Social Media Measurement 2011: Five Things to Forget and Five Things to Learn

30 Dec

It has been said that social media came of age in 2010.  Not so for social media measurement.  But the mainstreaming of social media marketing brings with it a heightened call for accountability.  The need to prove the value of social media initiatives has never been greater.  So, perhaps 2011 will be the year that social media measurement matures and comes of age.

As we look to the next year, here are five things to forget and five things to learn about social media measurement in 2011.

Things to Forget in 2011

1. Impressions

The public relations industry has historically measured and reported success through the lens of quantity not quality.  The most common PR metric today is Impressions.  While it is a somewhat dubious metric for traditional media, it really loses meaning in social media where engagement not eyeballs is what we seek.  Impressions also (greatly) overstate actual relevant audience.   Impressions merely represent an opportunity to see, they do not attempt to estimate the (small) percentage of the potential audience that actually saw your content.

For Twitter, many folks use the sum of all first generation followers as ‘impressions’ for a particular tweet.  The obvious problem here is that the probability that any one follower sees any one tweet is quite small.  I don’t have good data on this (please share if you do), but an educated guess might put the percentage at less than 5%.  Similarly for Facebook, use of impressions as a metric is also problematic.  Facebook impressions do not indicate unique reach and you don’t have any idea who, if anyone, actually viewed the content.

Number of Impressions is a flawed, unwashed masses metric for social media measurement.  Any time you are tempted to use the word ‘impressions’ in social media, think about ‘potential reach’ or ‘opportunities to see’ instead.  Or better yet, concentrate on Engagement and Influence.


2. Vanity Metrics – Fans and Followers

Most social media measurement efforts place far too much emphasis on Fans/Likers and Followers.  For Twitter, the number of Followers is seen as a key metric, thought by many to relate to potential influence.  For Facebook it is the number of Fans/Likers many companies/brands attempt to maximize.  While these may be the vanity metrics of choice, they fall far short of being adequate for rigorous measurement.  The largest disconnect of course is these numbers really don’t describe potential audience size very well and they have nothing to do with interactions/engagement.

For Twitter, there is a growing amount of evidence (read the Million Follower Fallacy paper) that number of Followers really has little to do with Influence.  Number of Followers may be an indication of popularity but not influence.  Influence talks more to one’s ability to start conversations and spread ideas.  For Facebook, number of Fans bears little semblance to average daily audience size and tells you nothing about engagement of the community.  All Fans are not created equally.  Some are engaged, some never return.  Some are your best customers, others are there only to trash you.

Number of Fans and Followers are metrics you probably should include in your overall metrics set, but should be de-emphasized and not be a primary area of focus.


3. Standardization

Measurement standardization is always an interesting topic to debate.  On one side you have the folks who believe standards are absolutely necessary for measurement to proliferate, and on the other side you have the snowflake measurement disciples who believe each program is unique and therefore requires unique objectives/metrics.  I fall somewhere between the two extremes.

In June 2010 IPR, AMEC, PRSA, ICCO and The Global Alliance got together in Barcelona for a conference intended to create an atmosphere for measurement consistency/standardization around a codified set of principles of good measurement.  The Barcelona Principles as they have come to be called are basic statements of good measurement practice – focus on outcomes not outputs, don’t use AVEs, etc.  Absolutely nothing to disagree with in the Principles.  However, the heavy lifting of standardization comes at the metrics-level.  Subcommittees have been formed that are taking the Principles all the way down to the metrics level.  I have reviewed the work of the social media committee and believe there is a lot of good work being done.

But in 2011, I expect a lot of debate but not a lot of progress in creating social media measurement standardization.   One to watch is the Klout score for online influencers which is being integrated as metadata in social media listening and engagement platforms.  There are issues with the Klout score (read this post), and I question the type of ‘influence’ it is measuring – there is a big difference between motivating someone to action (e.g. retweeting your content) and motivating someone to purchase which is ultimately the type of influence many companies and brands are most interested in effecting.


4. Ad or Media Equivalency

One of the truly insidious aspects of public relations measurement is the use of advertising or media equivalency (AVEs – advertising value equivalency) to assign financial value to public relations outputs.  It is a highly flawed, path of least resistance attempt to calculate return on investment (ROI) for public relations.  There are many reasons why using ad equivalency as a proxy for PR value is not advisable.

