If you’re interested in social media you know that on top of the overabundance of social media experts, gurus, mavens, divas and ninjas we also have an overabundance of people who promise to deliver social media ROI, as if delivering ROI was delivering mail.
“The social media ROI” has become this nebulous area of social marketing, much discussed but rarely put into the context of business goals. ROI has also been redefined by some as Return on Influence, Return on Interaction and other such terms. Overall there’s much talk about ROI, few clear answers and a lot of misconceptions.
So you can imagine my joy when I serendipitously met Jay Krall, Business Development Manager at Cision (we were teamed up for a presentation at a conference and despite not knowing each other we rolled with it and did some great team work) and found out Jay gets social media metrics. He really gets it! Here’s a quick interview with Jay, where he reveals his thoughts on the ROI debate and more.
Mana: How did you get started with social media metrics and how has the field evolved?
Jay: In 2007, I was leading a team here at Cision that researches influential bloggers. Doing simple searches, it was difficult to identify blogs that had dedicated audiences and distinguish them from those that were merely shouting into the void. So we began looking at quantitative metrics to help us separate the wheat from the chaff, based on the community’s sharing and commenting activity around each blog. At the time that primarily meant looking at inbound links and comments. We didn’t have the wealth of signals on the sharing activity around a particular URL that we have today, from tweets and Facebook likes to votes on bookmarking sites and news sharing platforms. Today, when you look across all of those metrics, it becomes very clear who dominates in a particular topic area. It’s an interesting field because those signals are growing and changing all the time. As far as I’m concerned, the more data we have to work with, the better.
Mana: What is your take on the Social Media ROI debate – can we or can’t we measure ROI and if yes, how?
Jay: Absolutely we can. I think we’ve reached a point where this debate is going around in circles but the issue is not really so complicated. If you want to put a dollar figure on it, that’s a whole lot easier if you’re driving traffic to a landing page with a clear call to action such as a purchase or donation. You can see whether your efforts on social sites, blogs and forums are driving referral traffic and customer conversion and demonstrate the impact in dollar terms. If your goal is pure reputation management, where the results are more qualitative and at times seemingly intangible, that’s a different challenge, but not a new one for public relations and marketing professionals. I think this is where the engagement metrics I was describing earlier can be really valuable. If you can show through hard data that you’re driving more links, votes, Likes, tweets and comments, benchmarking against your past performance and that of your competitors, I think most organizations are coming to recognize that the mindshare you’re building that way has real value. Of course, that kind of measurement takes work, but if it helps justify your efforts, it’s time well spent.
Mana: What would you say is the most relevant social media metric and why?
Jay: All of these metrics I’m describing are means to an end: understanding the extent to which discussion and content about your brand is being amplified and shared. Every topic, every industry has unique patterns of engagement and sharing. A single metric such as Facebook Likes isn’t going to accurately reflect how sharing happens. Maybe there’s a Yahoo Group with a vibrant commenting culture that you’re missing in your measurement. Maybe it’s a product review site. The more data you can pull together, the stronger case you can make to illustrate the impact of your outreach work.
Mana: What are your thoughts on what some call “social engagement” – what are the top 3 strategies that drive engagement and how do you measure results?
Jay: A lot of the brands I follow do a great job of making their social presences pithy and useful, but there’s a lot of drivel out there too. If I follow your brand’s Twitter feed or Facebook page, I want news and insights about your area of expertise. Don’t wish me a happy Friday. Instead, send me a link to an interesting blog post you found. Studies, white papers, webinars, videos, just point me to something I might find valuable. This may be a B2B-oriented perspective, but I think organizations generally do better when they personalize conversation with individuals and make sure anything they have to share with the community at large is more substantive.
When you’re having a conversation online with an individual customer or constituent, go beyond looking at their social profiles to find common ground. Anyone can go to my LinkedIn page and find out where I went to college or that I once taught English in Japan. I think we’re past the point where referencing a bullet point from a LinkedIn profile counts as personalization. It’s almost effortless. Dig into my blog and find something to engage me about, and I’ll be more impressed.
Mana: What would you say are the top 3 unforgivable sins of social media (the big “don’ts”)?
Jay: From a measurement perspective, I think the single biggest mistake people are making is setting arbitrary goals. This usually sounds something like “We need 10,000 Twitter followers in the next 6 months”. It’s important to have benchmarks, but there are 3 things I think a lot of organizations are failing to consider when they set their goals. First, look at the landscape you’re entering into from a competitive standpoint and think in terms of share of audience, rather than absolute numbers. If you’re in a small niche or a local market, you may not need 10,000 followers to become the dominant tastemaker on Twitter. Second, consider the qualitative factors, such as sentiment and whether you have top influencers in your audience who can push your content further. Finally, emphasize measurement of engagement and sharing activity. Followers, friends and connections are measures of potential audience, but retweets, Likes, comments, and the other measures I’ve talked about are indicators of actual interest. The size of your bullhorn isn’t as important as whether it’s effective at broadening the reach of your message.
Mana: What will you be presenting on at AtMidwest?
Jay: My session is called “Assessing the Relevance of Social Media Metrics: an Approach to Goal-Oriented Measurement”. So I’ll be discussing a lot of the issues we’ve talked about here. My goal is to give the attendees actionable tips for measurement that they can implement regardless of their toolset. We’ll talk about how to collect these metrics, track them and communicate progress.