I am pretty sure the go/no-go debate of using social media is behind us as many companies are adopting social initiatives. Now the debate shifts to ROI and measurement of social media.
I see the same banter and arguments going on that have plagued all of marketing for a hell of a long time. Case in point: When I ran the marketing for a mainframe computer brand, there were a handful of marketing programs that had specific package solutions. Each of the leads of these programs would claim that their solution attributed $50 million to sales. So we have a total of 5 program leads each claiming $50 million of sales for a total of $250 million, and the entire brand is only generating $100 million of sales. Sound like a familiar scenario to you?
So how does this happen? An obvious reason is that marketing people (I will proudly include myself in this group) have a tendency to over state their impact and relevance. Let’s face it :). The second less obvious point is that marketing is a combination and integration of numerous efforts, solution sets, and events. Not to mention that you have to have a product or service of value to market in the beginning. This value is the most important attribute of success even before you start any marketing plan or execution. It is extremely difficult to isolate one marketing effort as being the sole cause for success. Combined and integrated marketing efforts should produce synergy – the some of the parts is greater than the individual parts. Not the reverse where the some of the parts is less than the total (as in the mainframe marketing example above).
Social media is another piece of marketing. (Note: social media is not just marketing – consider customer support and operations.) Is your social media an integrated piece of the entire go-to-market or is it an isolated piece you use just to communicate your product or service? The bottom line is that social media MUST be part of an entire integrated marketing strategy and not just the piece for some sharp, young social media manager to use by tweeting and posting on Facebook.
And when (and if) social media is holistically integrated, how can you measure its success. Ahhhh – the never ending debate. Not sure if we ever even solved this question for marketing in general. BUT – there are elements that can be measured and should be used as KPIs (key performance indicators).
Successful social media produces awareness, generates buzz (lead generation), and produces advocates. I covered social media measurement in an article “Measuring the Value of Social Media” well over a year ago and I still stand by my recommendations from back then. Generally speaking, there are three categories of parameters to measure: 1) mentions, 2) comments, and 3) members.
Mentions: everyone wants their content to go viral. The more mentions, the greater awareness is created. You should use some tools to measure the number of mentions. A good list is provided at “A Wiki of Social Media Monitoring Solutions”.
Comments: it is highly desirable to have an engaged audience. Comments are a good indicator. Comments are especially interesting in the context of Forrester’s Social Technographics. The Social Technographics describe a segmentation of online creators, critics (commenters), collectors, joiners, spectators and inactives as percentage breakdown based on demographics. Something to think about using this model … if this model is data driven as a function of percentages of a group demographic, what happens when the number of commenters rises. Do the number of collectors, joiners, and spectators rise also? Commenters increase awareness so, yes.
Members: when someone elects, opts-in to follow, friend, or join a network of your brand, they are indicating some degree of loyalty. Do note that membership numbers are important, but not the complete picture as mentioned in the article “Quantity vs. Quality: What Gets You Ahead in Social Media?”.
So now we have 3 categories of things to measure success of social media. There are the metrics, but be careful to get into discussions of social media ROI. I’ll outline why …
Look at the chart above. The take away is that like all marketing lead generation efforts, there is a gestation period or lag between awareness and conversion. So six months down the road or so, social media awareness will be some input to your brand sales conversion parameters. It is not an immediate result. Some momentum and inertia needs to be built. And when you are seeing an uplift of conversion, is this attributable to social media? Tricky question here and I would refer you back to the mainframe computer example at the start of this piece. Yes, there is some correlation, but the relationship of social mention and conversion is not entirely related, but rather partially related. Conversion is a function of a number of parameters and marketing efforts.
In summary, here are some musts for your social media initiatives:
1) Integrate social media into your business and marketing strategy and execution. Don’t look at it as a mere broadcasting mechanism on Twitter and Facebook.
2) Define parameters that truly indicate a degree of success on your efforts.
3) Expect some lag of time between some media measured success and increased business.
4) Be careful to solely attribute social media to sales conversion.
And as always …
Make It Happen!