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The Social Media Metrics Muddle

Social Media Metrics are the (or at least “a”) new black. As a CMO I get at least two calls a week from some start-up that is tracking, researching or trying to cook-up some new way of measuring social.

Most efforts are muddled. Here’s why. They muddle tracking and monitoring (critical if you are looking to listen, understand your reputation and serve customers better) with measuring the performance of marketing investments in social. The reality is that most of these investments are a fraction of the total marketing spend. Think less than 2%. So why bother?

Ron’s most recent blog is right on the mark:

The most important question to address isn’t “what social media metrics should we be tracking?” but “should we even spend time and money developing social media metrics to track?”

Assume that a company’s marketing budget is $100 million, and that 50% of it is spent on TV advertising, 20% on print advertising, 20% on direct mail, 5% on online advertising, 4% on events, and 1% on social media. 

Of the six approaches that marketing invests in, which of the six would you want to have the most accurate marketing ROI metrics?

My top three would be TV, print, and direct mail. Cuz that’s where 90% of the marketing dollars go. 

If the CMO of my fictional company doesn’t have the “right” social media metrics in place, so what? Does it really matter that much? 

Not really.

That doesn’t mean social isn’t important. I’d argue it is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE MARKETING MIX.

Here is what marketers can’t ignore. We need to be clear on how we are creating value for our respective businesses. Social can significantly reduce the number of calls to call centers saving millions. That is value creation. Marketers can use the power of social networks to win new customers fast and at a fraction of the cost of other mediums. That is value creation.

Perhaps the HBR story that Ron takes issue with is semi-right here – although I am with Ron, you can’t just assume that social impacted sales. Correlation is a lousy means of proving impact.

The key here is to do social with intent. What this means is running programs and iniatives that are specifically social and at scale. Programs that lead with social.

Start measuring what you create for the business and you’ll be on the right path. Get caught in the social media measurement muddle and you’ll end-up going nowhere.

Critically, just do social. Do it now. The most effective social programs I’ve seen never started with a metric – they started with a great idea that got executed well against a clear customer need and social opportunity. The rest is history.

4 Responses

  1. By Gavin Heaton on January 2nd, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    I agree that the best social programs are those that start with a great idea, not a metric. But the same can be said of any great piece of advertising or brand communication.

    And while I also love Ron’s point of view, just because you are spending the most on TV doesn’t make it the right decision. Those budget decisions are made often months in advance while social and digital engagement patterns are more responsive and immediate.

    Sure, digital or social may be a fraction of your spend, but every view, click and link can be tracked, measured and monitored. As you say, it’s about intent – piecing together the tactics to drive business outcomes is the way to go. And the measurement piece allows you to spot what works and what does not.

  2. By Bri Brewer on January 2nd, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    In our world of scrutinizing ROI on the back shrinking budgets, justifying the headcount for social resources is the challenge here. Speaking from the perspective of someone who was laid off from a role in a company that just couldn’t justify the dollar investment, how do you make a decision to invest operating expenses into something that might never be measurable? And more important still, how do you justify to an executive team that it’s time to scale up and invest more (time, resources, marketing dollars) into a program that often looks fluffy to sales and finance? I think there’s probably a business maturity tipping point, but I’d love to know if you think social can scale and the marketing mix can ever evolve if we can’t figure out how change the way we think about measurement in general.

  3. By Alan Smith on January 2nd, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Maybe the conversation needs to change. Maybe it’s less to do with “having a social media marketing program and measuring its effectiveness and ROI”, and much more to do with listening to what’s already being said on the social web, and then working out the most relevant marketing program based on that insight. Which might not actually (need to) include a social media outreach program as such.
    Think of the door-to-door brush salesman of old, walking into a pub with his suitcase of brushes. The first thing he does is listen, to pick up any conversations that hint at brushes, of whatever kind. Only then does he move in. He doesn’t need to shout out loud “brushes for sale”. He seeks insight and acts on it.
    Social media scales that to the many thousands of individuals. But I’m not sure it’s about measuring anything.

  4. By Kristy Napier on January 3rd, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Social marketing strategy, like any other strategy, should have true intent and measurable objectives.
    Too often however, social is being executed without any stronger reasoning than “yes we need to be on next-greatest-platform” and data analysts are struggling to retrofit metrics, piece together data, in order to draw the insights the business demands.
    I can totally see why companies are springing up to address the pain point but I think the pressure to measure will remain.
    If only while businesses continue to do social rather than be social :)

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