As part of our upcoming special report, “Measuring Your Success,” I spoke with Olivier Blanchard, a brand strategist with 15 years of marketing management experience across a variety of B2B and B2C industries, from manufacturing and distribution to new media and consumer goods. He manages BrandBuilder Marketing, a brand consulting and marketing management firm based in Greenville, S.C., that helps companies combine traditional and new/social media to achieve their brand-building. “Measuring Your Success” publishes on Thursday; if you’re not already a SmartBrief on Social Media subscriber, sign up today so you won’t miss it!
There’s a perception that social media’s relevance to business is hard to measure. Do you think that’s true?
Sadly, that perception was created by self-appointed social media “experts” who actually had no experience integrating social media into a business practice. This unfortunate lack of practical knowledge among the majority of social media pundits initially created quite a bit of confusion for the business community, particularly as it pertained to tying social media activities to ROI and other core business metrics.
The reality is that it is relatively easy to measure social media’s relevance to a business once you understand how social media strategies apply to a breadth of business objectives. As long as a) the business knows what it is trying to accomplish and b) that business leverages its social media program in specific ways to impact those goals, measurement becomes relatively simple. Once you see how all the pieces fit, it’s just a matter of putting in the work.
When evaluating various metrics and tools for tracking social media, what should marketing and communications professionals look for?
First, know what you want to measure. The most complex tools in the world won’t do you any good if they don’t measure what your business needs to measure. So start with that.
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- How will we measure success?
Those are the two most important questions that need to be asked before the launch of any program, social media or otherwise.
Second, look for tools that simplify your job rather than complicate it. If you can find one tool that measures everything you want to measure, invest in it. The alternative may seem cheaper on the front end, but the amount of work required to manage several tools and a dozen separate data sets may end up costing you more in labor and headaches. Consider not only the measurement but the reporting and analysis as well. Consider the big picture.
Third, don’t limit social media management to marketing and communications. The sales, business development and customer support teams need to be involved in its management and measurement, as well. It would be a mistake to look at social media mostly as a marketing tool. Its management needs to be an organizationwide endeavor, even if some departments touch it more often than others.
Should putting the proper tracking mechanisms in place come before trying out new social media strategies/activities?
From a business management standpoint, sure. You want to establish baselines for your activities to track resource use, progress and changes (to eventually determine the specific successes and failures of your social media activities).
From a program management and execution standpoint, however, the launch of a social media program should typically begin with a discovery plan whose goal is to simply learn how to listen. This phase of the plan can be used in two ways:
- To validate the tracking and measurement program already put in place by the management team.
- To develop a tracking and measurement plan specific to the social media space.
Social media programs should never start with the creation of content or active engagement or anything “outbound.” That comes later. The first priority when starting out is to create listening outposts throughout the Web, and in parallel, identify specific business goals, then strategies, then tactics, then measurement methodologies to properly track performance. Approaching social media program development from that angle falls into the realm of best practices for this type of endeavor.
What are the three most common mistakes you see companies make when attempting to measure the impact or value of their social media efforts?
- Focusing too much on digital measurement. Sure, social media seems to live in the digital space, but digital is just the medium. The relationships, the engagement, the consumer behaviors, these things exist in the real world as well (and probably more so). Measuring the impact of social media programs only in terms of digital outcomes like Web traffic and the number of followers is pretty short-sighted and ineffective.
- Not understanding the difference between nonfinancial impact and financial impact. Nonfinancial impact is a precursor to ROI. For example, 1,000 net new daily visitors to a Web site attributed to Facebook fans is of immense value to the digital team, but unless these new visitors transact as a result of their visit (or their recommendations result in a transaction), the value of that traffic is limited (and irrelevant to the sales manager). So the difference between the value of a program and the financial value of a program are often not clearly delineated within an organization. This lack of understanding is still a major problem standing in the way of seasoned business executives taking social media seriously as a legitimate and powerful business development tool.
- Not establishing clear goals and objectives when launching a social media program. “Engagement,” “increasing brand awareness” and “having more conversations” are not real objectives. (A real objective is both specific and quantifiable.) “Soft goals” create soft strategies. Soft strategies turn into weak tactics. Weak tactics turn into bogus metrics. The more specific the goals, the more likely it is that organizations will see real (and quantifiable) results every month, quarter and beyond. Companies that don’t understand this are playing “pinning the tail on the donkey” with social media. This is one of the biggest reasons why so many social media programs seem to go nowhere.