RTs CommentsSocial media pundits have been evangelizing the power of engagement for years. And they’re not wrong; engagement matters. But it’s not the only metric, and measuring engagement isn’t universal. Some will tell you the only real value in social media comes from dialogue – if you’re not having a back and forth with your stakeholders, you’re not accomplishing anything. That may have been true in the early days of social, but times have changed.

Social media goals, like traditional media goals will vary depending on your business objectives. For some brands, a story in The Wall Street Journal is a win, but for others, all that matters is exposure in Truck Fleet Management magazine. The same goes for social. Sometimes, likes and shares will matter most. Other times, site traffic, and good old-fashioned sales will be the metrics that matter most. And, depending on your audience, the metric might change too.

Take comments – often held up as the ultimate symbol of social engagement success. In some social circles, comments are meaningless. Men, for example, comment more often than women. Statistician Emma Pierson, analyzed one million comments made on New York Times online articles between June 2013 and Jan. 2014. As Pierson noted on Quartz, “Only 25% of comments were made by women, even though 44% of New York Times readers are female.” Other research supports her findings. And working parents – male and female? What are the chances, that after reading your content, they will stop to create a profile, or fill out a Captcha form and drop their two cents on your site? Given how busy their lives are, it’s unlikely. They might, however, share your content on Twitter. After all, retweets are the busy person’s comments.

So before you set your engagement metrics for your next social media campaign, consider your audience and where, when and how they interact online and off. What the pundits say doesn’t matter. How your audience behaves does.