PR associate at A.wordsmith, a boutique public relations firm specializing in thought leadership and brand storytelling for leading business-to-business and consumer organizations. Prior to settling in Portland, Ore., and joining the A.wordsmith team, she lived in five states in five years, and gained experience in social media engagement, public relations writing and campaigns, and event management. Natalie holds a master’s degree in public communication and technology from Colorado State University, and a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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