Internet Marketing Strategy

The Challenge of Measuring Social Media

A few weeks ago I was on a panel for Business Wire on social media measurement. James Pilcher, Daniel Lally and I had a great conversation about social media measurement – what, why and how to measure social media.

Since the panel I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and last week I posted about the types of marketing activities that brands are engaging in using social media.  The graph below shows the % of Firms using Social Media for Marketing activities.

As you can see below, brands are using social media for a variety of different purposes including obvious ones, like brand building, acquiring and retaining customers, as well as less obvious ones, like marketing research, finding new audiences for the product and improving current products or services.

What struck me about this list are two things:

1) Brands are using social media in ways that they probably didn’t initial plan to, and

2) Many of these uses are difficult to quantify and measure.

Brands are Using Social Media in Creative Ways

Most brands probably initially engage in social media as a way to drive sales, run promos or build positive equity.  Once they start to build relationships and explore the inner workings of social media it becomes clear that it can be used in a wide variety of ways and provide value that was not initially anticipated.

Much of this value comes from just listening and engaging in a dialogue.  Marketing research, finding new target audiences, improving the product/service and even identifying new products are all very valuable ways to leverage social media.  What is more is that all of these can be achieved just by listening.

Most brands using social media in these ways probably didn’t start out with these benefits in mind, but after participating and exploring 1/3 of CMOs are finding value from this.  It is important to have some fluidity in your marketing objectives on social media and be open to creative and surprising opportunities to leverage it to grow your business.

The Value of Social Media is Difficult to Quantify and Measure

Most of the uses of social media are extremely difficult to 1) measure and 2) quantify the value of.  The #1 use of social media is brand building and awareness.  How do you measure that?  It isn’t by the # of friends or followers, or even how many people are clicking on your links.  The best way to measure this is the way equity is measured in traditional media – run a test and control and look for improvements in recall, sentiment, purchase intent, etc.  This takes planning and a budget.  If you don’t work for a big brand and have money to spend on this there is good news – you’ll still know if it is working.  If you are OK with qualitative feedback the people on the front lines of your social media execution team will know if they are moving the needle and generating traction from their efforts.

The other measurement issue is that many of these activities don’t have easily quantifiable values.  For example, what is the value of finding an entirely new audience to market your product to?  What is the value of making product improvements due to feedback gained on social media sites?  How do you quantify the new product or service idea that was generated as a result of listening and building real relationships?

The answer is that you probably can’t.  The reality is that social media can provide lots of different value to an organization and much of it is difficult to exactly measure – partly because the value is difficult to assess.

The Point: Be Flexible in Your Social Media Metrics

The point is that it is important for brands to be flexible in their social media metrics.  Think of social media and the potential benefit as touching multiple aspects of your organization.  Remember that a lot of value can be derived just from listening and building relationships (ie. without overt marketing).  By being open and flexible you can get some game changing opportunities. Yes, it will be hard to measure exactly.

But hey, aren’t a lot of your business investments difficult to quantify?  What is the ROI on your sales people taking clients to lunch?  Or the training program you invested in?  Or that party you sponsored?  Or the conferences you attend?  Or the networking to invest your time in?  Or the relationships you build?

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