A 30,000-Foot View of Social Media Measurement

2 Jul

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 450px-Cloudseyeballs.  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.

7 Responses to “A 30,000-Foot View of Social Media Measurement”

  1. Narciso Tovar, Big Noise Communications July 2, 2009 at 4:25 pm #

    I like the way you spelled out the ‘three distinct zones’ of social media measurement and impact. While it will most certainly take some time to fully and realistically grasp the full impact of what any one campaign has accomplished, I think you’re on to something here.

    An important aspect that you’ve spelled out clearly is that engagement has to be fully…er…engaged…both online and off. It’s like we’re back to basics and ACTUALLY having conversations with people again.

    And while the ‘Holy Grail’ will be to be able to measure behavior, I think we’re getting closer and closer to achieving just that.

    All in all, a nice post, Don!

  2. metricsman July 2, 2009 at 5:46 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words, Narciso. It will be interesting to see where we are at this time next year. Things are changing rapidly. -DB

  3. Edward O'Meara July 3, 2009 at 7:18 am #

    I believe the focus on Social Media Measurements is limiting & spinning PR professionals, and the metrics field in general, in unhealthy ways.

    And, putting Social Networks into the center over-estimates and hypes the “social media” networks of interactions. Perhaps the simpler, People, is more accurate?

    I’d also propose that you could (should?) add a Transactional arrow from the center to the Websites and a Content arrow from the Offline world to the center.

    For what it’s worth, my experience as a research and media professional, is that there are stores of unused and actionable data in CRM and Retail databases that could improve our understanding of engagement between people and brands far faster and with greater accuracy than the random, emerging bits of influencer data swirling around the blogosphere, twittersphere, etc.


  4. metricsman July 3, 2009 at 9:19 am #

    Hi Edward,
    Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment. I agree it is easy to overstate the relative importance of social media/networks relative to traditional marketing or other areas of PR. They are still a relatively small, but rapidly growing piece of the pie. Keeping this perspective is important for all of us.

    I accept all criticisms of the diagram. It was meant as an oversimplification for the purposes of showing the three primary zones for measurement – there are probably a lot better diagrams to show how people interact with social networks. Of course you are right that there should be a transaction arrow from Social Networks to Websites – eCommerce transactions would be one example . Not sure I like People in the center as people also exist offline of course. I’ll give your suggestions some more thought and change the diagram accordingly.

    I also agree there are great data mining opportunities in CRM and retail data. These data should be part of your integrated, holistic approach to measurement, along with insights gleaned from social network interactions.

    Thanks again, Edward.

  5. Katie Paine July 6, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    You are, as always, so right. (or mostly) I’ve been thinking that web analytics is a skill that should be taught to all incoming PR types. I also think this NYTimes piece http://tinyurl.com/qnsnqx may speak to the need to measure not just the web activities, but also the health of relationships

  6. metricsman July 6, 2009 at 12:45 pm #

    Hi Katie,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’ll take ‘mostly right’ any day of the week!

    On combining web analytics and relationship measurment, I believe there is a place for relationship measurement. The Grunig model works well for traditional, deeper relationships (e.g. journalists/PR practitioner), but not so well in the type of online relationships prevalent in social networks. Since brand is a relationship, certainly brand affinity or strength should be of interest. What are your thoughts on how to measure social network relationships? Thanks, Don B


  1. ImpactWatch » Blog Archive » Top Social Media Monitoring & Measurement Posts of the Week - July 3, 2009

    […] A 30,000-Foot View of Social Media Measurement – @donbart […]

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