Measuring social media

image I have attended two social media panels in the last couple of months and come away from both with the same conclusion: there is a tracking and measurement opportunity in social media.

The second of the two panels took place last night and is part of the Social Media Week which is going on this week in London and around the world.  It was organised by Sam Michel‘s Chinwag.  The panelists were founders of social media startups selling services to brands and companies that want to engage with the social web.  They were mostly agency businesses.

Their common message?

That budgets for social media are rising fast but lack of accepted measurement techniques and RoI methodologies is hampering market growth.

Stories of big brands engaging more with social media are legion, but perhaps the best soundbite is Pepsi’s decision to drop their TV Super Bowl ad spot for the first time in 23 years and instead spending $20m on a social media campaign.  Starbucks and Majestic are other brands who are being innovative and spending big in social media (for more details on Starbucks see here and for Majestic see here).

Unsurprisingly given the spend on social media the tracking and measurement opportunity has been obvious for a while now, but despite that, solutions haven’t been forthcoming.  Entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to, including some who are active in this area, say that is because it is a very hard nut to crack.

The biggest challenge stems from the diffuse and fast moving nature of the social media landscape.  Investing in software development  to track something which may not be (as) important to your intended customers by the time your product is ready is a dangerous game.

The second issue arises from the varied ways in which social media gets used and the newness of the medium.  Social media campaigns can be about customer relationship management, marketing, sales, and/or customer research, and a lack of clarity on the part of customers as to why they are engaging in social media contributes to the tracking and measurement problem.  All the panelists last night described how the first thing they do with prospective clients is help them develop a set of objectives for their campaigns, a common feature of immature markets.

It seems to me that both these issues are surmountable.  I think the social media landscape is stabilising – my guess is that Facebook won’t go the way of Myspace and Friendster, and as brands get more experience with social media through 2010 best practice will start to emerge.  Social media campaigns across the four areas listed above might start to be regarded as distinct areas with different providers.

The companies which seize the tracking and measurement opportunity will most likely also play a roll in defining what those best practices are.

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  • Nic, its been a problem for at least 3 years when we did our first SM implementation – and drove Will McInness to kick the rest of us into starting MeasurementCamp so we could all share insights and practice.

    What is quite interesting is it is still “up in the air” – I think we now need sufficient history to be able to calibrate the metrics we see. In a similar way, the TV industry took a few years for its “rules of thumb” to emerge.

    Re measurement businesses i agree – and I think there ae different types – active v passive, buzz vs datamining etc.

  • joodoo9

    hi Nic – i agree with you 🙂
    Actually we're starting our A round on 1 March, so maybe we should talk. One thing that is proving to be a real challenge is getting a good handle on the size of the market — do you have an opinion on that?

    Giles

  • Think bit.ly's doing a great job of being the Google analytics of the social media world, with link tracking, all that's missing is the pixelling to be able to see conversions from links to channels. Which a pro account married up with Google analytics should be able to resolve. I don't think it's a problem as much as it is lack of awareness on implementation of good social media campaigns personally.

  • Hi Giles – good to hear from you and happy to talk. Your market size question is a good one. I'm labouring under the impression that is/will be very large, but that needs substantiating. Thinking about it now the different functions of social media will take money from different existing markets, and may be best thought of as distinct opportunities.

  • ericboggs

    I think Farhan is on the right track. In the same way that software defined the metrics, processes, and outcomes for email marketing, I think that software will similarly define the implementation/measurement path for social media – at least for the short-posts-to-real-time-channels piece. Lightweight web analytics integrations should help with the rest.

    Eric Boggs
    http://argylesocial.com

  • Do you think it takes a company to define and drive what becomes the de facto standard (rather than a camp)?

    I'd forgotten about Measurement Camp. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Interesting, thanks. Can a solution based on bit.ly work when only a fraction of links are shortened through their service?

  • The trick then is to be the company whose software defines the measurement path 🙂

    I wonder also if measurement might have to cover more than just short message/real time to become a standard

  • joodoo9

    it takes adoption. Although adoption is more likely to happen with a company's product and marketing than a looser affiliation such as a camp, there are recent examples of the opposite such as open source software, open standard development, wikipedia. Momentum is the key and it's difficult to predict

  • joodoo9

    thanks for your thoughts there Nic – i agree with your premise, but it doesn't make it any easier to put a number / prediction on the market size imho – or am i missing something?

  • I doubt you are missing anything. Sizing immature markets is always hard. Identifying the vendors that have say 80-90% share and guessing their revenues is usually worth doing.

  • ericboggs

    We're working on it. 🙂

    Real-time is a start…and I think has a broader applicability for SMBs than sentiment, monitoring, etc. I think that you're right to say that there will also need to be something else…

  • Just because a fraction are shortened through the service doesn't mean that kind of solution can't work for the channel.

    Bit.ly or some other link tracking service, coupled with conversion measurement should provide the solution people are looking for if done simply and correctly.

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  • I agree, measurement does have to take into account more than just the realtime microblog format. The measurement and monitoring space has a lot of solutions addressing various mediums for various types of clients. A few solutions (like our Community Insights) help aggregate across multiple channels, as well as weigh the relative importance of each article. For example, we help track all mentions and measure sentiment across blogs, microblogs, forums / discussion boards, and online news; and we also help you figure out where to focus your energies first if you were going to do outreach. Let me know if you want to try out a demo!

    Maria Ogneva
    Director, Social Media – Biz360
    @themaria @biz360

  • Thanks Maria

  • “All the panelists last night described how the first thing they do with prospective clients is help them develop a set of objectives for their campaigns, a common feature of immature markets.”
    It's very common for business owners to say, “let's go social” and then “now what?”. We often suggest an audit of the brand and it's key conversations that it would like to monitor that took place over the past 6 months to give them an overview of what they're starting with in terms of market share of voice, evolution of buzz levels, sentiment analysis, identification of influential sites and Internet users, identification of online communities, etc.
    It's difficult to say, though, that the social media landscape is stabilizing. What is essential, though, is being able to identify which communities and sites are useful for you, not just because “everyone's doing it”. Great article, looking forward to the follow-up comments, so far the conversation is great 🙂

    Best,
    Michelle
    @Synthesio

  • Thanks Michele. I'm interested that you say the social media landscape is not stabilising?

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  • Social media is growing day by day.That's why social media is like a Global Cocktail Party.
    Nice post with such a beautiful stuff….!!

  • Its also a massive benefit that you can track and optimize social media campaigns as with a TV advertisement you have no idea exactly how many people your ad was placed in front and sometimes people skip breaks on catch up or go grab a drink or something to eat.