To make matters worse, the practice has clearly moved into social media measurement as well.  For example, research studies that monetize the value of a Facebook Fan/Liker by attributing an arbitrary $5 CPM value from the advertising world.  Online media impact rankings also utilize equivalent paid advertising value to assign monetary value to online news and social media.  The true value of social media is not how much an equivalent ad would have cost but in the impact it has on brand, reputation and marketing.


5. Return on Engagement/Influence/etc.

Not a day goes by without someone declaring a new and improved metric for the acronym ROI, or stating that ROI does not apply in social networks.  A recent Google search for “Return on Engagement” returned 192,000 results.  “Return on Influence” returned 68,300.

Most of the folks who use these terms either don’t understand ROI or don’t know how to obtain the data necessary to calculate it.  Many confuse the notion of impact with ROI (addressed in Things to Learn).  Engagement creates impact for a brand or organization, but may or may not generate ROI in the short-term.  Creating influence – effecting someone’s attitudes, opinions and/or actions – creates impact but may or may not create ROI in the short-term.  It often is better to think about measuring impact first and then deciding whether or not you have the means and data necessary to attribute financial value.


Things to Learn in 2011

1. Measurable Objectives

There are many issues and challenges in the field of social media measurement.  The easiest one to fix is for everybody to learn how to write measurable objectives.  Most objectives today are either not measurable as written or are strategies masquerading as objectives.  (For example, any sentence starting with an action buzzword like leverage is a strategy.)

‘Increase awareness of product X’ is not a measurable objective.  In order to be measurable, objectives must contain two essential elements:

  • Must indicate change in metric of interest – from X to Y
  • Must indicate a timeframe for the desired change – weeks, months, quarter, year, specific dates tied to a campaign (pre/post)

Therefore, properly stated, measurable objectives should look more like these:

  • Increase awareness of product X from 23% to 50% by year-end 2011
  • Increase RTs per 1000 Followers from 0.5% in Q1’11 to 10% by the end of Q2’11.


2. Impact versus ROI

ROI is one of the most overused and misused term in social media measurement.  Many people say ‘ROI’ what they really just mean results or impact.  ROI is a financial metric – percentage of dollars returned for a given investment/cost.  The dollars may be revenue generated, dollars saved or spending avoided.  ROI is transactional.

ROI is a form of impact, but not all impact takes the form of ROI.  Impact is created when people become aware of us, engage with our content or brand ambassadors, are influenced by engagement with content or other people, or take some action like recommending to a friend, writing a review or buying a product.  Impact ultimately creates value for an organization, but the value creation occurs over time, not at a point in time.  Value creation is process-oriented.  It has both tangible and intangible elements.

Your investments in social media or public relations remain an investment, creating additional value if done correctly, until which time they can be linked to a business outcome transaction that results in ROI.

Most social media initiatives today do not (or should not) have ROI as a primary objective.  Most social programs are designed to create impact, not ROI, in the short-term.  There is also the notion that many social media initiatives are in an investment phase, not a return phase of maturity.


3. Hypothetical ROI Models

One important step in determining how a social media initiative creates ROI for an organization is to create a hypothetical model that articulates the cascading logic steps in the process, as well as the data needed and assumptions used.  The model is most useful in the planning stages of a program.  It helps address the proverbial question, “If I approve this budget, what is a reasonable expectation for the results we will achieve?”  Let’s take a look at a simple Twitter example:

Program: Five promoted tweets are sent with a special offer to purchase a product on an e-commerce site.

Hypothetical ROI Model:

  • (Data)                   Total potential unduplicated reach of the five tweets is 1,000,000 people
  • (Assume)            10% of the potential audience will actually see the tweet = 100,000 people
  • (Assume)            20% of the individuals who see the tweet find it relevant to them = 20,000 people
  • (Assume)            10% of those finding it relevant will visit the site = 2,000 people
  • (Assume)            10% of those visiting the site will convert and buy the product = 200 people
  • (Data)                   Incremental profit margin on each sale is $50
  • (Data)                   Total cost of the social media initiative is $2,400

ROI Calculation: (200 x $50) = $10,000 – $2,400 = $7,600/$2,400 = 3.17 x 100 = 317% ROI

Our model suggests this program will be successful and generate substantial ROI.  If in reviewing a model with someone who needs to approve a program, they conceptually buy into the model but challenge the assumptions, that is a positive step.  Negotiate different assumptions and rerun the numbers.  Hypothetical models help you think through the data requirements your research approach must address in order to actually measure the ROI of the program after implementation.


