Gauging and proving the ‘strategic impact’ of social media

Demonstrating a positive ROI is just part of the battle. Savvy marketers should explore other ways to demonstrate the value of engaging on digital platforms.

Despite a litany of tools designed to monitor measurement and metrics, many organizations remain uncertain about the business value of social media.

A new study by Alitmeter Group, “Beyond ROI: Unlocking the Business Value of Social Media,” reveals that 84 percent of social media executives measure the effectiveness of their efforts, yet 29 percent are still trying to prove its value.

The shortcoming of measuring just ROI

“A strict ROI approach, while highly credible, does not capture the value of interacting with customers over time and across multiple channels and timeframes,” Altimeter analyst Susan Etlinger writes.

More than twice the number of companies measure the impact of social media at the awareness stage (71 percent) than at the acquisition stage (35 percent). Tracking customer acquisition remains challenging, but 84 percent say it presents an opportunity to use digital platforms for increased sales and commerce. Proving that activity is another matter.

Another issue is that measurement decisions tend to be driven by whatever data is common and available, rather than by business strategy. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they use standard metrics that are included in the technologies they use—but what if “standard” metrics don’t pertain to primary business goals?

Data analysis and interpretation are lacking as well. Social media data is widely available, but the skills to derive insights from that data are scarce. Nearly half the interviewed executives said their organization lacks the skills needed to work with social media data sets. To wit, a mere 26 percent of respondents reported using metrics that “tie to business objectives.”

Recommendations for improving social media measurement

Alitmeter offers these recommendations:

  • Connect with other teams seeking to prove the value of digital initiatives. Then find the area with the greatest sense of urgency in the organization. Proving a small use case first can mean a much easier time justifying your budget later.
  • Target top business objectives for social media. If impact on customer experience is important, propose how social media can improve customer value throughout the customer journey. Associate “activity” metrics (such as mentions, impressions, website visits) with journey stages (awareness, consideration, etc.) to paint a strategic picture.
  • Evaluate metrics based on strategic impact and ability to measure. Look at measurement holistically to establish business value. Seek to measure the impact of social media on business goals, whether they are related to time to market, customer loyalty, employee engagement, brand reputation, customer acquisition or simply insights gained.

The ongoing social media measurement challenge

Measuring business results derived from social media—especially linking activities to ROI—has been a vexing challenge for marketers. Just 41 percent of social media marketers say they can measure their social media activities, according to the 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry report. These tips can help you measure results:

  • Follow a few key metrics consistently rather than shifting among a wide range of metrics, which hampers analysis and wastes resources.
  • Invest in analytics know-how, such as in-house staff, agencies, tools and technology, models and customer databases.
  • View metrics through a single dashboard rather than trying to track metrics through different sources. An integrated dashboard saves time, provides real-time access, displays a comprehensive view of performance, and makes it easier to analyze and interpret data.
  • Understand mentions. A social media monitoring service with sentiment analysis can determine whether mentions are positive, negative or neutral, and it should be able to grade mentions for overall sentiment. The best sentiment analysis systems combine automated software analysis with human assessments.

Proving how social media activities can generate a positive ROI remains the gold standard of social media measurement. Meeting that goal can win plaudits from executive leaders, yet it’s difficult to achieve—and often to prove in a compelling manner. In addition to showing tangible ROI, accomplished marketers should seek other complementary ways to demonstrate the value of social media.

A version of this post first appeared on the blog.

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