Marriage of Metrics: Social Media ROI = Engagement + Relationships

Engagement. Relationships. When you consider the vernacular surrounding social media measurement, an outsider could easily mistake the conversation for one about the ROI of marriage. Granted, the ROI of both marriage and social media are, by many standards, disputed and nebulous. But unfortunately (or maybe not) for communications executives, only the latter is critical to their job security and value in the eyes of senior management. What’s more, it’s marking a pivotal moment in the advancement of the PR discipline. “It’s the end of the world as we know it,” says Katie Paine, CEO of KDPaine & Partners, citing a handful of signs as to why: “The Department of Defense considers Twittering and other forms of social media to be critical to national security. Best Buy measures 85% lower [employee] turnover as a result of its Blue Shirt Nation community. Dell has made more money with Twitter than Twitter itself has.” Thus, the ROI of social media exists, but proving it definitively still remains profoundly difficult for most executives, mainly because of those two elements that prove to be so integral to quantifying success: engagement and relationships. “The opportunities for communications are growing exponentially, but without data, how can you be expected to do your job?” Paine says. “There is no market for your message. You become what you measure, and he/she with the most data wins.” Couple this with the thorny economic environment and the need to justify communications budgets more than ever, and you’ve entered an entirely different stratosphere of challenges. “ Harvard Business Review and McGraw-Hill studies of recessions since the 1920s show that companies that maintain or increase [marketing/PR] expenditures average significantly higher sales growth during the recession as compared to those that don’t,” says Lore McManus Solo, principal and VP of PR at Strategic America. “Given this unprecedented economy, we must address the essentials—purpose, audience, positioning and evaluating against objectives—and face consequences.” Based on this daunting reality, how can communications execs wrap their arms around the intangibles of relationships and engagement to establish a demonstrable ROI for social media initiatives? â–¶ Identify your objectives. It’s step one no matter your initiative. Without clear-cut objectives, it’s easy to lose your way and end up far from your intended destination. â–¶ Identify the intended recipients of your message. “List every stakeholder and [determine] where they go for information, what’s important to them and the benefit of having a good relationship with that stakeholder group,” Paine says. “Understand your role in getting the audiences to do what you want it to, [be it to] raise awareness, increase preference or increase engagement.” â–¶ Establish key performance indicators (KPIs). Key performance indicators help determine how effective you are in achieving your objectives throughout an initiative or campaign. “KPIs achieve corporate goals and continuously improves your processes,” Paine says, pointing to the following as good ones to consider: • Cost savings from other disciplines/activities • Increase in employee engagement/morale • Lower turnover/recruitment costs • Improvement in relationship/reputation scores with customers • Improvement in efficacy â–¶ Define your metrics. There are long-standing debates about which carry more weight, but communications execs almost unanimously agree on the following three metrics, which Solo defines accordingly: • Outputs: What is generated, i.e., coverage, site visitors, etc. • Outtakes: What the audience sees and understands based on your messages. • Outcomes: Changes that occurred as a direct result of the initiative, i.e., behavioral changes, sales generated, etc. The third metric—outcomes—is the most difficult to measure in social media, but it’s also the most important because it addresses engagement and relationships with target audiences. â–¶ Apply metrics to relationships and engagement. Paine argues that the combination of outputs, outtakes and outcomes establishes an engagement index, which is critical to identifying accurate social media ROI (see sidebar for 10 specific numbers that help measure engagement). This is also the stage in which to establish a relationship index based on your target stakeholders’ reaction to your messaging and the ways in which it enhanced (or devalued) their relationship with your brand. Paine identifies the following components of a relationship index: • Control mutuality (does the audience feel like the organization listens and responds to their feedback?) • Trust • Satisfaction • Commitment • Exchange relationship (does the audience feel like the organization expects something from them or do they feel like the organization will take care of/compromise with them based on their support?) • Communal relationship (does the audience think the organization is concerned for their well-being?) In terms of implementing a relationship index, communications executives must first establish a benchmark of their target audience before the PR initiative (via surveys, marketing data, etc.) and then follow that up with a post-program study, at which point they can evaluate what changed for better and for worse. â–¶ Readjust strategies for future programs. Once you’ve measured the ROI of a social media initiative, the work has only begun; after all, it’s all for naught if you don’t take those findings and apply them to subsequent campaigns, tweaking the approach to eliminate failures and enhance successes. “Compare [results] to last month, last quarter and last year. Figure out what worked and what didn’t,” Paine says. “Look for failures first. Then, look for exceptional success.” PRN CONTACTS: Katie Paine,; Lore McManus Solo,

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