Social Media Measurement: A Search for a unified theory… PART 1

In the beginning…

“Well”, Jason started “we managed to make the trending topics on twitter, and our Facebook group has got about 3,500 friends!”, he exclaimed “which is pretty good right?”. The quizzical look upon the clients face was unsettling for Jason, after week of blogs, sweat and tweets which were now running through Jason’s head like he had just been cast in the next Wackowski brothers movie. However the ending was not looking so Utopian now, as the client stared across the boardroom table, shuffling papers along the way and asked that fateful question;

“So how much is all this worth?”

A small bead of sweat hit the printed PowerPoint slides nestled uneasily in Jason’s lap, feeling his heart thud with every beat and bit of all that compiled social capital he eeks out a, “Well, that’s a very good question…”

For any of us who have dealt in this young industry of social media, citizen journalism, digital PR – call it what you will, we have all at some point or another run into this question – and for too long we have had to, like Jason, eek out that most dissatisfying answer.

However as this industry has taken form, and reformed with each new campaign, blog post and 140 character musing, we have been moving steadily towards this point, the point when like in all major industrial developments, a decision has to be made. How will we measure it?

The biggest problem I face with clients, and my contemporaries around this ever shrinking globe is proving, convincing and persuading them that getting involved with “Facebook and all that” is worth the investment  - and what’s more that we can measure how much all that twittering equates to. Sure, we have come a long way in the past 12 months, but many client teams, CMO's and alike are still unsure whether they can justify their well spent TV Euros, Pounds and Dollars.

However for those do get it, for those who are venturing into the water we have now reached that fated Gladwellian “tipping point”  when trying to brush the measurement questions under the social media carpet just will not do any more – in these difficult economic times, where budgets are being cut and in some cases slashed, and as the marginal cost of participation in such activities as social networking, content production and the distribution of that content ever head towards Zero, we as an industry need to fight to justify our slice of client’s budgets – and the key to that is measurement. The proof of the pudding, how much bang are they getting for their buck (no matter how many more we wish they would spend with us) – this is a question that is not only right to be asked, but is answerable in the here and now, not in the far off future when the industry has “matured”.

It’s all made up anyway…

The way that we measure social media will differ from client to client, and even amongst projects for the same clients, however in the same way that “old PR” has always been measured, measuring “New PR” breaks down into three key categories:

  • Reach (or RINE - Real Interactions Not Eyeballs)
  • Perception Change
  • Calls to action

Without diving into these individually it seems that all previous measurement of PR, and in many cases the rest of the gamut of marketing and communications is seeking to do one of three things, either a) Reach more people with your message, b) change the perceptions of those you already reach or c) Get people to do something new. Which ever of these you are trying to do they are all measurable, and in the social web these are even easier to measure, whether it is by views, stars, clicks, hits or even purchases! These kinds of metrics are all recorded and traced by the very people we are trying to track, rather than using the somewhat clunkier post-activity measurement mechanisms of “Old PR”.

However without doing something with these measurements they remain arbitrary, like the athlete who knocks off 2 seconds from her personal best, but is never told that she is now the World’s fastest. If we never told the athlete how much all her effort on the track, the long days and nights and rigorous diets was actually worth, how much it was paying off, she would soon be sat in front of the TV with a Dominos like the rest of us. It is the value of these measurements that is the key, this is that much dreamed of “holy grail” of the social marketing world – revered by clients and dreaded by agencies -  Return On Investment. ROI is something that has put fear in the hearts of online communicators since the beginning of this millennia, now however, PR Professionals and clients alike are waking up to the fact that the answer to this question does exist – however there is a big step that is being made in the board rooms across the world as I type, steps that require courage, consistency and clarity. The admission that…

we have to make it up.

TOMORROW: Part 2 - Blowing Our Own Cover...