4. Integrated Digital Measurement

The definition of public relations is fluid, and rapidly evolving to encompass a much broader and more integrated view of communications and how we connect, engage and build relationships with consumers and other stakeholders.  Digitization in all its forms has driven and accelerated this important change.  Communicators should now take a more content and consumer-centric view of the world, orchestrating all the consumer touch points available in our increasingly digital world.  At Fleishman Hillard, we capture this expanded scope and integration in a model we refer to as PESO – Paid/Earned/Shared/Owned.  Here is how we define the elements of our model:

Paid – refers to all forms of paid content that exists on third-party channels or venues.  This includes banner or display advertisements, pay-per-click programs, sponsorships and advertorials.

Earned – includes traditional media outreach as well as blogger relations/outreach where we attempt to influence and encourage third-party content providers to write about our clients and their products and services.

Shared – refers to social networks and technologies controlled by consumers along with online and offline WOM

Owned – includes all websites and web properties controlled by a company or brand including company or product websites, micro-sites, blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter channels.

The social media measurement Holy Grail in many ways is to be able to track behavior of individuals across platforms, online and offline, tethered and mobile, understanding how online behavior impacts offline behavior and vice-versa.  We also seek to understand how the PESO elements work together synergistically.  For example, how exposure to online advertising impacts conversions within social channels.  To address this, your measurement strategy should be to take a holistic, integrated approach using a variety of methodologies, tools and data.


5. Attribution

If you are not already familiar with value attribution models, prepare to hear much more about them in 2011.  Value attribution models attempt to assign a financial value to specific campaigns and/or channels (e.g. advertising, search, direct, social) that are part of a larger marketing effort.  So rather than giving all the conversion credit to the last click in a chain or even the first click, the model attributes portions of the overall value across the relevant campaigns and/or channels.

A simple model might look at the following metrics for each channel:

  • Frequency – the number of exposures to a specific marketing channel or campaign
  • Duration – time on site for exposures referring to the conversion site
  • Recency – credit for exposures ranging from first click to last click, with last click typically receiving more credit.

Value attribution models require human analysis and expertise.  This factor is often cited in studies as the reason more companies do not pursue attribution modeling.


Here’s wishing you and yours an exciting and prosperous 2011!

65 Responses to “Social Media Measurement 2011: Five Things to Forget and Five Things to Learn”

  1. lovestats December 30, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    Thanks for a good post! I’m quite tired of all the irrelevant measures and vanity scores. We’ve had our fun creating innumerable meaningless measures, now let’s get back to quality work.

  2. Katie Delahaye Paine December 30, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    This is absolutely brilliant Don. EVERYONE in PR, and particularly in the measurement field should memorize this post.

  3. metricsman December 30, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    Thanks very much for stopping by, Annie. We definitely need more signal and a lot less noise in social media measurement. And thanks for being a fellow research evangelist on Twitter.

  4. metricsman December 30, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    Thanks for the kind words, Katie. High praise coming from the High Priestess of Measurement!

  5. Goldee December 31, 2010 at 2:06 am #

    I can’t tell you how much your post resonates with me.

    I run a Social Media Monitoring software company and we frequently tout the importance of measuring short term and long term ROI but mostly it falls on deaf ears who are used to measuring vanity things like followers, fans, likes and such. There are however quite a few sensible small to mid-size brands who are more interested in – generating leads, solving customer service queries etc. through Social Media and are not concerned about how big their twitter following is.

  6. Michelle C December 31, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    Really great article, Don. Yours is one of the few blogs that I actually stop and read every single word.
    Thanks for being one of my favorites in 2010, and happy new year.

  7. metricsman December 31, 2010 at 9:48 am #

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. Companies would would be well served to focus their measurement efforts on what they want to happen as a result of generating followers or fans, not just on the counts. What you do and can make happen with a million followers/fans is much more meaningful than simply the state of having a million. Thanks again and all the best to you and your company in the coming year. -Don B @Donbart

  8. metricsman December 31, 2010 at 9:50 am #

    Hi Michelle,
    Happy New Year to you too! Thanks very much for reading and your kind words. All the best to you and Synthesio in 2011. -Don B @Donbart

  9. Jake January 3, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    Don, great post. You’ve summarized a lot of the issues and great things about measurement today. I couldn’t agree more with the things we need to forget, but that is definitely easier said than done. The biggest issue is convincing the people that don’t live in the social landscape of your arguments. It is much easier to get caught up in the numbers and bottom line figures than explain to an executive board about the importance of building a meaningful relationship and how to quantify the value of that against 2,000 followers.

