Proving You Can Measure Social Media

“You can’t really measure the ROI of social media.”

I heard this eye-popping phrase at a local social media panel about “Social Media and the Media.” The panel consisted of an impressively tenured reporter, a multimedia content producer for a local news station and newspaper, a professor of communications, and a recent graduate who was fortunate enough to have landed a marketing job for a digital news purveyor.

All four discussed how social media was transforming journalism and their jobs. (Several people in the audience were pretty unhappy about the “tainting” of journalism, but that’s for another post.) All four panelists were adamant that journalists needed to incorporate social media into their jobs – that it was very important.

Yet when asked about, “How are you measuring success?” not one of them could really answer the question. That was when someone spoke of the inability to measure ROI for social media. I was even so bold to raise my hand and ask, “Do you mean to tell me you don’t have metrics that you report on to your bosses?” and they all assured me quickly that they did, but they didn’t say what they were specifically.

I want to set the record straight. Yes, you can measure the impact of your social media. Yes, you can measure the ROI of social media. A lot has been written about this, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.

First off, it’s worth mentioning – Olivier Blanchard has written an entire book about this, Social Media ROI . I think it’s safe to say the book came out of this PowerPoint which has been popular with social media people since I’ve been involved (two years ago now), and possibly before. It’s a good place to start if you’re thinking on how you can prove to, say, your CFO that this is something worth doing.

Overwhelmingly, the advice you’ll find when you ask a social media consultant about measurement is “first you have to decide your goals, then you decide what to measure.” Hey, Gini Dietrich says it right here and then tells you how. Here  Mack Collier gives you some specific measurements you can make against specific goals – even if you’ve already gotten started, it’s not too late.

Rebecca Denison blogged here about measuring your personal brand. In this post, Rebecca walks you through how she measured her brand – and you can take her logic and apply it to your business situation, as well.

One of my favorite posts about picking a metric to use is Stanford Smith’s post about Klout and how social media experts are really good at pointing out the problems with certain metrics – and makes the case for the Klout score, something every social media expert should at least be familiar with. There are other influence measurement tools, but I really like the data that underlies the Klout score best.

Brian Solis weighed in on the ROI of social media last year here. It’s a long read, but the payoff is worth it.

Are you a nonprofit? Don’t worry, you can do it, too. Beth Kanter, who is something of a celebrity in the nonprofit and social media space, wrote just recently about this here — within the post is a link to Beth’s recent presentation on social media ROI for nonprofits – a great read.

So, that’s where I’d start. Did I hit the mark with measurement? What information would you share with my fellow audience members about social media measurement?

Image: BlueWaterDirect.com

29 comments
Beth
Beth

KD Paine, the guru of social media measurement, has a sticker that says "Yes we can measure social media!" And I think the next phrase might be, but we just don't know how.

ClaudiaBroome
ClaudiaBroome

This post offers so much information and gave some great resources. I will be doing my homework tonight via the links. Always so much to learn and in this area there is never "too much information." When I hear a show host or news commentator say "...and you can find me on Twitter" all I think is when and why? Part of the issue that I see is that many of the successful business leaders are old school and therefore hesitated to tinker with social media. Then, when they realized that it wasn't going away, they took the plunge. The problem is that they can talk the talk but can't walk the walk.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

The problem here, Jenn, is that people want to measure the ROI of the TOOLS. You can't measure the ROI of the tools. You can, however, measure the strategies in which the tools are used to implement. I fear we're going through the same thing the search world went through 10 years ago - tons of people are jumping on the bandwagon to make a quick buck and the ones who've figured out the effectives, ROI, and measurement to key goals and performance are the ones who will succeed. There are a lot of "experts" who are using the tools and don't know how to measure their effectiveness toward goals because they don't have BUSINESS experience. If social is going to be part of communications, marketing, sales, HR, advertising, and customer service, we all have to understand how our efforts are integrated into each of those hubs...and it's EXTREMELY measurable.

Not that I have an opinion on it or anything.

Laura Click
Laura Click

Excellent post and roundup of resources. Good work!

