CustomScoop will be attending the upcoming Roundtable on Social Media measurement in Toronto, spearheaded by Joe Thornley of Thornley Fallis Communications. Up for discussion: the Holy Grail (or is it the Nessie?) of social media–measurement.
Measuring social media has been difficult from the moment people started to pay attention to blogs. Those accustomed to measuring page views were suddenly trying to figure out inbound links, then that methodology was challenged. One after another, each method that is developed is challenged for not getting it quite right. Edelman’s Social Media Index tried to quantify multi-platform presence, but if you’re trying to reach PR pros who are all on Twitter, does it matter if they have a low Flickr/Visual score?
The discussion surrounding measuring social media reminds me a great deal of all of the questions surrounding measuring “word-of-mouth” or “grassroots” marketing. During my tenure at Fleishman-Hillard, I had the terrific experience of working on several “word-of-mouth” campaigns, and the greatest sticking point during new business pitches always went back to measurement. We found these types of “buzz” campaigns worked best for products that had a few key attributes:
- If it was something very new and different to the market, and therefore might need some explanation or hands-on trial to demonstrate what the product does;
- If it was a product that was really cool: truly “buzz-worthy”;
- If it was a modification to an existing product that really changed the base product–in these cases, a significant portion of the rationale behind the campaign was making sure the core customer was being listened to.
Listening was one of the most vital aspects of a good campaign–the people that were contacted over the course of the marketing effort were almost always fascinated that the companies involved wanted feedback. And the brands likewise listened to what customers had to say about the product, tweaking designs, coming up with additional products and so on based on consumer feedback. I think the mutual benefit was one of the intangible successes of the programs–people from both sides of the product equation benefited.
But always, the question was asked: “how do we know that these people are talking about our brand?–how can we measure this?”
The answer was that we didn’t know. There was anecdotal evidence: higher coupon redemption in those markets, higher sales vs. a control market without a WOM campaign run in it, and so on. But as far as really knowing that someone mentioned the brand or product to their sister, neighbor, or coworker–there was no hard evidence. And I would further argue that there still isn’t, even though C-suite folks in marketing and PR now embrace WOM as a
legitimate marketing effort.
I chatter on endlessly about products I love, and I’m not part of any WOM marketing program. Separating what little influence I yield from a formal campaign designed to do the same thing would be very difficult, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be measured. It simply means that both those doing the measuring and those on the receiving end of the numbers need to recognize that like every other methodology, there will be flaws. Anyone waiting for perfect measurement will be waiting a very long time–maybe indefinitely.
Smart companies will move forward on social media anyway, and use the best numbers they can for the objectives they are trying to reach. Measuring influence is tricky. The niche nature of social media means that audiences must be very carefully considered when developing social media marketing and measurement programs. Take the plunge, embrace the imperfection.
Earlier this year,Fast Company published a piece interviewing Duncan Watts, who challenges the notion of the role of influencers, and contradicts some of the main tenants in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” Watt’s conclusion: influence is transmitted through trust, not celebrity.
So, how do you measure trust?
The roundtable will build on the groundwork established through two previous roundtables and the White Papers generated as a result: Tracking the Influence of Conversations and Distributed Influence: Quantifying the Impact of Social Media. Both White Papers contain a great deal to think on and consider when approaching social media, and I’m certain that the roundtable in Toronto next Tuesday will yield some great ideas to carry us all forward in developing useful measurement for social media.