Twitter Metrics? Why Bother?

There sure is lots of buzz these days about how to measure Twitter. One recent question was typical: "How do we measure the value of the tweets we're producing every day?"

Wrong question.

The right question is, "SHOULD we measure the value of the tweets we're producing every day?"

For the vast majority of companies out there, I think not.

It seems to me that Twitter is a productivity tool. You use it to efficiently communicate messages to people who have indicated a desire to hear them. In doing so, you also benefit from their willingness to retweet messages to others they may know with similar interests.

As such, the inherent value proposition of Twitter is to REPLACE higher-cost avenues of reaching interested parties with LOWER-cost avenues. Consequently, the financial value of using Twitter for business is the cost savings of reaching the same people more efficiently and/or the now-affordable opportunity of communicating deeper into the universe of current and prospective customers. All of which is, to a reasonable degree, measurable.

So why am I skeptical about measuring tweets?

First off, there are no platform costs for tweeting. No software to buy. No hardware to install. Just use any Web-enabled keyboard and you're off.  Everything you need to get started is free. If you're not adding staff, and/or you're not keeping staff to tweet when they would otherwise be expendable, then you have NO incremental cost. If this is your situation (and for most of you, I suspect it is), then why bother measuring something that comes at no cost?  Save your marketing measurement energy (and that of your management team) for bigger, more expensive issues with more meaningful marketing metrics.

But if you add or divert headcount (staff or contractor) to tweeting in a way that adds to cost, you should be prepared to forecast and measure the impact.

Your Twitter business case for adding additional headcount (aka "Chief Tweeting Officer") is based on the premise that more/better tweeting will drive measurable impact on the business in some way. So you would compare the incremental headcount cost of the tweeters with the expected incremental impact on the business in terms of:

A)    Incremental customer acquisition;

B)    Incremental customer retention ;

C)    Incremental share-of-customer;

D)    Incremental margin per customer or transaction;

E)    Improvements in staff or channel partner performance;

F)    Accelerated transactional value; or

G)    Early indication of problems and the resulting benefit of acting quickly to fix them.

Each of these could be determined through a series of inexpensive experiments intended to prove/disprove the hypothesis that tweeting will somehow result in economically attractive behavior. Some might happen as a direct result of the tweeting. Others may be indirect results in association with combinations of additional marketing tactics (e.g., paid search or display advertising). Define your hypotheses clearly and succinctly, then monitor tweet consumption...

Anyone rolling their eyes yet?

Bottom line is that tweeting, like all social media activities, is an engagement  tool. We use such tools to try to engage current/prospective customers in further dialogue of investigation of the solutions we can offer them.  So from a measurement perspective, that suggests we focus on what specific types of behavioral engagement we are trying to drive, and what economic impacts we anticipate as a result. Measure changes in those two elements and you're well on your way to success.

There are always ways to measure marketing effectiveness. Everything in marketing can be measured. But the first and most important question to ask is "What would I do differently if I knew the answer to the question I'm asking?" Only then can you decide how to PRAGMATICALLY balance measurement with action.

My friend Scott Deaver, executive vice president at Avis, is fond of saying, "Don't bother if you can't weigh it on a truck scale."  I think that applies very often to twittering away time measuring Twitter.

6 comments about "Twitter Metrics? Why Bother?".
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  1. Karma Martell from KarmaCom Inc., June 22, 2010 at 3:19 p.m.

    While I won't argue the potential of Twitter as a "productivity tool" for brand or product engagement, therein also is the rub. Companies come aboard with no plan, assign the task to junior people who lack knowledge of the subtleties of the medium, and have limited PR skills, and send them off tweeting - with little/no supervision, as no one in the organization knows enough about social media to even begin to supervise them. So they jump in missing a most important thing: Twitter is as much a LISTENING tool as it is a productivity tool. Productivity can also be derived from passive acts that are still actually quite proactive in nature. And from this listening is where the first real measurement begins. When clients come to me about "tweeting" my first question is, 'have you been out there listening, investigating, turning over rocks in twitterland? What have you found so far?" Mostly the answer is silence.

  2. Steven Parker from Parker Communications, June 22, 2010 at 3:30 p.m.

    These are all excellent points. I would add only one observation that might be a reason why the idea of Twitter ROI measurement has been a hot topic. For large organizations, the time spent on Twitter might be just a "rounding error" in their marketing budget. But for everyone else, it can be significant enough to worry about. Why? Well if you're an understaffed start-up or a small to medium sized business with marketing under extreme budget pressure (due to the downturn), then the pain from a staff time diversion hurts 3x or 4x as much. If one staffer spends 25% of their time on Twitter, but they're normally expected to handle 3 or 4 job equivalents (which happens), then as a result, the Twitter activity must be weighed against the loss of approximately one FTE person. Viewed that way, management wanting to make sure they're getting the ROI seems much less irrational. Added to that is the fact that the annual subscription fees for some of the monitoring and other tools can run into many thousands per year. Not astronomical, but definitely not "free."

    Having said all that, I pretty much agree on the truck scale approach. For most organizations, a certain amount of Twitter engagement is an absolute necessity and easily justified without elaborate ROI analysis.

  3. Joanne Miceli-bogash from JMB Consulting & Public Relations, June 24, 2010 at 9:22 a.m.

    This is perhaps best recent article of "how" twitter works in its ultimate form: as a tool for engagement and entre towards future dialogue for product or service. Getting my clients past their confusion or mis-understanding of what twitter can do is biggest obstacle; that first tweet is the hardest, but I harken it riding a somehow just remember how to do it -- and keep doing it!

  4. Edgar Williams, June 24, 2010 at 10:10 a.m.

    Pat typically agree with your insights and pov but I think you missed on this a bit. If we find that there is correlation (or even causation) between twitter activity and sales (for example) then it is worth measuring. Should companies hire people to manage twitter? Depends on the company, the objectives, the situation.
    Keep in mind that one can argue that all mediums are engagement tools - television and radio and magazines included - twitter is one to ad to the list.

  5. Janis Elspas from JEC, June 25, 2010 at 3:49 p.m.

    Your last line says it all...there's no point in Tweeting unless you are justifying it by measuring productivity. Same goes for SEO, blogging, Facebook and all other manner of blogging and social media. My blog is a big proponent on metrics, especially for brands that want to move ahead in cyber space.

  6. Janis Elspas from JEC, June 25, 2010 at 3:51 p.m.

    Your last line says it all, if there's no measurement of results, what's the point of Tweeting? Or brands leveraging Facebook, SEO or blogging, etc?

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