Social Media Metrics — It's not Just about Traffic
Okay, so I’m going to declare that, henceforth and forthwith, the phrase “social media ROI” will not appear in my blog entries. The more I think about it, the more I really do not like the implication that we’re in search of a holy grail comprised of a mythical numerator divided by a magical denominator.
It’s just not out there, people. And, anyone who tells you something different is one step away from selling you oceanfront property in North Dakota.
Rather, the key is to focus on having clear objectives for your social media endeavors. I’ve prattled on at length about that since my very first post in this blog. And, it’s not really rocket science. It’s almost comical how quickly the (polite) dog pack descends when a newbie to the Yahoo! webanalytics group posts a question such as, “I’ve just been put in charge of web analytics and reporting for my company. Can someone point me to a list of good metrics I should be using?” Invariably, a half-dozen people respond simultaneously — their responses passing in the ether like ships in a dense fog — saying the same basic thing: “It depends on what the purpose of your site is. Start with understanding that, establishing clear objectives, and then reading Eric Peterson…”
In this sense, the rules are not really any different for social media. Connie Bensen posted a great start on her blog (I need to find out how that is progressing, but my guess is that she’s so busy speaking at conferences and visiting the ACDSee mother ship that she’s struggling to find time to work on it).
So, it’s critical to start with, “What do you hope to accomplish?” and measure from there. I’ve been having an interesting exchange with Kevin Sasser about his The Sales Wars blog on this subject. It turns out, he and I had some similar reasons for starting our respective blogs (and I doubt we are all that unique). In both cases, we found ourselves talking a lot — telling war stories in his case, and mounting a soap box in mine — and we were curious as to just how much we had to say. Could we sustain a blog for any meaningful period of time? Kevin has shown that, between the two of us, he has more to say. I can’t say I’m all that surprised! It turns out, this sort of objective is fairly easy to measure — just count posts over time and see if it reaches a plateau or whether it fades away like an operating system called OS/2.
We both, I think, were also interested in building a personal brand of some sort. Social media and Web 2.0 are really forcing companies to embrace the personal brands of their employees every bit as much as they focus on their corporate brands…but that’s way off topic for this blog (check out Chris Brogan if you want to learn more — he touches on the subject regularly). Measuring personal brand is a bit trickier. But, if that’s an objective, then simply sitting back and writing blog entries is not enough — you’ve got to get out there and engage with all forms of social media — Twitter, Facebook groups, LinkedIn questions, and the like. This is one where volume matters as much as quality — unless you have genius and insight that is so far beyond most humans that you can simply write a post or two and have everyone flock to read what you say…you’ve got to get out and participate. Again, this is not terribly difficult to measure. One way to make it difficult is to try to measure the number of discrete “posts” you author. A much easier way is to set a goal — just like you may set a goal to hit the gym 4 times a week — to spend some amount of time every day engaging in social media. I’ve accepted that I’m never going to be updating Twitter like Chris Brogan or Jeremiah Owyang. It just ain’t going to happen. But, I can show up at work a little early or peck around in the evenings to engage in areas where I have a passion.
“But, there’s no evidence of real value there, is there?” you ask. Well, yes and no. There is a leap of logic involved, but is that really a problem? Is social media going to go away? No. It’s not pole sitting, hula hoops, or the NHL. It’s a nascent phenomenon that people are finding ways to use in new and different ways every day.
So, that’s my conclusion of this wildly lengthy post — take a small bite out of the social media elephant and just measure your (or your company’s) outbound involvement. Blog posts, blog comments, questions answered, ideas shared. There is value there, but you may not see revenue hit the books next week or the week after. So don’t try to start by searching for a numerator and denominator that will be hopelessly illusive.