Numbers are hard.

Run a report measuring how many Instagram engagements you got will give you a number. Then, you run that same report on a different analytics platform, and the numbers are different.

Ask Facebook how many conversions you got, and it’ll say 45. Ask Google, and it’ll say 42.

Which is it, anyway? (The right answer, infuriatingly, is “both are right.”)

We get this question at least weekly from our clients at my social engagement agency.

This happens because each platform has its own way of measuring the same data.

With the organic reach in News Feeds dropping, for instance, we wanted to get a solid number of where our clients’ reach was. We were expecting numbers around 5-10% (still well above the industry standard of 1-2%). But when we ran a client’s page in AgoraPulse Barometer, it claimed we were getting 32.5% and the industry average was 29.5%!

As much as I’d love to believe these numbers, there is no way the industry average was 29.5%.

Or was it?

Numbers, like I say, are hard. Definitions are critical to understanding your social metrics numbers.

See that tiny little grey Question mark icon? When you see one, you should always hover over it to understand how it’s calculating the data. In this case, AgoraPulse defines Organic Reach as “the percentage of users who have seen at least one post on the page over the last 28 days.”

That’a an awfully liberal definition, frankly. But does it matter? Not if this is the metric you decide to stick with.

As well, AgoraPulse says that it “uses the average of the last 50 posts on each page.” That’s important information to know as you’re checking your stats.

Where else can this apparent disconnect occur?

Attribution Windows

You’d think that calculating conversions, like online sales or newsletter signups, would be easy, right? Again, it all depends on how you’re measuring them.

Does it “count” as a sale if they see your ad in their News Feed and buy right away? Of course it does.

But does it count if they see your ad, don’t click, but later that night go directly to your web site and buy it? It probably should, since they likely went back to your site because they remembered your ad.

What about if they see your ad, click it and poke around your site but don’t buy anything. Then, two weeks later, they come back to your site and buy something. Should that count as a conversion the ad produced?

This is called the Attribution Window. By default, Facebook’s attribution window is set to 1-day view and 28-day click, which means you see attributed actions that happened 1 day after someone viewed your ad and 28 days after someone clicked your ad. You can change this default if you want, but whatever you decide to do, stick to.

Time Ranges

Another source of discrepancies come from different time windows measured. Are you measuring the last month? Is that really a month, or is it actually 28 days? Does “this month” include today?

No, numbers don’t lie. But be sure you’re measuring accurately, and you’ll be much more successful in your social media efforts.