measuring the true value of social media

July 29, 2009 ·

how do we measure the true value of social media? what are the metrics to know it's working? these are the questions that have plagued social media for some time. my guess is that some executive threw this out as a challenge to something they didn't understand. then some well intended social media people answered this and it propagated. i don't know. at the same time it has plagued, it has also helped the industry come to accept social media's legitimacy in the marketing toolbox. so that's a good thing.

here's a list of the measures i see most often:

  • comments
  • retweets
  • google page rankings
  • followers/fans
  • reviews
  • ratings
  • trackbacks
these are good measures and valuable intractions by our consumers. but why are we so hung up on them? you have to admit that these participatory actions are likely the minority of total traffic.

these measures are all transactional and really just quantitative, but we've been professing the web to be more than a transactional medium for years now. we've touted social media as different because it's participatory, but that's not everything. social media is still a message stream, just one that consumers CAN be a part of in a really powerful and meaningful way; one that is two-way. because they can, doesn't mean they will.

let's look back to the forrester technographics ladder. still the biggest areas are the 'inactives' (those who consume nor produce anything in social media) and 'spectators' (those who merely take in, but do not contribute). i think it's safe to say that efforts in social media have an effect on them as well (positive or negative) but we're not capturing that effect by focusing on participatory measures.

i don't mean to belittle consumer interactions in the least, it's the cornerstone of this movement but it is just one aspect to the whole picture. more people will move up the ladder and become more involved with social media so they'll continue to be increasingly important. however, for that uninvolved segment, we need to still determine the impact our activations have. even for the involved constituency, we need to gauge the effect as well.

the measures i'm talking about are brand favorability, purchase intent, recall of specific messages and other brand equity benchmarks. we need to start talking about these and establishing them for our brands. it's a uniform way with which we can ascertain the effectiveness of our activities across the board, in conjunction and in isolation.

only with measures like these can we truly get at the efficacy of our activities against the broader audience, not just the select few deeply involved. if social media is the game changer in communications with our consumers, then we need to know exactly how our involvement in social media with them is changing their perceptions, actions and purchase decisions.

it's probably safe to say that the involved set have been positively affected and have altered perceptions, but do we really know that? and i hope that our efforts are reaching more and affecting more than the 10 people who commented. we need to start talking about and evaluating our social media presence in these terms, validating against them and adjusting our activities in response.




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