Metrics for Social Applications (and Social Media)

I was reading a fairly old piece of research by Forrester at the weekend. It is called “Measuring Social Applications in a downturn” (Josh Bernhoff, Sept 2008).  I was doing so to see how far the thinking around measuring social marketing and social applications has developed over the last half-year or so.

Were we any closer to being able to state with confidence that we can ascertain our ROI and measure it effectively?

Were there any recent changes that would have altered the content of this research had it been known at the time?

The first thing we always like to do at Coffee Marketing is state that the key to any measurement is that it must be in line with meeting the objectives set for the activity.  If you do not start with your objectives, you don’t know what you are trying to achieve and there is no way you will be able to measure it.  This point is also asserted in Forrester’s research, as it should be, being standard marketing practice.  As a result this point of process is timeless and should be the key to starting any data collection or analysis.



With this in mind there was a surprise in part of Forrester’s research’s conclusion;

Easy metrics were popular but fail to make the case. The most popular metrics were based on traffic — which is easy to measure but hard to translate into results — rather than metrics closer to actual business goals”. Source Forrester Sept, 2008.

This to me is off the mark and at odds with the point made above about objectives.  Does this statement mean that increasing these metrics is not a valid objective or perhaps just too easy?  If the conversion funnel of the website has been rigorously tested and known, then there needs to be less of a focus on conversion rate and sales than there is driving volume and setting the objective as increasing traffic to x webpage at y cost.  Especially since that some organisations have lead generation experts (perhaps even outsourced) as well as someone monitoring conversion rates.  In this case, for the lead generation expert traffic and click through is spot on as their objective!

benchmark

Again it must be down to what marketing needs to achieve at any given point.  If a company is just launching then what is the point of trying to measure the net promoter score in the first instance?  This is not only irrelevant, but will ultimately turn up with ‘0’ probably for at least the first few months at best, while the activity starts to increase and break through the clutter.  This is not useful.  In this example you initially need to build traffic and so this should be your objective.

You might then decide that once a regular stream of traffic is coming in that they need converting and so increasing the conversion rate via relationship marketing in the social web is the key challenge.  This does support the research’s recommendation of ‘being flexible in measurement’. In my view though saying that these are “easy metrics”, undermines the practice of using the measures that are most valid for the current marketing goals and those which will generate useful data that can be acted upon.

What was also strange about this article was that it seems to suggest that the further down this list the more the objectives become business focused.  Net promoter score is vaguely like business referral from an existing customer, but would never be calculated in this way in the real world, so how can this be assessed to be a “business metric”?  Using net promoter score when you are trying to assess the number of referrals you have generated from existing clients is unnecessary.  There are other ways of measuring this directly, like an incentive scheme (a if you have been referred with designated code) being one example.

What I would also conclude from this research is not that these findings show that people have little idea as to what to measure or are potentially lazy, but at that time there was not a great enough adoption of social marketing to integrate it into the core business. Now the momentum behind a shift of marketing efforts towards social marketing has truly begun and so now a change in support calls is more likely as businesses have realised that the social web offers far greater potential than lead generation or sales.  After sales support, prospecting and reputation management have all seen notable increases in use.

The key difference and change in the market since this piece of research was released is that businesses have just started to realise that the social web can contribute across their whole businesses if managed and implemented correctly.  Towards the end of this year will see the greatest shift in how social marketing works and is used in business overall.  Marketers will now have to start looking at a wider range of more complex metrics for social marketing with the move towards integrating social media into the daily business processes.

Changes:

Social Marketing is being increasingly accepted as able to support the whole business and this will increase the number and quality of metrics to be measured

Consistencies:
Metrics must focus on measuring your objective with as high validity as possible
There are various measurements that can be applied to different situations- chose carefully

My recommendation:
Although I agree with all the recommendations made in Forrester’s research, I believe they have missed out benchmarking.  Often it is not easy to use web analytics to directly measure the impact for your marketing, as a social network might not allow tracking URLs for example.

Just remember that you must choose the most appropriate metric for your objective. Sample the metric at least a few weeks before hand to create a benchmark and then begin your activity.  This enables you to measure impact across an integrated campaign with numerous elements, using one valid metric.

Good luck!

Appendix:

Source Forrester Research, 2008.

Source Forrester Research, 2008.

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