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Can Social Media Be Measured?

Li Evans
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There's a lot of debate around whether social media marketing can be measured. There's also a cauldron of bubbling issues around exactly what companies should measure when it comes to social media marketing.

Should we measure brand lift? Traffic? Conversions? The number of blog subscribers? Yes, yes, yes, and yes!

Social media can be measured, but measuring isn't the same for everyone. Just like there's no cookie-cutter social media marketing strategy for companies to purchase and implement, there's no simple off-the-shelf answer for measuring your success with your social media strategy. It can be a combination of numerous measurements, both automated and manual.

Sometimes an Excel spreadsheet can be your best friend when it comes to measuring your social media goals.

Everyone Claims to Know What to Measure

Many SEOs will tell you that you need to measure the number of links you attain and the traffic that comes in from people clicking on those links. While that can be a decent measurement of success, it's only one piece of a huge social media puzzle.

You can measure, and should be measuring, so much more beyond acquired links and traffic. As my fellow social media measurement colleague, Katie Paine says about measuring "hits" -- HITS basically are How Idiots Track Success.

Social media marketing strategies are so much more than acquiring traffic and links from "socialized" content that appear on blogs, or videos that appear on YouTube and are promoting on sites like Digg, Mixx, or Reddit.

These are merely tactics. If you don't have a strategy that includes goals and measurement about these implemented tactics, then it's as if you're doing nothing.

Last week, I watched as much as I could of a live seminar from someone who claimed to be a social media ROI expert.

The trouble was, all this expert kept saying was that you need to measure ROI in social media. He never once gave an example of something that could truly be measured.

This "expert's" presentation was frustrating (just as much as Rebecca Lieb found another "expert" to be). It's doubtful anyone could benefit from such vague information. Yes, the ROI needs to be measured, how else can marketers justify their efforts in the social media space?

Look, many experts claim that you need to measure "this" and "that." Honestly, you may not need to measure "this" or "that." What you might need to measure is something entirely specific to your own thoroughly planned out marketing strategy that is so far away from the "this" or "that" that if you measured them, you'd have no clue if you were really being successful.

However, there are general concepts around social media you can use to come up with measurements and gauge whether your efforts hit the mark. They don't just revolve around monitoring or just around Web site analytics.

Most of the time it's a combination of pieces of monitoring data, pieces of Web site analytic data, and a lot of manual data your team needs to collect and put in an Excel spreadsheet.

The Four I's of Social Media Measurement

"Marketing's New Key Metric: Engagement" by Brian Haven of Forrester Research identifies four areas of engagement that can be measured. Engagement is the name of the game when it comes to social media and measuring successes and failures.

  • Involvement: Just how involved is the community you're engaging with? Are they visiting your site? Are they subscribing to your blog? How many video views do you have? Did they request information from your site or from a member of your team?
  • Interactions: How are your efforts working in the way of gauging interactions? Are fan visits to your fan page increasing? Have those fans started conversations? How many replies to a post in a forum have you received? How many comments are your blog posts getting?
  • Intimacy: Intimacy demonstrates the level of comfort/love/hate your audience feels with your company brands, products, or services. How much user generated content such as videos, photos, blog review sites or even threads in forums are being generated around your company? How many ratings are you receiving? What is the sentiment of your ratings or product/service comments?
  • Influence: Just how much influence are your efforts (or those of other influencers) having on your strategy? How willing are people to recommend you? Did you get a brand awareness lift with your efforts? Are influencers sharing their opinions and are they creating user generated content around your products/services?

There are many ways to measure the four I's, such as counting up the number of comments on your blog posts each week and figuring out a ratio that would be "successful," or tracking how far a link was created and spread through Twitter. (For a more in-depth look at measuring the four I's take a look at the free white paper by Nan Dawkins of Serengeti Communications.) But you also can't forget to look at monitoring and measuring data and tie that into the full picture as well.

Web site traffic tells you a piece of the story. For example, asking your customers how they heard about you, your product, or your service when they request information or buy a product is one simple way to track your social media efforts. Although it may not be the most reliable, it will put in place another piece of the measurement puzzle.

Monitoring data can be just another piece. Some monitoring tools, like Techrigy and Radian6, can help you track influencers, as well as the spread of viral media that you might have disseminated to the public. They can help you chart and graph this type of information.

Lastly, don't forget to tie in your resources and expenditures. Just how much did all of this cost you to implement, and were those efforts worth the success or failure?

There's no simple solution to measuring success or failure in social media. It requires a lot of understanding of your efforts and how your audience will engage with you.

Don't limit yourself to counting up links, looking at traffic spikes or looking how many retweets you received -- there's a whole world of metrics. It could be a combination of a few that help you understand just how successful you can be.


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