I have a reporter friend who I encouraged to use Twitter and she's become really adept at it. She's developed sources, found great leads and created a connection with her audience.Meanwhile, many of her colleagues still turn to the non-stop promo tweets of "check out our breaking story at 6". Of course, those folks really don't have much to measure because I can't imagine they are getting anywhere with that.

It's sad. There are so many opportunities here if people would take the time to do it right. I think that's why many don't measure - they don't know why their using the tools in the first place.

Soulati
Soulati

Just wanted to chime in (shoot, I just saw Johnny use that word, too!) to say thanks, Jenn, for a fantabulous post today. I appreciate everyone's visiting here and supporting Jenn's expertise (and my blog, too). Hearts all around.

Johnny Russo
Johnny Russo

Good job Jenn.

To chime in, I think when people hear ROI and Social Media, experts seem to get wishy-washy, and detractors seem to enjoy hearing it’s hard to measure.

It’s very lazy to say you absolutely can’t measure the ROI of social media. Granted, it may not be so cut and dry as other channels.

I will take the example of blogging. In the amazing Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik, he talks about the ROI of blogging as calculating the Technology, Time, and Opportunity Cost. But say you figure this out, and your ROI is not too impressive, so you are hesitant to show your boss. Well, what was the goal of your blog? Was it to bring in money, leads, educate visitors about your brand? (Most companies will/should tell you it’s a combination of a couple of variables.) So maybe you are well-aligned with the pre-determined goals, both short and long term.

So while the results might not always be positive, there definitely is a way to measure social media ROI. But the importance maybe not be in the actual ROI as we know it, but rather the value derived from social media connections.

Thanks for sharing Jenn and Jayme

Stephen Jordan
Stephen Jordan

Jenn,

Thanks for sharing these useful links which I'll definitely read to dive a bit deeper into the world of ROI for social media. I may be in the minority, but personally I don't spend a lot of time worrying about ROI for many of these internal/external collaboration tools and social software because I see them as a different way of communicating but something that is just "the price of entry" these days. What I mean is, there was a time (though most of us don't remember it) when CFOs asked, "what's the ROI on this new thing called email?" and people went nuts trying to somehow quantify returns. In the end, it was a groundswell that turned into a tsunami and before long those same CFOs would probably scream if you said you were taking email away from them. I have a hunch "social media" (stressing the quotes) will have a similar life history...

Thanks again!

Steve

MichelleQuillin
MichelleQuillin

Jenn, I love all the links you shared here -- great post! Thanks for introducing Olivier Blanchard (The Brand Builder) to those of us who didn't know about him before!!

I understand the need for CFOs to have hard, cold statistics in front of them, since an outlay of resources is needed for social media (for REAL social media), but there comes a time when you have to step back from the need for actual numbers and ask, "Is building and nurturing relationships with my target market a good idea? Is keeping our brand in front of them as they spend time online a good idea? Is having a website we can drive traffic to a good idea?" Those are all no-brainers for most brands, but because it's "new media," the top guns need help seeing how well-done social media works to do those things (and more).

The key: well-done social media, with a marketer's focus. That's what's tricky for most of us doing social media for our brands today! On New England Multimedia's blog, I asked marketers to chime in with what they would ask a social media consultant before hiring them. They weren't your typical answers, that's for sure!

JohnAkerson
JohnAkerson

Hi Jenn,

Great post on Social Media ROI! The topic kind of reminds me about discussions back in "the Dawn of the Internet" - nobody could really agree on how to measure ROI from a website. It seemed that all of a sudden, Dell announced they were making $1b of annual revenues from online sales - and then there was no longer an argument about website ROI...

Great mention of Beth Kanter - you should also check out Joe Waters SelfishGiving.com - He is all about finding value in social media for non-profits - http://selfishgiving.com/category/cause-marketing-social-media

Here's a question for you: When do you think the discussion will move from merely "measuring" social media ROI to "best practices for maximizing" social media ROI?

Ramon B. Nuez Jr.
Ramon B. Nuez Jr.

