Measuring Social Media Efforts: How & Why You Need to Do It

Like PR, social media is all about relationship building and user engagement. More and more often, message boards and blogs take the place of focus groups and in-person meetings. Consequently, measuring and quantifying your company’s messaging in this space is not just a smart business move—it’s imperative.

Although traditional media has not been completely replaced by social media—yet—it’s important that companies make an effort in measuring the efforts of their campaigns online. Ignoring this could be detrimental to your company’s fiscal health (try explaining this to your board). If you remain unconvinced of new media measurement’s importance, consider these recent news developments:

•    BusinessWeek writes a story about Twitter, a microblogging tool with a 140-character limit that works well on cell phones or mobile devices. (For more on Twitter, see page 8.)
•    Erstwhile presidential candidate Hillary Clinton invests a million dollars in a large town hall meeting while supporters of presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama create a grassroots video that airs on YouTube and is seen by 120 times the audience of the Clinton confab.
•    IBM receives more leads, sales and exposure from a $500 podcast than it does from an ad.
•    One recent survey says that consumers feel Wikipedia is just as credible as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Now that you’ve hopefully hitched your wagon onto the social media gravy train, you will need to realize that the old methodologies may not be applicable anymore.

For starters: “It’s not how many eyeballs your site or blog gets, it’s the right eyeballs. The whole social media scene is a focus group,” says measurement aine & Partners. “It’s knowing how to tap into it.”

Second, no longer are online hits—or, as Paine wryly calls them, “How Idiots Track Success [H.I.T.S.]”—enough to accurately measure if your company is being successful in its messaging via social media channels. There is a plethora of new and noteworthy tools available in cyberland that have been effective in gauging whether a campaign is working—and that won’t end up costing anything. Consider the following:

• “This is a simplistic tool, but [used frequently] at agencies,” Paine says. “It looks up your frequency in Twitter and other sites, and how often they appear on the site you select.”
• This site checks your company’s Google page rank; you can also type in your blog’s URL and find out where it ranks and how important it is on competitor sites.
• and Tweet scan: Both track postings about you or your company on Twitter.
• This site monitors themes on Twitter. If there has been a discussion on your company or an ongoing campaign, you can look it up here.

Then there’s the tried and true Google Analytics, which can be used as an effective—and free—measurement tool for both blogs and Web sites. Google Analytics gives users the number of monthly visitors (unique and regular) to their blog/Web site, as well as the amount of time they spend there.

“The best part about Google Analytics is its benchmarking capabilities,” says Paine. “What Google does is capture your information, but you must agree to it.” Once you do, your company’s data becomes part of a sharing pool that can compare your sites to others in the same category.

Another benefit of Google Analytics is that you can adjust the dates on it, which will make it easier for you to go back a year when performing comparative data analysis for measuring purposes.

Now that you have selected a few sites that will help your track your company’s messaging, level of consumer engagement, how your company is being perceived by the public and how it ranks against its peer groups and competitors, you will need to consider what to measure:

•    Outputs: Did you get the coverage you needed?
•    Outtakes: Did your target audience see the message? Did they believe it?
•    Outcomes: Did audience behavior to your product or company change? Did the right people show up? Did sales increase?

For any campaign, Paine strongly advises PR pros to create a grid that will clearly outline your goal, action, output metric, outtake metric and outcome metric. This will help you keep your objectives top-of-mind and give them context as you monitor your campaign as it unfolds.

To boost your efforts in successfully measuring social media ROI, ask yourself these questions:

•    What’s the return you want to get out of it? Is it increased enrollment (if your company is an educational institution) or sales? What’s the bottom-line effort?
•    What’s the investment?
•    Do you understand your audience and what motivates it?
•    Can you define the metrics you’re using or want to use? What element of the online conversation is important to you while you’re tracking and monitoring online communities? Are you most concerned about the ratio of postings, be it negative or positive, about your company?
•    What are you benchmarking against (i.e. other schools, peer groups, competing organizations)?

Don’t be unrealistic or overreach your aims. “If you’re looking for a silver bullet, you’re not going to get it,” Paine says. “The reason you measure is to see if a program works—that’s the whole point.”
Once the results trickle in, analyze them, glean insight, take action and then measure again. Consider your definition of success and its future impact. Also, how will your efforts change the landscape of your organization?
“What goes up on your [measurement] dashboard has to be related to what you’re doing,” says Paine. “If you eliminated the social media or PR department, what would be different? You’ve got to relate it back to your bottom line.” Then, take the following steps:

â–¶ Define all the targeted segments of your audience and how you impact them. Prioritize based on benefits.What do you need to quantify the organization? What are the bottom-line benefits? Is it to save money? Increase revenue? Awareness? Or all of the above?

â–¶ Think about what you’d like to include in your arsenal of measuring tools. Select a content source, such as RSS feeds or Google News or others. Then analyze that content.
“Measure what matters, because 20% of the content influences 80% of the decisions [your company makes],” says Paine.
â–¶ Don’t forget to measure comments and conversations about your company on blogs as well as MySpace and Facebook content.

â–¶ Finally, remember this isn’t brain surgery. “Measurement is easy,” maintains Paine. “She/he who has the most data wins. Whatever the hot button is that’s part of your mission, you want your fair share of it.”

Katie Paine,

Originally published August 12, 2008