Today's Web marketers are expanding their scope beyond the traditional channels (crazy as it may be, I am referring to display and search marketing here). Forays into creating social applications on Facebook and MySpace platforms, launching campaigns via widgets or following customers on Twitter are tactics being tested by organizations large and small. Measuring these efforts is a huge challenge when the currency hasn't been established and the data sources are disparate and undocumented. Marketers are demanding metrics -- as they should -- but this results in new feeds of analytics (if available) that need to be integrated into existing dashboards and marketing analyses.
Where do you begin in evaluating what's possible or impossible to measure? Questions to start with:
1. Is the data available? Almost every social media channel has some set of metrics being calculated somewhere. The real question is whether they are officially exposed or if a cottage industry group of developers is mining the data through a set of scraping scripts. For you ad agencies and corporate marketers, this is probably not going to fly with your "customers."
2. How do you get hold of the data? Rudimentary ways of retrieving how many Tweets or how many installs of your app or widget are definitely available. Do a Web search on one of these phrases. and a litany of free tools and Web sites will show up in the results. However, the more sophisticated players in the space are offering their analytics via a Web-based interface or an API for their customers to retrieve the data. APIs offer the most flexibility for incorporation into existing dashboards and other systems.
3. How do I interpret this data? Answer: ask your vendor. When I refer to vendor, I do not mean your Web analytics vendor. While some of them are playing in these various spaces, your best bet is to go to the source (if there is one). Ask your widget platform vendor, your account/sales representative from the social network or blogging platform of your choice. The platforms that are evolving the fastest are starting to work together on standards, while those that have a clear monopoly in their space need to (and should) be documenting how they calculate and display their usage metrics. If you aren't sure, I challenge you to ask them.
At the end of the day, we are in the midst of an analytics revolution for measuring social media. The metrics are being defined, some consolidation has occurred and standards will follow. The Web Analytics Association has established a Standards Committee to define terms and definitions for measuring how visitors interact with social media content, but this is just a starting point. The vendors have to be ready to "open the kimono," if you will. Web analytics practitioners and marketers need to know how the data is collected, how it is filtered and how the metrics are calculated. Until we have transparency in the measurement model, the mother lode of marketing dollars will not follow.