5 Problems With Measuring Social Marketing

For weeks now, I’ve been struggling with offering social media marketing services to clients and being charged with coming up with some rational, defensible measurement system, so that someone, somewhere can justify their company or organization’s foray into using social networks, blogs and the like.

I’m pulling my hair out, and not because there is no way to measure these things, but because I feel that we’re limiting ourselves by using antiquated ways of measuring online activity and interactions. We are also hamstrung by how each site, network and tool defines and dictates measurement in their own proprietary terms.

So while we can construct measurement grids, and gather metrics such as friends, fans, followers, connections, likes, comments, posts, views, downloads, @’s, DM’s, retweets, and the like, we are still at the mercy of the companies that develop these sites and tools we’re using. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice that these companies often seem to have little or no strategic consideration for their business users (Facebook, anyone?).

We’re also still hampered by the fact that we are all still developing and honing the¬†tactical frameworks that we’re using. Even those of us who have been marketing and communicating online since the 80s are challenged as the online landscape continues to morph and change. While we can find references to what we are doing now by looking at the things we’ve been doing things over the last ten years, I’m worried that many people are using the wrong references from the past.

Here are some key points I’d like to make about the problems with social media marketing measurement. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these, and any others that may come to mind as you read this:

  1. Social media is nebulous. The term “social media” can encompass many tools from the Web 2.0 era, depending on who is using the term and what they are trying to communicate. There is no definitive, well-understood, totally agreed upon definition of social media, Wikipedia be damned. Lacking clearly defined and agreed-upon terms is a big barrier to measuring anything.
  2. It’s not social media, stupid. I don’t think any of us are actually trying to “measure social media,” per se. We’re looking to measure the reach or the interactions or (more importantly) the conversions generated as a result of social media activity, or using social media tools and tactics. Social media is not measurable, because it consists of “things” i.e. sites and tools. The tactics we are using, however, sure as heck better have some kind of measurability, or we’re in big trouble.
  3. It’s really social marketing. I’m already sick and tired of the misuse and abuse of the term “social media marketing,” and I’ve only been using it since early 2009.
  4. Social marketing is old school, baby. Ad agencies and PR firms tend to approach social marketing using the inflexible lenses of their industries. “Old school” Internet marketers and online community builders, however, take a distinctly different approach. There are far more commonalities between what I was doing in the early 90s, even pre-Web, and the marketing and community building I do today for my clients, than there is between any online advertising or online PR that I’ve also provided to clients over the years.
  5. Social marketing is trapped in old marketing speak. In the constant quest to find comparables, people keep defining and gauging social marketing using antiquated and irrelevant terms. Hey, I’m as guilty of anyone of falling back on old familiar terms like “circulation,” “reach,”¬† “promotions” and “campaigns” to try to express what we’re doing in social marketing. Social marketing deserves a new set of recognizable but fresh terms to help us better wrap our collective heads around measuring what we’re doing here.

Next week, I’ll explore some fresher terms we might consider for measuring and evaluating our social marketing efforts.

What are your thoughts on and recent experiences with measuring social marketing?

Photo by stock.xchng user Ambrozjo

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Social Media in the Enterprise

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