Jenn, this is a wonderful post. Oddly enough, I am reading Olivier Blanchard's, Social Media ROI. It is a great book. I also agree with you that a social media program is most certainly measurable. The brand needs to take the time out and set those KPI's, goals, tasks, etc. The company has to understand what they want to measure and measure only that and not get distracted and measure everything. Finally, getting one or many tools to assist in extracting that measurement -- brings it home.

Ramon B. Nuez Jr.
Ramon B. Nuez Jr.

Jenn, this is a wonderful post. Oddly enough, I am reading Olivier Blanchard's, Social Media ROI. It is a great book. I also agree with you that a social media program is most certainly measurable. The brand needs to take the time out and set those KPI's, goals, tasks, etc. The company has to understand what they want to measure and measure only that and not get distracted and measure everything. Finally, getting one or many tools to assist in extracting that measurement -- brings it home.

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

Claudia, you put this so well - they can talk the talk but can't walk the walk (in terms of social media). It does amuse me (privately!) when I hear such types talking about what they're doing on, say, Twitter.

I hope you do find the links useful! I certainly didn't capture them all - sometimes my social bookmarks strategy fails and I forget to record some for later. If you find more, please do come back and share.

ClaudiaBroome
ClaudiaBroome

Glad you have an opinion! ;-) My claim to fame was that my 24 year old son actually said to me the other day, "When you first told me about Twitter, I thought you were crazy. Mom, you were ahead of me on this one." Compliments from kids are few and far between, so I'll take what I can get!

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

Hi Gini, Thanks so much for weighing in. I think you really get to the heart of the problem with the piece about people lacking business experience. When you've never had to think about the bottom line it's easy enough to ignore it. I'll admit right here that I've been guilty of this in the past!

I'll have to say that my experience of clients has been mixed - some really get it and want to have a solid strategy in place. But some of them don't want to answer these questions, they just want someone to "do it for" them. In that case, they get what they pay for, eh?

Gini I love your opinions!

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

Laura - I would LOVE to hear more from your reporter friend about how she's using social media to support her journalism work. Could we get a guest post out of her for either your blog or Jayme's blog?

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

Thanks for letting post on your blog Jayme!

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

Hey Johnny, thanks for sharing the information from Avinash Kaushik. It's absolutely important to determine the goal of your efforts before you measure ANYTHING. Appreciate you weighing in today!

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

These are GREAT questions, Michelle, and ones that brands definitely need to consider. Thanks so much for weighing in!

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

Thanks John! I appreciate the info about SelfishGiving.com too. I definitely need more knowledge in the non-profit space.

I don't when that change will happen, but I believe what will move the needle is those of us who are experiencing a positive ROI for SM to tell our stories. My VSO @stevelettieri has said 30% of their revenue has come through Twitter. Twitter, the social media channel that supposedly is overrated!

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

You know what, I didn't include enough about tools that someone could use. Do you have any information you'd like to share about that? Thanks for commenting, Ramon!

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

Okay, that is some kudos. Love it. My friends who are younger than me do find it strange that I'm so active on Twitter - just waiting for them to have a similar aha moment!

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

It's easy to ignore when you're young in your career, but if the more seasoned pros aren't looking out for the bottom line (and understanding the difference between that and the top line) and teaching the new talent about these things, we're doomed. It's time to measure our efforts back to the business's goals. It can be done and all this baloney about just wanting lovey dovey AVEs and media impressions with no measurable results is just that...baloney.

Laura Click
Laura Click

I'll see what she says. If nothing else, maybe I could write something showing different examples of what I'm seeing. It's been interesting watching the different outlets in my market try to be more social, but most of them are still failing....miserably.

Ramon B. Nuez Jr.
Ramon B. Nuez Jr.

Well, everyone like free (or inexpensive) especially if the company can get the measurements it needs. I am thinking Google Analytics, TweetDeck and Hootsuite -- on the cheap/free side. I guess Radian 6 on the enterprise (on expensive side).

Trackbacks