Time To Rethink Social Media Metrics?

We thought it was useful to take another look at Sean Hargrave's recent discussion on how metrics affect the way social media is rated:

You can't have your cake and eat it, So if you're a social team, you can't use marketing's budget and not report back in marketing terms. The simple truth, however, is that many companies are treating social as a PR exercise and measuring its success in fluffy PR terms, yet using marketing's money in the process.

Could that be behind the disconnect between the latest CMO Survey estimating that social is on its way to securing a fifth of marketing budget -- yet presently, half of CMOs rate its performance as below average? A tiny proportion -- just 3% -- are raving about social's ROI. For CMOs the message is clear. Social is eating into budgets, but we're not too sure what it's delivering. Put simply, social is not washing its face.



This disconnect between a communications past and a marketing future is where I see some of the issues around social arising. The easiest thing, but not necessarily the best approach, would be to allow communications or PR executives to keep on posting in the company's name and look at success in terms of a retweet or a like without the need to reconcile what any of those interactions mean for the business.

That would be incredibly simple, and to be honest, that's what a lot of brands are doing. The trouble comes now that the channel is seen by most as a marketing and advertising channel because that's exactly what it is -- particularly in the case of Facebook, which dominates the social landscape. As soon as you see social for what it is, you have to have digital marketing executives involved and, no doubt, have the team sitting in marketing rather than communications, burning marketing's budget. 

That leaves us with an ever-increasing slice of marketing budget going to a channel that is still measured in PR or communications terms. That's why CMOs are puzzled as to what social is delivering and if they're concerned, you can imagine how flummoxed the board is. If CMOs can't answer the ''so what" question, then we'll keep on seeing a repeat of the board turning around and questioning what is a "like" worth, what is a "follow" adding to the bottom line, and what does it mean for us if someone shares our content.

Now, there are tools and data analysis techniques available to work out much of this because social is digital, and that means there is lots of data. The issue, of course, is that people will tend to do things at a later date on a different platform. They may like your offer on sports shoes one day but not buy them until their current pair wears out in a month or two. So it's pretty hard to reconcile cause and effect.

One metric that I'm starting to see a little more of, which brands should be encouraged to investigate, isn't just an ROI argument -- it's more of a customer segmentation approach. So Adobe, for example, can tell how much more likely a person is to buy a particular product by how they have interacted with content about it as well as how they have engaged with the brand. So someone who likes their Facebook page is x% more likely to become a customer and someone who has interacted with content about a tool is a further x% likely to buy that piece of software. 

Such figures are not too difficult to work out, and that means the board can understand the implication of the social success a marketing team is claiming. If you can add to the fact that you have doubled the number of followers on a channel with the fact that this should lead to x% more sales in the next quarter, then that's something execs outside marketing can feel they can take to the bank.

A fully fledged ROI figure is the ultimate destination, and steps like these are a good way to get there while admitting that in a cross-device world it's hard to be too exact -- but here's what the figures are telling us. For putting x budget into social, we will see a lift in sales of x over the next quarter.

That's the kind of discussion that marketing can have with the rest of the organization that just doesn't seem to come out of the channel if communications and PR people are left repeating metrics such as likes and shares without any reference to what that actually means -- and more importantly, where it leads. If social is burning marketing's money, it can't carry on being fluffy.

3 comments about "Time To Rethink Social Media Metrics?".
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  1. Scott Huber from Netsertive, February 26, 2016 at 3:48 p.m.

    Thank you for writing this.  Our company has found a way to use social ad programs to deliver actual profitable business results and they are outstanding.  I hear a lot of marketers say that they use social to listen to and engage the customer, but haven't found a way to convert them.  Paid social is a powerful tool if you use it correctly.

  2. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, February 26, 2016 at 4:09 p.m.

    Well done Sean, but at an Adaptly presentation at Social Media Week in NY this week, I heard Pinterest give some VERY exact numbers of folks who bought products they had seen (or saved) oo their platform. Perhaps CMO's need to look to the platforms for success meterics.

  3. Mayra Ruiz-McPherson, MA, MFA from Ruiz McPherson Media, February 29, 2016 at 1:39 p.m.

    I agree: the marketing budget is the primary/only budget supporting social media for most organizations.

    While the marketing budget seems to be the natural choice, many times, the content being posted to social channels is to (a) support sales/increase lead generation, (b) for PR/outreach, (c) for customer services support and (d) for HR/job/candidate recruitment.

    I know most companies have lump budgets for "marketing" but wonder if perhaps it may be time for more than one single dept to fund social. Meaning, if there's a sales dept budget, then X% of that would go towards social. And if there's a customer service budget, then Y% from there could also go towards social etc. Same for HR; Z% could go towards social. And so on. Then these monies could be combined w/marketing's social media budget. That way, social media effort and investment would/could expand beyond marketing's budget and focus. I'm thinking out loud and I know this isn't how companies think about social; most see it as a very specific marketing line item. And, as per this piece, most brands define social w/fluffy-PR or accounting-specific terms so what I am suggesting would perhaps be too radical of an approach.

    Still, in world where "Social Media Command Centers" for large organizations has been the norm for the past few years, the idea of augmenting social's budget from other business units may have some merit.

    The other thing these studies don't often touch upon is HOW is an organization defining "success on social?" What goals and metric(s) constitute success AND are those goals and metric(s) realistic to the social media communications space?

    In other words, you can't "force" or expect social media success to be all about "conversions." The medium is not a place where folks are connecting, engaging and or talking about transactions and their pending purchases. Generally, people participate on a social channel to network, content share, learn, position as thought leaders, generate awareness and other non-sales-first kinds of activity. And while yes, some platforms are integrating more w/commerce-specific activity, a very large part of social engagement is not immediately tied to purchasing from a brand.

    Therefore, the sweet spot between what a brand wants/would like to happen on or from social vs. what users/community members/customers etc go on social for needs to be better defined.

    Yes, I do get that CMOs must report on social's progress and are under immense pressure to PROVE "social is working." But that gets back to my points above: what are the expectations or requirements to prove that social is working, or not? Because if the goals for social are not realistic or well defined, then the outcomes from any social effort will surely be disappointing.

    As a social media strategist myself, the topic of social media marketing budgets (which are reportedly 25-28% of marketing budgets and growing) is of very high interest to me. I welcome comments.

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