Customized Metrics needed to measure the success of social media marketing

The IAB just proposed a set of Metrics for measuring Social Media but this proposal still remains very conventional: Effectively measuring the success of social media marketing requires indicators that have been customized for particular categories in the social space and goals and have to go beyond reach and engagement.
No other subject is receiving as much attention in digital marketing circles these days as marketing in social networks. This is no surprise given the ever-increasing number of active users on Facebook, LinkedIn and similar sites. Leading the way is Twitter, a micro-blogging service that has grown by an astounding 1,200 percent in the past year. Attempts to reach members of social networks using conventional forms of online advertising such as banners, however, have not been successful. When the German business networking site XING began embedding ads on the profile pages of its premium members, users were outraged. These communities simply will not tolerate intervention that impedes direct social interaction. One way around this difficulty is for companies to hire experts to enter into dialogue with users or to provide applications that offer users something more, like on Facebook.

The main reason why many companies are still hesitating to try out these options is that they are uncertain how to gauge their effectiveness. As usual, marketing executives have to show exactly how much ROI their initiatives will bring. There is a widespread tendency to measure the effectiveness of social media marketing using conventional online-marketing KPIs, and the current IAB proposal is not going far beyond this. I tend to say that this the wrong way to go. Conventional online campaigns have a set length of time and are judged on things like Visits, page impressions, Duration of Stay or conversions. Social media initiatives, on the other hand, are usually designed for the medium to long term, plus they pursue different goals, like developing relationships with users and positioning influencers for the brand. Instead of subjecting social media goals and ROI to standard measures of campaign success, marketing professionals should apply metrics used in customer service and CRM. After all, customer satisfaction and customer retention are good signs of the success of social marketing campaigns too.

Defining goals and developing a systematic approach

Before a marketing department can measure the success of an initiative, it is essential for it to define the goals of the initiative and to know what the company wants to achieve with, say, an application. What is it that will determine success? Will it be a certain number of followers or influencers? Or will it depend on reach? In addition to precisely defined goals, it is important to establish and follow a systematic approach that will enable comparisons with other social media initiatives.

A framework of this kind should at least include four components:

  • Engagement: How will users engage and interact with content, apps and media in the social network?
  • Impact: What effect will my content and topics have on users? Do they consume, interact or share?
  • Stickiness: How long and how often are users interacting with the content or application?
  • Quality of Reach: What is the quality of user profiles or user networks? Do they have large networks and can they or their networks be classified as influencers in the relevant area?

These items are important when defining metrics for different social media areas and tools, However, analysts and strategists will need to break down special indicators individually, depending on the goals of the company and the type of application.

Indicators for social media measurement

Social media – as a collective term – is not a single, neatly defined area. Each site has different goals and expectations, so different indicators are necessary to measure success. Just because you’re talking about Twitter or a Facebook application or even a banner on MySpace doesn’t necessarily mean you’re talking about the whole of social media. Standard KPIs like number of downloads are fine for a Facebook application, but very different indicators are needed for Twitter and online communities. A better approach for Twitter for instance would be to use listening tools and text-mining technologies to classify buzz. They give companies information about brand or product-related conversations, including how much is being said, how engaged the participants are and how serious the discussion is. More advanced tools like Twitalyzer can go far beyond that toward the quality of influencers and participant of the conversation. They do not ony reveal how frequently people send tweets on the subject to their friends, what keywords are being used, how often influencers contribute, e.g. by “re-tweeting” as well as the number of listeners and how they are being reached. Last but not least, they provide preliminary information about the tone of tweets. The posts of influential Twitterers can be monitored by a company and integrated in an internal workflow for further processing. Marketing professionals can measure the success of this strategy based on the quality and quantity of tweets posted on a certain topic and on the degree to which influencers “influence” their followers.

The most important thing, though, is that each platform needs its own individual set of metrics that take into account all four key components– Engagement, Impact, Stickiness and Quality of Reach. We still mainly see definitions of Reach and Engagement parts but this is not enough.