Look back five years and the PR measurement field was full of challenges:
- Emphasis on media relations at the exclusion of other high-value PR activities, almost always
- Oriented toward outputs and not outcomes, consisting
- Primarily of media content analysis, with
- Little primary audience research, and
- No codified thinking on how to approach ROI determination.
Now add social media. Old metrics like Impressions lose meaning. It’s about engagement and not eyeballs. Consumers have broad platforms to voice opinions about your brand. Conversations are more effective than messages. So needless to say, social media measurement is a highly fluid, and rapidly evolving field. Lots of opinions, not much consensus. Here is where I believe we are at a high level.
Early efforts to measure digital and social media focused almost exclusively on web analytics. I would say the majority (80%?) of social media measurement in 2009 still focuses on web analytics, although many other forms of data and research are being used by leading organizations and practitioners.
Today, the frontier in social media measurement is evolving toward measuring the conversations and behavior patterns occurring within social networks. The third area of interest is in tracking and connecting online and offline behavior and actions. Here is a simple graphic (you may have a much better way of showing this) that shows these three primary interest areas, or zones, for social media measurement.
From the left, companies or brands control, own or manage websites – corporate sites, FaceBook pages, Twitter accounts, LinkedIn pages and blogs by way of example – and create content that consumers may engage with. This zone is measured primarily by web analytics. In the middle are the actual social networks and conversations between individuals. In this zone we are interested in data sets that cannot be gathered solely using web analytics packages. How often is the brand being mentioned in conversation? What is the sentiment of the comments? How often is the brand being recommended and by whom? Content and behavior analysis, including tracking technologies, are the primary measurement tools in this zone. The third zone represents all the real-world, offline transactions that may be of interest. Did someone visit the store or attend or event? Did they buy a product? Did they recommend the brand or product to a friend over coffee? Primary audience research is necessary to address many of the questions, as well as scan or other purchase data in some cases.
Although I have attempted to define three distinct zones of measurement necessary to address the full spectrum of social media impact and ROI, your measurement strategy should be to take a holistic, integrated approach using methodologies, tools and data from all three zones. The Holy Grail in many ways is to be able to track behavior of individuals across all three zones, cross-platform, understanding how online behavior impacts offline behavior and vice-versa. It won’t take five years to get there.