Social Media: The Need For Measurement

Following on from my our "Social Media Guruism: Mostly Harmless" yesterday, we received the following comment:

On the surface, this seems like a great article...until you realize that it's really just like most tweets--a total waste of time. If you wanted to really provide something valuable, you'd show me how you directly measure your social marketing campaign...Oh wait, you can't. Why? First, cause you've probably never run one and you're just regurgitating what other people have told you. And second, because ROI really doesn't translate for most Internet campaigns. There's just no way to directly measure it because there are so many random variables. And I challenge anyone to prove that it can be

Thanks for the response, Fearless Advisor!

Really, social media marketing is no different to other forms of marketing in that it must eventually demonstrate value and be accountable.

The "Why" Question

One of the points I made in the previous article was that a lot of people seem to confuse the medium with the message. They are using a communication channel - in this case Twitter & Facebook - without first deciding why they are doing it.

Sometimes, the answer might be no more complicated than "because it's new", "because it sounded good" or "because everyone else is doing it". However, if a marketing campaign is to be successful, and repeated, it must be measured. How would you know if it was a success, or be worth repeating otherwise?

The fist step should be to ask "why"? The same question applies to any marketing campaign, be it search marketing, radio, television, or anything else. Why does this website exist? Why am I doing this and what result am I trying to achieve?

Is it to boost traffic? Is it to make more money? Is it to cut costs in other marketing activities by replacing one with another? Is it to grow the RSS subscriber base? Get more links? Grow the mail list? A combination of all these things? And how do these relate back to the purpose of the site?

Without that knowledge, the exercise is one of faith.

Demonstrate Value

The top social media marketers, just like the top search marketers, can create enormous value. And they can show it.

If clients aren't demanding it now, they soon will. Back when I was doing search marketing for clients, I was in a sales meeting with a large mobile telecommunications company. I was doing my best to sell them on the benefits of search marketing and from the nods I was getting, I thought I was doing ok. At the end of the meeting, they said I was the first search guy who had talked to them in terms they could relate to - i.e. I was talking marketing, as opposed to hype and technology.

Social media marketing is going through the same growing- up phase that search marketing did. As search marketing clients got more savvy and gained experience with the new channel, they started to demand more traditional metrics - meaningful metrics related to the underlying business objectives - that could be analysed alongside their other marketing campaigns.

Measurement Ideas

Measurement depends on the aims of the campaign.

Here are a some common measurements used in marketing campaigns, and apply equally to social media as they do other marketing channels. Not all these measurements are appropriate, or achievable, but should serve as a starting point when considering measurement.

1. Increased Revenue

This measurement is straightforward. What was the level of business the client was doing before the social media campaign, and what is the level they are doing afterwards? Has it dropped, stayed the same, or risen?

2. Competitive Advantage

Has the client gained competitive advantage?

Do a before/after comparison against competitors. Is the client doing better in Compete/Alexa/etc than their competitors after they ran the social media campaign?

Have the competitors run social media campaigns? Can you do a similar before/after comparison on their success, or lack thereof?

3. Increased Visitor Numbers

Are there more visitors now than there were before the campaign started? Break the visitors down by channel using referral data. Who are they? Where are they from? Are they the right demographic?

4. Reach/Spreading The Word

Perhaps the most difficult aspect to measure. Research companies, like Neilsen, use Buzz Metrics and Blog Pulse to measure how many people are talking about a brand or company.

Similarly, Google Trends can be used to pinpoint spikes in attention across the net. Is your message/brand mentioned more often after the campaign? Are there more mentions across blogs, Twitter, Facebook, mainstream media?

5. Search Activity

Do more people search on a clients brand after the social media campaign? Do they use queries relating to the clients message, products or services?

6. Primary Market Research

Big companies tend to do this more so than smaller companies. Run field studies, focus groups, and interviews to determine the level of brand awareness.

7. Links

Has the client received more links? This is one of the huge value propositions of social media, especially when combined with SEO. Social media can be such a powerful link building method, second to none.

Yeah, But How?

Perhaps the social media gurus can tell us? :)

These are the types of metrics clients will demand. If I were buying social media marketing services - and might well be in the near future - these are the metrics I'd demand. No one, except the clueless, will be impressed by follower numbers.

There is no one tool that can measure and track all this data. Hey, perhaps there is a market opportunity for someone! But while we're waiting for such a tool to emerge, measurement is a multi-disciplinary approach, combining both tools and techniques.

Consider analytics, behavior tracking, dedicated tracking codes for links, coupon codes that can only be seen on Facebook or Twitter, unique phone numbers used to track just that one campaign, customer surveys after they have bought something.

I'm sure social media professionals have got a wealth of techniques and tools they use. It would be great if you could share your knowledge with the community in the comments :)

Why A Social Media Marketer Should Do This

The end result is that clients will spend more, on an ongoing basis, if they can see demonstrable value.

A company may do a one-off campaign for fun, as an experiment, or because they think it is trendy to do so, but they'll soon move on to the "next big thing" unless social media can demonstrate how it helps them achieve their marketing goals.

Some of the above is easy, some is difficult. It depends on the client and their goals. There will always be intangible rewards when it comes to brand building and raising awareness, but you can't know if you're winning the game if you don't keep score.

