Social media marketing, like other forms of online marketing, needs to produce a return on investment. Otherwise, its usefulness is marginal and the time spent on it is wasted. But social media’s effect on the bottom line is not always easy to measure.
In social media’s case, ROI does not always mean “return on investment.” Sometimes, it means “return on influence” or ROE, “return on engagement,” both of which are harder to measure.
Any attempt to measure social media must contain elements of all three to adequately represent its full impact. Traditional metrics include page views, time spent on site, unique visits and number of conversions apply, but that’s far from the whole of it. Measurements like number of retweets, blog post comments and number of friends on a social network are important, too.
Here are three keys to effective social media measurement.
1. Don’t Measure Everything; Measure the Right Things
Which metrics to apply depend on the form of social media used. Trying to associate page views with Twitter followers is meaningless, but has meaning where a blog is concerned. What is measured depends on your overall marketing goals: whether to generate leads, drive sales or increase brand awareness. Understanding what you are trying to accomplish will determine what metrics should be collected.
For example, suppose your blog is separate from your primary website. Let’s also suppose, due to the blog’s ability to rank highly in search engine results, it serves as a “beacon,” shining a light on the more static site with a view toward driving traffic to it. What, then, is the measurement of greatest importance? It’s not how many people visit the blog, but how many visit the main site as a result of first coming to the blog. Your job at that point is to find more and better ways to make the blog a conduit to the main site.
Alternatively, let’s say you decide to use Twitter as a customer service tool —much like Dell, Comcast and Zappos. In this case, the important metrics would be similar to a call center, such as average speed of answer, how quickly an issue was resolved or how many customers were engaged. Just because a company is using Twitter instead of a traditional call center, the numbers still matter. They do, and more and more companies are beginning to see the value.
When you first consider the concept of social media measurement, it seems pretty complicated. Taken on a case-by-case basis, however, it’s easier to comprehend.
2. Measure Quantitative and Qualitative Metrics
Trying to gauge the value of social media on hard numbers alone will only get you so far. The quality of your readership — in terms of influence — lends just as much credence as the quantity. To put it another way, it’s easy to count the number of seeds in an apple, but much harder to count the number of apples in a seed. Yet the latter is as important as the former.
Let’s look at both kinds of metrics to see which to apply in a specific case.
Standard Measures. Here’s a short list of standard quantitative web metrics:
- Unique visits;
- Total visits;
- Time spent on site;
- Page views;
- Bounce rate (only view single page before leaving site);
- Click-thrus and other conversion metrics;
- Organic search ranking.
These standard metrics typically apply to content sites, such as blogs, wikis, forums and online communities, all of which emphasize numbers of visitors or members.
Social Media Measures. If social media was merely a one-way communication, standard metrics might suffice. But, people are communicating with each other and that mandates an entirely new set of quantitative metrics. Some that apply include:
- Blog post to comment ratio;
- Number of RSS feed subscribers;
- Twitter retweets;
- Number of videos shared;
- Customer sentiment gauged via ratings and reviews;
- Number of times a blog post was bookmarked using Stumbleupon, Digg or Delicious.
But what about qualitative factors like “awareness,” “engagement” and “influence?” How are those measured?
As much as I prefer completely objective standards, social media measurement has yet to reach that bar. Some of it is still subjective, based on the marketer’s judgment.
Also, terms like “awareness” and “influence” mean different things to different people. To the web metrics analyst, influence equals conversions. To the online reputation monitor, it means the number of times a given individual is referenced in blog posts, while to the public relations professional it may mean the number of Twitter followers, Facebook friends or blog readers.
This does not mean we take a wait and see approach until measurement becomes more standardized. Social media marketing is still marketing and is, therefore, subject to the same strictures as any other form of marketing. Standards will eventually evolve but, in the meantime, it is important to apply metrics when possible.
3. Effective Measurement Depends on the Use of Software
Ultimately, the answer to effective social media measurement lies in the hands of developers who will create software designed for this purpose. Even now, tools are being developed to address the need. These tools typically fall into one of three categories: reputation management, web analytics and real-time engagement.
Monitoring your online reputation is vital in the social media-inspired, participatory environment that is the web. Essentially, in monitoring our reputation, what we are doing is “listening.” We want to know who is talking about our brand, products or service, what is being said, and where those conversations are taking place. Listening is the first step, therefore. The following tools serve as listening posts.
If reputation-monitoring tools are the first step, web analytics is the next. The following tools measure social media’s effect on site traffic and conversions.
Reputation monitoring and web analytics tools have existed for some time. However, the missing piece has been “pipeline metrics,” those that gauge the tenor of the conversation as it exists in real-time. Within the last two to three years, more sophisticated tools — such as these below — have been developed that not only gauge the conversation, but influence it as well.
One day – and I hope it won’t be long – someone will develop a “one-size-fits-all” tool that measures everything, or that at least ties the ends together in a way that marketers can clearly see the effect social media has on sales and conversions. Until then, experiment with a combination of the tools listed above. Regardless of which you choose, make measurement a key part of your social media marketing strategy.