    We need to make a conscious effort to not take the easy way out. We can’t settle for providing vanity numbers that bare little meaning just because that is what is asked for.

  10. Mark January 3, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    I’m with you on the vanity metrics stuff, though my thoughts about this are beginning to shift slightly. See you talk about percentage of total followers seeing a post, acting on a post ect, right? And as you continue to measure and watch they funnel down into buyers. So doesn’t it stand to reason that having more followers means more buyers?

    Before anyone gets all up in arms, I should clarify. Quality of followers is still important and with this understanding more so. However, the engagement-less followers, the ‘follow-all-back’ accounts and the robots won’t turn into buyers, so these types of followers are still meaningless. But an organic construction of a strong following should be a metric with meaning, especially as a basis for conversion percentages. I also understand that widening the bottom of the funnel could be a better focus with a higher return, so don’t think that I don’t place value on working that end as well.

    I just think that the number of followers can have more meaning than being something strictly vanity. The reason paying attention to impressions does still hold importance with the online community is that we can measure and massage. The very first thing used in the #3 thing to learn, the basis that all the assumptions work off of, is reach; how can that just be a vanity metric? Just look what happens when you cut 1 million impressions to 100,000.

  11. Michael Taggart January 3, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    Brilliant stuff Don – some important take-aways. My only criticism would be that someone who is nailing this stuff so well should be blogging far more often 🙂

  12. Mark Dorey January 4, 2011 at 5:07 am #

    Great post Don – agree with you totally about the totally flawed AVE method – sadly I think that debatable metrics will be around for quite sometime as it still justifies the function of PR to some senior staff/clients.

  13. metricsman January 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    Hey Jake,
    Thanks for stopping by. Great points in your comment. Not taking the path of least resistance takes courage and conviction. You also need a dose of pragmatism to know when the fight is not worth fighting. -Don B @Donbart

  14. metricsman January 4, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I take your point on the need to maximize the input end of the funnel in addition to optimizing conversion percentages within the funnel. In sales funnel terms, you can’t buy a product you’re not aware of. My comments were not to suggest pure number of followers is not important at any level, just that the emphasis should not solely reside there. it becomes a vanity metric if all you care about is the number and not all the other considerations you address in your comment. Thanks again, Don B

  15. metricsman January 4, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for your kind words. I was a bad blogger in 2010. I plan and hope to be a much more regular blogger in 2011. -Don B @Donbart

  16. metricsman January 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for your comment. Sadly, I agree with you that AVEs will be around for a while longer. I do believe we have turned a corner and their demise will accelerate going forward. -Don B

  17. Davina K. Brewer January 4, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    This is a great list.. marking to read again. Agree with forgetting “vanity numbers” and looking at real data. And the PESO model looks vary interesting, thanks for sharing all of this.

  18. metricsman January 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words, Davina. The integration that the PESO model represents is a consumer-centric view of the world. Glad you found it interesting. -Don B @Donbart

  19. Rusty Cawley January 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    Your analysis of ROI is on spot. The term is overused, overhyped and close to meaningless when it comes to social media. Now what we need is a version of Klout that measures impact instead of influence.

  20. metricsman January 6, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    Hi Rusty,
    Thanks for your comment. I do not agree that ROI is meaningless in social media. My point is that it has a very specific financial meaning that is relevant, but in fewer circumstances than it is discussed about. Also would differ with the need for a one number Klout impact score. There are much, much better ways to measure social media impact across exposure – engagement – influence – action. The one number approach is appealing in its simplicity but lacks actionability as a measurement metric. -Don B @Donbart

  21. Lou Williams January 7, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Don…This is absolutely terrific. You must find a way to give this broader distribution. Anyone who wants to understand measurement in today’s world must read this.

  22. metricsman January 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    Thanks very much for your (too) kind words, I appreciate it. My friend’s at Ragan are helping:

    Glad you found the post useful. All the best, Don B @Donbart

  23. Catherine Lockey January 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    Thanks Metrics Man! I appreciate the time and effort you put into this post. It’s a great resource for me and I plan to study study study it. 🙂

  24. metricsman January 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Thanks very much for stopping by, Catherine. There will be a short quiz for you next week. 😉 -Don B

  25. MrKovalenko January 10, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Hi Don,

    I am happy to find your blog. I ccoperated with FH to serve the one of multi-national clients in aviation in previous years, so it is nice to see (in your blog) again the highest level of FH staff. I will be your often reader. Good luck with your blog!