I know some social media marketers already do this. Like the top search marketers, they will be the only ones left standing, and prospering once the hype dies off.

And it will.

Published: October 23, 2009 by A Reader in marketing


October 23, 2009 - 12:38pm

In my opinion, it's even easier to measure the effects of social or internet marketing campaigns if you compare it e.g. to marketing in printed media. How could you be sure that readers noticed your ad in a newspaper or magazine? In social media and internet marketing we can calculate clicks, site users and even their time spent on the site and it makes a better estimate for performance of marketing campaigns.

If social media or internet marketing in general are combined with eCommerce, it is much easier to follow users' path from ad to purchase. Again this requires that companies have clearly stated the purpose for internet marketing and thought about how campaigns are used as vehicles to encourage sales.

PeterD:"...because the medium is not the message."

October 23, 2009 - 2:06pm

Great stuff, Peter! By the way, I've got my own animated video, but its title is not as nice as the one you embedded in your post...

October 23, 2009 - 3:04pm

It seems I'm less polarized on the whole "SM guru" vs "SEO" thing. Last time I checked they helped each other.

Increasing followers, brand awareness, Facebook fans, clicks, etc are ways to show clients you are doing your job, but never a direct ROI measurement. Revenue is what concerns clients. Either improve this metric or expect your SM efforts to get kicked to the curb.

Each product, service, brand - or whatever you want to call it is NOT the same. As with PPC and SEO, social media should have also have a customized approach to improve revenue.

I think some "SM haters" are short-term focused with metrics because they have SEO & PPC backgrounds. With SM, you may work a solid year building relationships then one day Oprah calls to feature your product on her show. I can't really even tell you what the ROI is on that, but it's in the black for sure!

October 23, 2009 - 4:06pm

Great post, I agree it can all be measured and it is relatively easy to prove ROI in social media. has a Social Media ROI report that is available to a select few now and will be rolled out publicly soon, that tracks all of this, down to the url level of the actual campaign. Its pretty slick.

October 23, 2009 - 4:39pm

Excellent post Peter - great summary of different measures that might mean success.

October 23, 2009 - 5:20pm

Webtrends & Radian 6 have a great measurement tool for social media.

Besides paying for an expensive software, I have used RSS feeds to track Google Alerts for brand mentions and exported those mentions to spreadsheets to track the data.

Using trackable URL shorteners like and are useful because they show up in Analytics software, which you can then throw into a conversion funnel. Cookie tracking is even better because then you can track the number of people returning and which return visit they finally buy on.

Just a couple of ideas.

Tom McCracken
October 23, 2009 - 5:57pm

Great post!

I like your ideas. It may be best to just let social media figure its self out. =)

October 23, 2009 - 6:20pm

They are good ideas, that would work... if you didn't have any other marketing initiatives... otherwise you don't know where the increases are coming from.

October 24, 2009 - 1:05am

There will always be other marketing initiatives. It is up to the marketer to segment and demonstrate effect, else the campaign is faith-based.

Your post seems to imply you don't have a way of measuring success if concurrent campaigns are running?

October 23, 2009 - 6:21pm

Again, I never understood the confusion over social media ROI... it's just marketing, but in a new and powerful medium. Seems easier to track things here than in, say, print media.

October 23, 2009 - 8:51pm

Completely agree with the point, brand marketers like us need to engage more and more with social media sites. We are using viralheat and its seems to solve a lot of our problem effectively.

October 24, 2009 - 10:09am

I know this is a deviation slightly but can anyone give me some tangible benefits AND a clearcut example of how social media marketing has been used on say, Facebook?

SEO : No problem. You rank for keywords, all's good. Those keywords signal intent, and then it's down to upping conversions with decent and compelling content on your website.

But for SMM, I'm very skeptical at this point. People love to hype Twitter for example, but I don't place a lot of commercial value with the patrons of Twitter.

I seriously hope SMM is NOT people targeting individuals on Twitter and Facebook cold-selling and using non-permission marketing techniques, even though they may say "but we're targeting demographics!". So if it's none of these aggressive techniques, how does it work?

So I challenge any SMM to reply in plain English and give a few simple examples of SMM in action and the kind of benefits these SMM examples would bring.

October 24, 2009 - 11:08am

Well I can give you one example Andrew.

On one of our sites (that is admittedly not a brand) we launched some featured content and tried promoting it. And it got a few links...but really it went just about nowhere. As we saw that failing, my wife partnered up with a much larger publisher and syndicated the content with them.

Their brand (and social media distribution network) was much larger than ours was. They posted our exact same content and got way more Twitter mentions, way more blog links, and made the Digg homepage.

Take away their Twitter exposure (and their other promotion on other social media networks) and they would not have got as much distribution and as many links.

Jamie Turner
October 24, 2009 - 2:04pm

Gang -- there are plenty of ways to measure Social Media. 10 of them are outlined in this post on the 60 Second Marketer site

The post tips its hat to eConsultancy, where the original list came from (thanks, eConsultancy!).

The main point is this:

• Yes, there are (at least) 10 different ways to accurately measure a social media campaign
• Yes, if you run a successful campaign, you can see a positive ROI
• Yes, social media is here to stay

Jamie Turner

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