Commentary

MRC's Social Guidelines Mark A Coming Of Age For Social Media

As a marketer, have you sat in a conference doubting the implausibly high reach claimed for some social media case study? Or worse, as a client, have you had a similar reaction when your social media agency reports the reach of your program? Tens of millions of people, hundreds of millions of impressions, often reported without definitions, time frames or methodology.

These common experiences should get increasingly rarer with the release of the Media Rating Council's Guidelines for Social Media Measurement, which signify an important moment in the maturation of our industry.

For the first time, social-media practitioners will be held to common standards that have been codified by the MRC and marketing’s most influential bodies – including WOMMA, the IAB and the 4As – and more than 70 agencies and solutions providers.

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The MRC’s proposed guidelines provide marketers with a set of standardized definitions and practices for the measurement of their social marketing efforts.

This document is open for public comment through Oct. 15.

The guidelines can be technical and dense, but they will help clean up an industry fraught with flawed and inconsistent measurement practices. We’ve all seen research supporting the power of earned media.

Yet, up until now, marketers have been relying on unreliable and, frankly, exaggerated measurement that varies from partner to partner, and from program to program. From a word of mouth, consumer-to-consumer, marketing point of view, just the clarity they bring to reach metrics go a long way. For example:

  • Potential reach is the total number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers that authors of posts and tweet have. Only a portion of friends and followers, sometimes a tiny portion, ever see a given post or tweet, but way too often, case studies shown at conferences, for example, show impression counts that assume 100% has seen them.

But this assumption is rarely disclosed. Instead, the case study reports an overall “impressions” count, which in truth, is a number more aptly named “potential impressions.” The guidelines recommend “potential reach” only be used for planning, not reporting.

  • Estimated actual reach is the estimated number of friends and followers who actually see a post or tweet. The guidelines allow the reporting of this, as long as the methodology behind it is “properly disclosed and supported.”

For instance, a measurer can report an estimated actual number of impressions on Twitter, disclosing the assumption that, say, 5% of followers on average see a tweet. The guidelines allow this metric to be used for planning and reporting, and they encourage that research supporting any assumptions be cited where possible.

The rise of social media has given marketers a massive opportunity to drive word of mouth, which study after study has proven more powerful than paid advertising.

But the lack of standardized measurement and accountability has kept marketers from investing in social marketing in full.

The new guidelines will bring some of these reach estimates back to reality, but the good news for marketers is that the reality of earned media is that it is far more powerful than paid advertising at driving sales.

Following in the footsteps of all established media, from TV to digital display and mobile, it’s time for social media to grow up and embrace a common set of measurement standards.

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