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5 Problems With Measuring Social Marketing

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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

25 Responses to “5 Problems With Measuring Social Marketing”

  1. I use to measure popularity, it does not make a difference between social and other media, but I think this is an advantage, it actually measures exactly how many people look at a specific word, name or brand right now and keeps charts over years…. quite nice.

  2. Matthew Adams

    “Social marketing” and “social media marketing” are two completely different terms.

    Therefore, point 3 is completely wrong.

  3. Aliza, just because we didn’t call it “social media” or “consumer generated media,” that’s what newsgroups, Compuserve and the like were back in the day. We measured the tone of those comments, the subjects and topics and then examined traditional media to see the degree to which traditional PR was generated favorable or unfavorable comments. We also did the reverse, looking at the interaction between those comments and traditional media. We then correlated all that data with incoming calls to customer support and sales. We then moved on to consumer review sites and again correlated the percent of favorable vs unfavorable reviews to market share for specific products.

  4. Great insight & analysis, Aliza. I might ask you to add/comment to your points a bit further though, esp. on the ‘nebulous’ and ‘measurability’ parts.

    I think the newness/fuzziness of Social Media, plays against many, which will change. But to me, the measurability is more about figuring out the implications from the TYPES of actions…than just figuring out the ‘things’ or actions themselves. It is almost Old-School [your #4 point], as that is then more of a Psychographic-type analysis; i.e. “WHY did they forward the Video, making it viral? To win a contest? They really liked it? They really hated it? Asking for a recommendation from a friend, before they buy something in the video?” Etc, etc…

    While there seems to be a lot of ‘List’ articles on SM these days [“Top 10 Reasons for…], yours is one that carries the weight, for sure.

    Thanks, Ken

  5. I cannot being to tell you how many times I have experienced the ROI moment with clients. We definitely need more thought-process developed. For me, Charlene Li has been very helpful in her new work, Open Leadership. I think we need to share a lot more case studies to learn together.

  6. ecairn

    I love your point 4. I tend to say: there is no such q thing as social media. There are communities and the real opportunity is for brand, marketers and agencies to engage with the communities that are relevant to them.

    A media in not social by default. Twitter and FB can be used a very non-social way… like spamming.

  7. I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve been measuring the impact of social media, consumer generated media or whatever you want to call it, since 1996. It isn’t nearly as nebulous as you think. The problem isn’t with the media, but with the marketers and communicators that don’t want to do serious research that might actually involved analytics, regression analysis and correlations to show the actual outcome of a program. They want to measure what is easy — like fans, followers and friends, not what matters.

    • What were you measuring in 1996 since we weren’t calling it social media back then? I’m interested in knowing what you were measuring specifically and how that translates to today’s landscape. I think that would be very helpful here.

  8. I totally agree. There are those who claim they can measure social media. But I don’t think you can. Sure you have 100 FB fans. But maybe 90 of those are inactive. So, what’s the standard. I always thought of social media is similar to Word of Mouth or the grapevine. You cannot measure or control these things. And we cannot possibly be using old tactics for new tools like social media. I agree with Christian. It’s one ingredient in your big marketing mix. And there are plenty of uses for social media and not just for promoting your company or your product.
    PS…I’m sharing one of the best guidelines I’ve found online:

  9. What are your clients trying to achieve through social media? Once you know this, you will know what to measure to find out if you have been successful. If the client – and you – do not know what you want to achieve, then you will have problems measuring.
    If for example your client wants to get more traffic to their website – then you can measure that, nad you can see where the traffic is coming from. More sign ups? – measurable. Increased sales? – measurable.
    without a clear goal like those above, your social media marketing – or social marketing, or internet marketing, or whatever you want to call them – efforts aren’t going to be very focussed anyway.

  10. For point 1, the term social media web 2.0 represent a fuzzy concept, so any attempts to measure a fuzzy concept, with no clear boundary, is bound to be challenging. I was doing online outreach along the same lines of today’s social media marketing over 10 years ago on web 1.0. It was just as interactive, but took longer. I think many of online phenomena NOT qualifying as web 2.0 can be just as interactive, but take longer, and conceptually this complicates the distinction.

    I agree that you’re not measuring social media per se. Some researchers do that, but it’s generally an infrastructure study. Not too interesting to marketers who are selling to humans. It’s the people that count.

  11. I love you!! :)

    And I love this. Because I’ve been saying bit & pieces of this forever and getting nowhere with the cohesive picture. Adding this to my “link it rather than rewrite it” folder.


    • I love that you love this and know you’ve been saying similar things. Others have been feeling it but not saying it. So glad I could be of service to bring some of this stuff together. Really a relief to get it out there!

  12. This is especially tricky when it comes to measuring for organizations that aren’t selling a product. At least with a product there can be some quantitative numbers — even if, as you so smartly write, the marketing speak is antiquated. Any organization that ventures into whatever we’re now going to call this must clearly identify what their goals and objectives are so that they can figure out what social tools to use and how to determine if they’re successful. I see too many people wanting to check off social media as “done” when they launch and then are strangely disappointed when it doesn’t appear to yield much for them. I’m looking forward to part two of this discussion.

  13. I remember a college professor of mine once said, “Statistics are people with the tears wiped away.” I just wanted to share this link to a new study of public media impact that looks at qualitative metrics. It’s called “Spreading the Zing!” There may be some terms and concepts within worth borrowing.

    Julie Drizin