Getting a measure on social media metrics

by James Duthie June 30th, 2009 

One of the primary barriers I 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. Yet the emergence of social media blurred the lines of online accountability. The direct response environment that weve all become so used to on the web was suddenly replaced by a channel more suited to relationships and referrals than instant sales. Which 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.

The challenge of providing tangible metrics for a social project was presented to me 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. Heres how I went about converting the objectives from fluff to real metrics (the relevant tools needed to measure each metric are provided in brackets):

  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 (Nielsen Buzz Metrics or 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 (Nielsen Buzz Metrics). 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.

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. However, it should be noted that the particular tools mentioned in this article are paid subscription services, and therefore are better suited to enterprise level projects and budgets.

For a broader range of traditional (and free) metrics and tools, check out Search Engine Journals post on the topic.

James Duthie

I'm an online marketing strategist currently working for one of Australia's largest online agencies. I consult with our clients to develop holistic web strategies, while also managing the SEO and social media elements of the business.

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4 Responses to “Getting a measure on social media metrics”

  1. Agent SEO says:

    This article brings up an interesting point. Most business-owners (especially older or non-tech saavy ones) are very skeptical about social media in general.

    Most think it's not for them simply because they can't measure it, which is a necessary thing when trying to justify it at the end of your month when looking at where your $ is spent.

    What they don't realize is that it is free exposure and a great chance to connect on a more personal level with your customers (current & potential) and industry peers.

    The only thing you have to spend is time…and the potential ROI is unlimited!

  2. ya, but how much to these services cost.

    and can SME's access these tools, at reasonable costs?

  3. btw forgot to mention, nice article!

    i think the problem as u have eluded to, is that marketers are used to measurable concepts from traditional media like frequency, reach, and lately in the online world with clicks, impressions, conversions, etc…

    so now along comes a slightly different medium, social media, and so the objectives and the metrics must change. we need to be measuring things such as engagement, depth of engagement, online discussion, video uploads / forum comments / twitter mentions, etc… depending on the specific campaign.

  4. James Duthie says:

    The specific tools mentioned in the article aren't cheap Matt, but nor are they overly expensive. They're subscription based services with a monthly fee. In Australia it's generally charged at around $500-$1,000 per industry.

    That may put them beyond the reach of some SME's, depending on their commitment to social media marketing. But as you say, their are a range of rawer measures SME's can still use (subscribers, comments, followers etc).

    They key really is to be crystal clear on what the marketing objectives are, and then determine exactly how success can be measured.