    Best regards,
    Kyiv, Ukraine

  26. metricsman January 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    Greetings Viktor,
    Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind words about it and your prior relationship with FH. Perhaps we will get an opportunity to work together again in the future. All the best, Don B @Donbart

  27. Erik January 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Fantastic post Don, very grateful for the time you spent on it. Being a technical professional existing in the internet development space for years – I’ve always found that some of the internal created provider indicators (“like”, “fan”, “tweet”) are sometimes ad-hoc concepts created at production time to develop a product or platform. As such, they may have little basis for brands using social media as indicators of performance. It is quite refreshing to see concrete models and consideration given to real-world performance in social media. Thank you for that.

  28. Si Sanett January 11, 2011 at 8:24 am #


    Out of all the 2011 predictions so far this is most certainly the most interesting!

  29. Rick Rice January 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm #


    You wrote this for me didn’t you? Great stuff in here. Let’s hope people listen.


  30. Ben Cotton January 25, 2011 at 3:22 am #

    Hi Don,

    What a fantastic post and I particularly agree with your view on Impressions. This is something industry colleagues often come up against and whilst Impressions are inevitably the highest scoring number (and therefore perceived to be the most impressive) that clients report back internally, Impressions provide some context, but little more. ‘Potential reach’ sums it perfectly.

    We have to become better at offering counsel on measurement issues such as these, so clients understand the metrics better and are empowered to explain them to colleagues and management. In my personal view social media Impressions are akin to AVE in traditional public relations in that both greatly overstate actual relevant audience.



  31. metricsman January 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    Hi Erik,
    Thanks for stopping by. Your comment about creating metrics like Fans and Followers is interesting – never thought about it from a marketing perspective.

  32. metricsman January 25, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    Hi Rick,
    I did write this for you! It was to be a surprise. Did it work? Thanks for reading, my friend. -Don B

  33. metricsman January 25, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Hi Ben,
    Fully agree with your comment – could not have said it better myself. Impressions come from the tonnage school of measurement. The more the better regardless of what true impact was created. AVEs are a bit of a nonsensical way to monetize the value of public relations – a difficult task under any circumstances. At this point for many people and companies they are old habits that are difficult to break.
    Thanks for stopping by. -Don B @Donbart

  34. cecpin February 4, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    Wonderful post, Don!
    2011 is definitely the year we and our clients all need to up our game on measuring and some to stop getting by on just monitoring.

    As with anything, we look at the numbers, but consider the context while placing moderate importance on any one metric whether Fans, Followers, and so on as you responded to Mark.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts. Cecilia Pineda Feret @cecipf

  35. Nate April 22, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    Creating influence – effecting someone’s attitudes, opinions and/or actions – creates impact but may or may not create ROI in the short-term.  It often is better to think abou


  36. andrelmar April 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Yes, those are good points! You are absolutely right about it. Thanks for sharing, it is good to find people thinking the same thing.
    Same reality in Brazil.

  37. Nora DePalma January 25, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    This is really helpful, thank you! Although I quibble slightly about impressions and social media. Both PR and advertising use impressions and that number has always been “the opportunity to see” vs. actual eyeballs. I still see that as valid in social media: active socializers with great content and conversation usually have a larger potential reach than others. But since social media is two-way, vs. one-way, the engagement metrics are the most critical measurement, and your insights are terrific.

  38. phonenumberguy llc. September 10, 2014 at 11:04 pm #

    This is very fascinating, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your feed and sit up for in quest of extra of your fantastic post.

    Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks


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    […] measurement, metrics, accountability. We hear this in Don Bartholomew’s 2011 blog post, Social Media Measurement 2011: Five Things to Forget and Five Things to Learn. Bartholomew writes, “So, perhaps 2011 will be the year that social media measurement […]

  25. Metric stuff | Questionhypoth - April 20, 2012

    […] Social Media Measurement 2011: Five Things to Forget and Five …Dec 30, 2010 … It has been said that social media came of age in 2010. Not so for social media measurement. But the mainstreaming of social media marketing … […]

  26. Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. | Weekly Roundup: The New Year Edition - August 10, 2014

    […] Social Media Measurement 2011: Five things to forget and five things to learn, by Don […]

  27. Social Media Measurement 2011 - - January 23, 2016

    […] to @batty_towers for drawing my attention to this really interesting article re: measuring the impact that social media is making to a […]

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