One of the primary barriers we encounter when talking to businesses about social media implementation is measurement.

For years, web marketers have sold the virtues of web marketing via its accountability. Clicks could be tracked, conversions could be measured & ROI was accountable to the very last dollar.

But social media blurred the lines of online accountability. The direct response environment that we've all become so used to on the web has been replaced by a channel more suited to relationships and referrals than instant sales. Which has made the job of measuring results a heck of a lot harder.

But rest assured, with tangible objectives in place and usage of the appropriate tools, marketing initiatives in social networks can be measured just as effectively as other online channels. Even projects with objectives related to fluffy marketing outcomes such as customer engagement and attitudinal shifts are accountable. The key is simply to quantify those objectives.

Objectives

The challenge of providing tangible metrics for a social project was presented to us recently when responding to a client brief. While the brief was fairly vague in nature, the client knew enough to define three core objectives for the project:

  1. To increase discussion and online word of mouth around the brand in social networks
  2. To motivate consumers to share brand related content in social environments
  3. To shift consumers existing perceptions and attitudes towards the brand, which were skewed slightly in the negative direction

The sight of these wishy-washy objectives relating to conversation, brand engagement & customer attitudes would be enough to give most web marketers a headache. But the simple fact is that each objective is both tangible and measurable.

As stated before, the key is simply to quantify the objective. Once the objective is tangible, it can be measured.

Quantified

Here's how we went about converting the objectives from fluff to real metrics:

  1. Increase online discussion: Discussion volume is a relatively easy variable to measure. Each brand related post, comment or Tweet can be tracked with the appropriate tools (Radian6). As a result, measuring an increase in discussion volume is as simple as taking a baseline measurement before the project, and comparing it to post project results.
  2. Motivate content sharing: For this particular project, all brand related content was to be hosted on a micro site. Content could then be ported to external social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Each sharing icon on the site was to be tracked with appropriate web analytics code. This code would then track each time a sharing icon was clicked. The total number of clicks would provide a tangible metric around the extent of consumer sharing behaviour. Some specialist tools even provide transparency as to the size of the network that each person shared the content with (Radian6).
  3. Shifting consumer attitudes: Measuring customer attitudes is undoubtedly the trickiest objective to quantify. However, tools have emerged that score discussion sentiment based upon a semantic analysis of the vernacular and the positive and negative connotations of the wording (Social Mention). While the algorithms do not yet deliver laser like precision, accuracy is generally good enough to monitor high level trends. Subsequently, a pre and post campaign analysis of conversation sentiment can be used to gauge attitudinal shifts.

Conclusion

The three examples above are just a handful of techniques available to marketers playing in social channels. Ultimately, the metrics you use should be tied directly to the project objectives. With the right tools, just about any objective can be quantified.