• July 1, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Taking the Measure of Social Media

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For the rest of the July 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

Measurementcamp Wiki calls itself an “open-source movement to make sense of social media measurement.” There’s certainly enough chaos to warrant an effort at sense-making. The impact of social media, according to the wiki, can be categorized under one of three general headers: behavior, feelings, and financial impact. That may not seem all that different from a traditional marketing campaign, but with social media you have the added advantage—or burden—of monitoring and responding to what people are saying in real time.

Marketers have long been aware that the tables were turning from the “push” model they controlled to a “pull” model controlled by the public—a model that social media has finally made a reality. Today’s consumers have not only learned to block out marketing overload, they’re making their own voices heard loud and clear. That’s the dirty little secret of the new “pull” model: Now it’s marketers who have to find value in the noise. (See sidebar, “The Metrics of User-Generated Social Media,” below.)

To that end, Web analytics providers are partnering with social media monitoring solutions. Last September, for example, Web analytics vendor Omniture partnered with on-demand social media platform provider Lithium Technologies on its Omniture Genesis program. More recently, Webtrends and Radian6 announced a collaboration to capture consumer activity both on and off a company’s Web property. (For more on that partnership, see “Web Analytics Meets Social Media,” April 16, 2009.)

Even marketing automation vendors are responding to the demand for social media measurement. In January, Lyris enhanced its Lyris HQ integrated marketing suite to unite email marketing campaigns with social networks, and use Web analytics to track social activity. In May, Responsys unveiled its “Share-to-Social” email-campaign solution, which allows a recipient to forward an email to her social networks, extending the reach of a marketing campaign.

“Any good marketing strategy typically starts with a measurement strategy,” says Bill Mungovan, Omniture’s director of product marketing. For companies that haven’t yet figured out how to incorporate social media, Mungovan says it’s only a matter of time. “At some point, advertising will demand accountability for any new medium,” he says. The timing typically depends on when the channel reaches critical mass. “No one cared to measure Twitter,” Mungovan says, “until everyone started using it.”

Keeping up with the sheer mass of information and the seemingly endless stream of emerging channels won’t be easy. Solutions similar to those from Radian6 and Lithium are helping to aggregate conversations onto one platform, making it possible to drill down and respond to consumers in a meaningful way. “The challenge is to measure not the conversation, but who’s having a positive impact on their brand,” says John Lovett, a senior research analyst at Forrester Research. (Radian6 attempts to gauge each conversation’s level of engagement—assessing whether, say, a twitterer has a large number of followers, or a blogpost is garnering many comments.)

Experts anticipate that social media will finally drive marketing toward the age-old dream of a relationship with the consumer that’s built on trust and mutual interest. In a sense, says David Alston, vice president of marketing at Radian6, social media is essentially “customer service under a spotlight.” By responding in a public forum, you potentially resolve similar problems—cutting down on repetitive service costs—and build a positive reputation. Companies are getting bonus points for just showing up and having real people represent the brand. “They’re trying to help,” Alston says, adding that, when it comes to consumer relationships, “it’s a heck of a lot harder to be mad at a person than [at] a brand.” On the other hand, soon social presence won’t just be a nice gesture—customers are going to expect companies to be present all the time.

Social media impact is never as simple as counting the number of coupon redemptions, and yet it’s significantly more relevant than a mass-broadcast television commercial. The strength of the social media channel, unlike traditional marketing, is that it’s driven by the consumer. “[Customers] decide whether or not a company or brand is in social media—not the company,” Alston says. “As long as your customers are talking about you, you’re in social media.”

Finally recognizing that they no longer control the conversation may be the first and most important change marketers have to make. Social media requires a fundamental shift in business processes, something organizations need to be prepared to deal with, says John Horodyski, senior strategist at Fjord Interactive Marketing and Technology. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are among the big social media players today, but who knows how the landscape will look in five years, or even one?

“There is much more to measure in social media than individual metrics,” Horodyski says. “You need to see the big picture and the entire social media impact—or you run the risk of misrepresenting its effect.”


SIDEBAR: The Metrics of User-Generated Social Media

Need a pneumonic device to recall what to measure? Try this one: "Only the SAVViEST marketers grasp the nuances of social media metrics." (The "Vi" in the middle stands for "Virality.")

  • Sentiment: The positive, negative, or indifferent consumer reaction to your brand or a topic, which can be measured by text analytics and natural-language processing.
  • Author (Influencer): The people talking about your brand and their social media impact (e.g., number of followers, readers, commenters).
  • Volume: The number of comments, blog posts, tweets, links, etc., about your brand, your competition, and your field.
  • Virality: The reach of your brand and relevant topics around your brand (e.g., how many people are reading, posting, linking, and sharing).
  • Emotion: The reasons that a consumer felt good, bad, or indifferent that point to how you can resolve her problem or how your business can change and improve.
  • Source: Where the conversation is occurring (e.g., Twitter, blog, discussion board).
  • Topic/Issue: The context (e.g., product, customer service, advertising, competitor, etc.) in which your brand is being discussed. Nielsen’s Brand Association Map helps visually associate the relationship between terms; a Google AdWords keyword-expansion tool helps improve the relevancy of your selections.

Source: Alex Burmaster, Nielsen Online

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