Measuring Social Media ROI

Running a successful social media program requires constant vigilance, quick responses, and ongoing production of content – all of which add up to a considerable investment of your organization’s time, energy and resources. How do you know if all your efforts are worth the cost? By measuring the results, of course. That’s easier said than done, however. Social media isn’t public relations, and it’s not direct marketing. The benefits delivered by social media are different, especially in the way they accrue over time and, therefore, require more consistent presence.

It’s not a science – yet – but you can connect campaign outcomes to business results

Running a successful social media program requires constant vigilance, quick responses, and ongoing production of content – all of which add up to a considerable investment of your organization’s time, energy and resources. How do you know if all your efforts are worth the cost? By measuring the results, of course. That’s easier said than done, however. Social media isn’t public relations, and it’s not direct marketing. The benefits delivered by social media are different, especially in the way they accrue over time and, therefore, require more consistent presence.

So, right off the bat, when you’re in the process of planning a program, thinking about how and what social media metrics you’ll measure can be a valuable guide as you start to map your plans. Figuring out what to measure is the first step – you can then build the plans for execution accordingly.

When mapping what social media metrics you plan on measuring, first think about the benefits social media produces, and identify those that will be most useful to your organization. Social media is, after all, a set of networks and tools that will enable you to get closer to and interact with your customers and markets. Different types of interactions generate different business benefits. Broadly speaking, it’s important to be thinking about potential social media program benefits in terms of:

> Attention: An emerging school of thought in social media marketing suggests that gaining (and keeping) a person’s attention is the most valuable outcome to be sought — ultimately more valuable even than contact information. Why? Because traditional marketing is campaign-based, and runs for specific periods of time, but a lot of buying decisions and recommendations are made outside of campaign timeframes. Getting and keeping a person’s attention develops ongoing awareness (leading to consideration) of the brand and its products.

> Visibility: When a person is in a buying frame of mind and turns to her computer, chances are good that she will turn to a search engine to initiate the purchase. And achieving top-of-page placement on the search engine results page requires credible presence within the social layer, as search engines are now surfacing content from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, blogs, review sites – even user reviews on retailer and brand sites – and giving that content prominent placement in search results. A solid social media program will help your organization maintain crucial visibility in search engines.

> Intelligence: A key component of any social media program is listening to your marketplace, which means more than comparing the number of mentions your brand receives compared to its competitors. Listening to your audience in social networks will reveal what their pain points and frustrations are, what problems they’re encountering and need help with, and what they think about different products, services and vendors. Listen well, and you can develop a potent customer feedback loop.

> Opportunity: Ongoing connection to customers and immediate understanding of what the marketplace is saying can lead to real opportunity for a business. An unhappy client may be quickly appeased (and ultimately delighted) thereby avoiding an embarrassing public situation (and possibly creating a newly loyal advocate). A discussion on a LinkedIn group could lead to sales, if a transparent and credible voice from your brand is present. Being present means you won’t miss opportunities to connect, service and delight your constituents.

Measurement
It’s easy enough to measure increases in your numbers of friends, fans and followers, and those metrics can be a good gauge of a campaign’s ability to generate awareness. But there is even more value to be had via social media’s ability to influence your constituents, which can give rise to different outcomes. It is in these outcomes that one can start to connect social media program efforts to underlying business results. Outcomes you can reasonably expect include:

> Generating awareness of your brand
> Increasing engagement with your brand
> Increasing your brand’s influence
> Motivating specific actions (purchases, leads, etc)

According to Kent Wakely, a managing partner of Fruition Interactive, each of these outcomes has specific attributes that can be measured.

“To measure awareness, we’ll use metrics like unique Web site visitors, page views, fan/follower counts, etc.” Wakely notes. “To measure engagement, we’ll use metrics like comments (on a blog, Facebook, etc), re-Tweets, time spent on the Web site and so on. To measure influence, we’ll track third-party mentions and links and things like that. And to measure action outcomes, we’ll track total conversions/sign-ups and conversion/sign-up rates.”

Actionable intelligence
Any conversation about social media includes references to listening, and with good reason. The conversations your audience members are having are rich sources of market data, and can help an organization identify opportunities – whether a problem customers want solved, or a need that has gone unfilled.

In the whitepaper titled, “Amplifying your Social Echo,” Erin McAllister, Director of Digital Strategy and Marketing for Unisys Corporation, noted that tuning into the conversations around the Unisys brand was, “most helpful for understanding pain points around issues important to both our customers and their influencers.” In one example, Unisys’ Social Echo program helped the company grasp the depth of market concern over information security issues in cloud computing.

As a result, the information technology company was able to take a thought leadership position in social media on the very topic of security in cloud services. McAllister cites this as an example of how Unisys grounded its social media strategy in measureable data by listening to the Social Echo. “We had not originally anticipated that the security and cloud conversation would resonate so well in social media,” she noted. “We were better able to engage effectively. We quickly became more in tune with the conversations, topics, terminology and issues around cloud computing because we were listening,” she added.

One important thing to consider as you’re deciding which metrics you’ll measure is the timeframe against which measurements will be taken. And here again is another shift from traditional marketing and PR mindsets. Unlike a marketing campaign, social media benefits accrue over time. Remember – good social media programs develop an ongoing presence in the social layer. Oftentimes, results are exponential as they build over time, growing as your team becomes better at developing content and managing networks and your messages become amplified by your organization’s friends, fans and followers.

A Vision for Measuring Social Media ROI
Measuring certain aspects of a social media program is easy. The numbers of friends, fans and followers indicate whether or not a campaign successfully generated awareness and gained attention. The number of Likes and re-Tweets a message receives tell you unequivocally whether it generated interest amongst an audience. However, many communicators agree that the lines tying campaign outcomes to top line business KPIs have yet to be drawn.

Rufus Manning, the former Senior Manager of Public Relations for TARGUSinfo, a data information services company that offers On-Demand Insight® to drive smarter and more profitable customer interactions, was one of several interviewees who noted in the Social Echo white paper that measuring the link between social media activity and business performance “is not there yet.” But he doesn’t think it’s too far off. “When you look at what you can already do, you can nail it down to a customer level,” Manning says. “You can look at Twitter, for example, and say ‘this is John Smith, who started following the TARGUSinfo brand.’”

“What we need to do next is link that to if that person ever becomes a customer, within your CRM. Today, you can’t transfer your Twitter followers into Salesforce.com. But you can see the writing on the wall; eventually there will be that kind of link.”

Understanding how outcomes from social media efforts tie to business results is critical when planning social media strategy. Taking the time to think about what specific outcomes need to be generated can lend real clarity when planning social media tactics, and can help you set up your social media program for success. And focusing your organization’s efforts in social networks will, ultimately, greatly simplify measurement, making it easier to chart returns against investment.

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