Following on from my our “Social Media Guruism: Mostly Harmless” yesterday, we received the following comment:

On the surface, this seems like a great article…until you realize that it’s really just like most tweets–a total waste of time. If you wanted to really provide something valuable, you’d show me how you directly measure your social marketing campaign…Oh wait, you can’t. Why? First, cause you’ve probably never run one and you’re just regurgitating what other people have told you. And second, because ROI really doesn’t translate for most Internet campaigns. There’s just no way to directly measure it because there are so many random variables. And I challenge anyone to prove that it can be

Thanks for the response, Fearless Advisor!

Really, social media marketing is no different to other forms of marketing in that it must eventually demonstrate value and be accountable.

The “Why” Question

One of the points I made in the previous article was that a lot of people seem to confuse the medium with the message. They are using a communication channel – in this case Twitter & Facebook – without first deciding why they are doing it.

Sometimes, the answer might be no more complicated than “because it’s new”, “because it sounded good” or “because everyone else is doing it”. However, if a marketing campaign is to be successful, and repeated, it must be measured. How would you know if it was a success, or be worth repeating otherwise?

The fist step should be to ask “why”? The same question applies to any marketing campaign, be it search marketing, radio, television, or anything else. Why does this website exist? Why am I doing this and what result am I trying to achieve?

Is it to boost traffic? Is it to make more money? Is it to cut costs in other marketing activities by replacing one with another? Is it to grow the RSS subscriber base? Get more links? Grow the mail list? A combination of all these things? And how do these relate back to the purpose of the site?

Without that knowledge, the exercise is one of faith.

Demonstrate Value

The top social media marketers, just like the top search marketers, can create enormous value. And they can show it.

If clients aren’t demanding it now, they soon will. Back when I was doing search marketing for clients, I was in a sales meeting with a large mobile telecommunications company. I was doing my best to sell them on the benefits of search marketing and from the nods I was getting, I thought I was doing ok. At the end of the meeting, they said I was the first search guy who had talked to them in terms they could relate to – i.e. I was talking marketing, as opposed to hype and technology.

Social media marketing is going through the same growing- up phase that search marketing did. As search marketing clients got more savvy and gained experience with the new channel, they started to demand more traditional metrics – meaningful metrics related to the underlying business objectives – that could be analysed alongside their other marketing campaigns.

Measurement Ideas

Measurement depends on the aims of the campaign.

Here are a some common measurements used in marketing campaigns, and apply equally to social media as they do other marketing channels. Not all these measurements are appropriate, or achievable, but should serve as a starting point when considering measurement.

1. Increased Revenue

This measurement is straightforward. What was the level of business the client was doing before the social media campaign, and what is the level they are doing afterwards? Has it dropped, stayed the same, or risen?

2. Competitive Advantage

Has the client gained competitive advantage?

Do a before/after comparison against competitors. Is the client doing better in Compete/Alexa/etc than their competitors after they ran the social media campaign?

Have the competitors run social media campaigns? Can you do a similar before/after comparison on their success, or lack thereof?

3. Increased Visitor Numbers

Are there more visitors now than there were before the campaign started? Break the visitors down by channel using referral data. Who are they? Where are they from? Are they the right demographic?

4. Reach/Spreading The Word

Perhaps the most difficult aspect to measure. Research companies, like Neilsen, use Buzz Metrics and Blog Pulse to measure how many people are talking about a brand or company.

Similarly, Google Trends can be used to pinpoint spikes in attention across the net. Is your message/brand mentioned more often after the campaign? Are there more mentions across blogs, Twitter, Facebook, mainstream media?

5. Search Activity

Do more people search on a clients brand after the social media campaign? Do they use queries relating to the clients message, products or services?

6. Primary Market Research

Big companies tend to do this more so than smaller companies. Run field studies, focus groups, and interviews to determine the level of brand awareness.

7. Links

Has the client received more links? This is one of the huge value propositions of social media, especially when combined with SEO. Social media can be such a powerful link building method, second to none.

Yeah, But How?

Perhaps the social media gurus can tell us? 🙂

These are the types of metrics clients will demand. If I were buying social media marketing services – and might well be in the near future – these are the metrics I’d demand. No one, except the clueless, will be impressed by follower numbers.

There is no one tool that can measure and track all this data. Hey, perhaps there is a market opportunity for someone! But while we’re waiting for such a tool to emerge, measurement is a multi-disciplinary approach, combining both tools and techniques.

Consider analytics, behavior tracking, dedicated tracking codes for links, coupon codes that can only be seen on Facebook or Twitter, unique phone numbers used to track just that one campaign, customer surveys after they have bought something.

I’m sure social media professionals have got a wealth of techniques and tools they use. It would be great if you could share your knowledge with the community in the comments 🙂

Why A Social Media Marketer Should Do This

The end result is that clients will spend more, on an ongoing basis, if they can see demonstrable value.

A company may do a one-off campaign for fun, as an experiment, or because they think it is trendy to do so, but they’ll soon move on to the “next big thing” unless social media can demonstrate how it helps them achieve their marketing goals.

Some of the above is easy, some is difficult. It depends on the client and their goals. There will always be intangible rewards when it comes to brand building and raising awareness, but you can’t know if you’re winning the game if you don’t keep score.

I know some social media marketers already do this. Like the top search marketers, they will be the only ones left standing, and prospering once the hype dies off.

And it will.

More: continued here