Social media measurement was one of many hot topics in 2011. Chances are it will be a hot topic in 2012, and every year thereafter until we have a standard set of metrics for brands to use.
Unfortunately, there is a slim chance we will find a standard set of metrics for every brand. Brand goals differ, as do the metrics tied to those goals. It has been this way in public relations for years, and will likely be the same for social media as well.
Communications professionals should be leery of approaches that encourage them to measure social media like we measure advertising, or any other communications discipline. We've seen this story before with advertising value equivalencies.
Not only do AVEs assume that PR and advertising carry the same value within an organization, but the math behind some of the calculations is suspect at best. If you would like to read more on the subject, check out Don Bartholomew's blog.
If it's unlikely that we will find a standard measurement method and unwise to measure social media as we do other communications disciplines, what can we achieve?
I think we can do two things to improve social media measurement:
1. Understand basic measurement principles.
With the explosion of social media, it seems we've lost sight of proper communications planning. Communication plans include:
Benchmark research: If we examine brand pages and listen to fans, social media provides a wealth of data. That doesn't mean that we should abandon primary research methods. Surveys and focus groups are necessary to understand customers' underlying behaviors before launching a program.
An objective: The objective needs to clearly articulate what the program should achieve. Most importantly, a proper objective includes the behavior you want to impact, a rate of change, and the time you think it will take to change that behavior.
Metrics: This is a pretty obvious step, but you need to consider metrics in each stage of your program, including planning. These metrics should match your strategies and objectives. If they don't, pick new metrics.
Strategies and tactics: Again, this is somewhat elementary, but there are many programs in which strategies and tactics don't match the objective. Don't make this mistake. Keep the broader objective in your passenger seat at all times.
The other critical component of measurement 101 is to understand how all of this ties back to what you want to achieve. This largely relates to your objective, but it's worth it to call it out separately.
If your objectives and subsequent tactical elements don't make the business money, drive up the intent to purchase, make a customer more likely to recommend your product or increase loyalty, you should revisit those strategies and tactics. These are the only things your client or boss cares about at the end of the day.
2. Combine communications to create one measurement framework.
FastCompany recently posted an interesting approach to measure all digital components using an aggregate score. That approach is certainly useful, but it's time to think about all communications when we conceive a measurement framework.
Social media doesn't happen in a vacuum, and neither does traditional communication. An aggregate score is likely the best approach, but we have to think about measurement like we think about communications—as a strategic and holistic marketing practice tied to business objectives. If we don't, we'll measure each channel without any context.
As my friend Tom Webster says, you have to do the work. The solution to your measurement conundrum won't appear on a silver platter, but if you apply measurement basics and think about how you can incorporate your measurement framework, you'll be one step ahead of the competition.
What measurement challenges have you faced?
Chuck Hemann is currently director of analytics for WCG in Austin, Texas, and blogs at ChuckHemann.com. A version of this article originally ran on PR Squared.