Never hesitant to jump on the New Year prognostication bandwagon, I'm giving you a few predictions for some significant new elements and important evolutions in social media metrics in 2011:
1. Rapid maturation. Social media measurement will mature rapidly now that there is real money being spent by marketers in the social realm. Professional measurement tools and techniques have gained critical mass in the space to help keep the focus on measuring the business value of social media in terms of either individual behavior shifts or community support. For a terrific overview, see Jim Sterne's latest book, "Social Media Metrics" (or better yet, this webcast overview).
2. Government Drives Better Tracking. Social media tracking (e.g. seeing how and where messages spread) will improve significantly, mostly due to government regulation. Many of us work in industries that are regulated. These regulations require that our marketing messages come with appropriate disclosures about financial interests, side effects, performance guarantees, etc. The necessity of properly making and tracking disclosures has, till recently, held back many of our character-limited social media efforts. New companies like CMP.LY (www.CMP.LY) are taking the headache out of disclosure management and providing powerful tracking capabilities at the same time.
3. Online and offline will merge. By year end, social media will no longer be equated with just online marketing tactics. TV, print, and outdoor campaigns will increasingly be measured in terms of their ability to get people engaged in behavioral interaction (e.g. talking to others about a brand), and more fully integrated with the online elements. Online behavior tracking will more fully merge with offline survey research techniques to better identify and measure the value of specific types of engagement. Offline budgets will continue to be much larger in most cases, but the "Old Spice" success story has penetrated the consciousness of marketers to the tipping point where the business and financial benefits of full integration are too big to be ignored.
4. Predictive value is emerging. The holy grail of social media is the "so what" -- what will all the "buzz" do for sales and profits? Several big leaps have been made recently in quantitatively tying social media engagement (giving AND receiving) to actual purchase behaviors, and "norms" are beginning to emerge in key industries. In fact, the number and quality of such "norms" are increasing so rapidly that predictive validity is building. We can tell, in some industries, how early social media activity can predict overall campaign effectiveness, which in turn can predict customer/prospect buying behaviors. So if A=B and B=C, then we will increasingly learn to use A=C as a trusted metric for measuring the "so what" -- and the pace of that learning will accelerate dramatically.
Generationally, it's been difficult for many of the over-40 set to wrap their brains around the implications of social media (possibly more from stress-induced eye strain than from lack of interest). But watching the college and teenage consumers of tomorrow NOT watch television (except sports and streaming movies) or read any printed periodicals, it's clear that the media world HAS evolved. Only now is it becoming clear that the metrics are finally beginning to catch up.