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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Softer Side Of Measuring Social Media

How do you measure your social media efforts? How should you? Most people in the industry talk generally about measuring engagement as a concept and cite examples such as time spent on a site or number of comments, or inbound links as ways to track this. Others talk about ad equivalency (ie how much you saved by avoiding paying for advertising to achieve the same results) or even tie social media efforts directly back to sales and conversions. All are good models and we use a combination of these on just about every client engagement.

Today at the Executing Social Media event in Atlanta, I shared a thought that I have been having over the past few weeks about a missing element of measurement that has been surprisingly important to many clients we have worked with. Consider it the "softer" side of social media measurement. Here are a few examples:

Metric: Internal Bragging Rights
Depending on where you work, this can be a big motivator. Being able to talk internally about a new social media effort or innovative marketing program is something that can build reputations of those involved, as well as lead to better internal responsibilities and possibly promotions and other good things.

Metric: Industry Recognition
Recognition from peers is a big deal as well, particularly the higher up in the marketing chain you go. Though some CMOs may not admit it, getting the envy or appreciation from other CMOs is just about the best compliment you can get. This doesn't necessarily need to be about winning some sort of award, just getting industry credit.

Metric: Lessons Learned
Sometimes failures can be the best thing to happen to a social media campaign. Doing something wrong gives you the chance to learn from your mistakes and perhaps even make your next campaign much more successful. The problem is that most metrics would record a campaign like this as having no redeeming qualities. That's not quite true and though most marketers know it, many don't have a way to share it.

Metric: Media Non-Coverage
An obvious numbers-based metric is about volume of coverage but there is a softer side of social media measurement when it comes to media. This could include avoiding negative coverage - for example if there is a journalist seeking brands that "don't get it" and your brand is not on the list because of your efforts. Another similar example might be having your brand's point of view portrayed more accurately as a result of social media content you have online.

Metric: Testimonials
One of the most powerful effects of social media is the testimonials that you often get from customers, employees and just about anyone else. These testimonials provide powerful stories that can be retold within an organization. Even if there is only one great video or a single great blog post, these can take on outsized importance when reported as part of social media measurement for a campaign.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the "real" social media metrics we might report don't matter. Only that there may be a softer side of metrics that we too often forget, but that do make a difference.


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I agree 100%, that the 'softer side' or the intangible benefits and successes are important. Many times the intangibles are MORE of a determinate of success (or the opposite) This isn't specific to Social Media, but to any strategy. For example, a couple of years ago the HBR reported that, on average, large corporate strategic plans achieved only 69% of original target. After 'shortage of resources' the top reasons for this under-performance were "intangibles" - lack of leadership; poor communication; in-fighting; etc.

I would say "absence of negative coverage"as a result from a Social Media effort, which resulted in avoiding client turnover is a pretty good result.

Rohit, this is a very interesting take on the value of social media engagement. Thought you might be interested in this post - a softer measurement of online "brand power" in the wine industry.


Thanx for this, Rohit. I am wondering about some of the same things and how to apply them at work — specifically, combining hard data with soft human stories. Not "soft" as in "weak", but as in "flexible"... since anecdotes paired with metrics can be a powerful punch! Let's put some faces to those #s.

I <3 my Flickr testimonials:

I'm speaking on this topic at eMetrics, thanks for sharing some inspiration!

The challenge that many metrics gurus face is that they are trained in the art of traditional metrics - clicks, sales, conversions etc. Traditional metrics does not ask why, it asks how and how much.

Social metrics are really points in a "connect the dots" game, or footprints in time. They reflect points of action in an incredibly broad and diverse ecosystem. Only by understanding and appreciating the ecosystem, can one relate their observed actions (metrics) to an end goal.

This is where social metrics flounder. Views, comments, brand mentions, sentiment scores, influence scores, these are all dots. But if you don't see the big picture, they don't yet tell a story.

Hey Rohit,

Great points, but will they stick? A snarky reply is the very definition of a metric is something that is measurable - "Internal Bragging Rights" doesn't qualify.

Definitely agree that the ROI-focus on Social Media is difficult. There is definite return - just like branding, customer relations and PR - but it is not always so tangibly measured like other things online, say a paid search campaign.

How do we respond to the question from the CMO and CFO of "will it make me money? how can I measure this against a PPC campaign for budget allocation purposes?"

I guess what's missing is the understanding that Social Media is the new WoM, branding, PR, and customer relations platform. And you wouldn't want to not be doing any of those four things (if not more).



Finally some useful metrics for 2008. As Daniel says WOM has changed, people are becoming increasingly impersonal outside of their online lives which is where social media/networks come into play.

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