The Ugly Truth About Social Media Marketing Measurement

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For the past two years, I have spent a significant amount of time engaged in all aspects of social media marketing. Initially creating and optimizing profiles to evaluate the impact on organic search results, reputation management, and some self-promotional purposes, I then expanded my research to include other forms of social media, including bookmarking, file sharing, forums, micro-blogging, and virtual worlds. Most recently, I served as a committee member of the Online Marketing Summit (OMS) Social Media Marketing (SMM) Council, tasked with developing best practices for SMM strategy, tactics, and measurement. While not as active with the Council today, I would like to share some of my thoughts regarding the world of SMM monitoring and measurement.

Social Media Monitoring and Measurement

Social media marketing may still be in its infancy, but the art is quickly becoming a science. Now that Google OneBox (aka Universal Search) is prevalent in targeted search results, marketers can no longer ignore the impact of social media. Social networks are ideal for personal brand-building and proactive online reputation management (ORM).

Similarly, content syndication sites (i.e., Flickr, YouTube, iTunes, etc.) offer opportunities to distribute existing media assets (photos, videos, audio, and more) to a much larger audience. Last but not least, blogging and micro-blogging (i.e., Twitter and Plurk) offer an opportunity for competent writers and technologists to spread their company’s messaging and engage in direct conversations.

Monitoring vs. Measurement

In the blogosphere, there has been discussion and disagreement among marketers regarding the nuances between social media monitoring and measurement. The consensus is that monitoring addresses the “what” (people are saying), while measurement addresses “how much” (that people are saying it).

It is a quality versus quantity argument, where both work symbiotically to help create or validate marketing strategies. With that said, let us focus our discussion on the measurement side of social media.

Measurement: The Why

According to a recent Aberdeen Group study, the reasons given by best-in-class companies to implement a social media measurement program include:

  • Market research into greater consumer insight,
  • Competitive intelligence,
  • Improved product marketing,
  • New product testing and launch,
  • Public relations,
  • Customer service and support, and/or
  • Brand reputation protection.

My experience provides additional compelling reasons leading to the development of a social media measurement program, including insights into the sales process, refining brand messaging and positioning, content development, strategic partnerships, and recruitment.

Regardless of your overall objective, there are bound to be a variety of compelling reasons to implement a SMM measurement program. If you are having trouble justifying a measurement program to yourself or management, I highly recommend reading one or more of the following books: Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff; Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin; and The Cluetrain Manifesto by Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger.

Measurement: The What

Once you have convinced the decision makers that a SMM measurement program will be beneficial, the next logical step is to understand what can or should be measured. Whether you are a business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) company, there are a variety of compelling metrics to consider tracking. Conversions can include registrations, downloads, and inquiry forms for B2B or lead generation, and online sales for B2C or e-commerce companies. For offline or offline-to-online leads, make use of unique toll-free numbers, URLs, or promotional codes to track conversions.

Beyond quantitative measurement, there are powerful engagement metrics to consider. Common on-site engagement metrics include unique visitors, page views per visitor, bounce rates, visit duration, and frequency and volume of conversations. For social media networking and expert sites (i.e., LinkedIn and Facebook), relevant engagement metrics may include quality and quantity of followers/friends/connections, quantity of endorsements/referrals/recommendations, forum post volume and content, as well as quantity of “best answers.”

Additional interaction metrics include volume of comments/posts/messages and ratings. Interaction metrics can be weighted, depending on the situation. For example, comments may be assigned a “1″ rating, whereas new discussion topics earn a “2,” and direct promotion of a site or link may be a “3.”

For companies focused on the blogosphere or micro-blogosphere, key metrics may include the quality of visitors (profiles), quantity and quality of comments, bookmarks, and inbound links. Additionally, referring traffic sources and the quantity of RSS feed subscribers and send-to-a-friend email forwards are appropriate. The blogosphere is frenetic, yet there are rules of the road, so make sure you know and understand your audiences and the technology before implementing.

For search engine marketers in particular, search engine visibility/saturation is a primary objective, if not also a core metric. In the context of social media, search engine saturation measures online visibility of a company’s social media sites (rather than corporate site). Search saturation should be measured beyond branded keywords to include targeted non-branded keywords. For example, Twitter posts (or “Tweets”) that rank for targeted keywords are valuable in that they can lead to traffic from keywords for which the site currently does not rank.

While visibility in target search results is typically a primary key performance indicator (KPI), at the end of the day, search engine marketing (SEM) professionals are paid to drive traffic that converts to leads or sales. As such, one of the most important SMM metrics is referral traffic. Traffic sources are usually tracked by standard analytics platforms (e.g., Google Analytics). Since very few companies focus on brand-building as the primary search marketing objective (think technology B2B companies), social media sites are essentially traffic referral sources. Regardless, SMM can be effective for both brand-building and traffic development.

For companies farther down the SMM measurement path, it is worth exploring more advanced metrics. Some of those metrics include: comprehensive competitive and industry benchmarking, content filtering (by tone, type, and source) or influence filtering (visibility, credibility, etc.), and referring traffic (resulting in cross-promotional efforts). The bottom line is that it is relatively cheap and easy to create a measurable ad sales network.

Measurement: The How

Once you have begun to understand the whys and whats of social media marketing, it is time to move to the most critical step in the process: measurement. While it is possible to implement a SMM measurement program with free tools like Google Agents & Analytics, Technorati, Twitter Search (Summize), and Yahoo! Pipes, much of the process can be further automated or improved by a variety of paid services.

When it comes to monitoring conversations out on the blogosphere (or elsewhere for that matter), there are a handful of measurement services available, including BuzzLogic, BuzzMetrics, Narrative Network, Radian6, SentimentMetrics, and Techrigy. As far as uniquely vertical analytics offerings, TubeMogul is a good example of a new breed of solution that help companies and agencies distribute, manage, and measure content (in this case, videos). Similar tools are available for audio and images, to a lesser extent.

Here are two case studies to help illustrate some of the highs and lows of SMM strategies.

Case Study: Attensa Wikipedia

Attensa is a leading provider of Enterprise RSS software, including RSS readers and an RSS server. The competitive marketplace required its SEM agency, Anvil Media, to examine opportunities for visibility beyond traditional SEO, PPC, and even SEM PR. One approach was the creation of some informative articles about Attensa and its RSS products for placement in Wikipedia. Shortly after the creation of the Wikipedia articles, it was demonstrated that Wikipedia leads converted at an 18% higher rate than any other form of marketing. The resulting case study, featured in MarketingSherpa (#CS917), proved that social media marketing ROI could be effectively measured.

Case Study: Jive Software Social Bookmarking

Jive Software, an enterprise collaboration software provider looked to take advantage of social media bookmarking to generate visibility and leads for its ClearSpace platform. With some assistance, Jive was able to measure traffic resulting from Digg and StumbleUpon featured articles. For example, in October of 2007, StumbleUpon generated 450 visitors in one day. Unfortunately, none of those visitors resulted in a conversion (trial download). In January of 2008, a front-page feature on Digg generated nearly 15,000 unique visitors in less than two days. Digg, however, only managed a 0.02% conversion rate, which was a small fraction of the average site conversion rate. The conclusion was that social bookmarking can be a short-term awareness and traffic generator, but rarely delivers qualified visitors.

Conclusion

I have outlined the basics of the need for SMM measurement, as well as described the differences between monitoring and measurement, and the why, what, and how of SMM measurement. Lastly, I topped off the discussion with two case studies, to help illustrate the results of an effective SMM measurement program. At the end of the day, what matters most is that you can create meaningful insights through SMM measurement, for a minimal cash investment.

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