Can you measure social media? Of course you can, but it's not always easy. Follow these basic steps as you create your measurement plan:
Step 1: Understand how social fits into your company.
What makes measuring social media tricky is that how your company uses it determines the metrics that makes sense for you.
Remember, the goal is not to be good at social media, but to be good at business because of social media. Thus, you first have to understand your business level objectives, and how social media can support them.
Step 2: Know what you can measure.
Not every company has access to the same metrics. If you're an e-commerce company, you can measure elements of your social program that other companies can't measure in theirs. Understand what is possible, and remove irrelevant metrics.
Step 3: Choose ROI or correlation.
There's only one way to calculate ROI (return on investment): sales minus expenses, divided by expenses, expressed as a percentage. There is no other formula. But, finding true ROI can sometimes be difficult.
In those instances, you might opt to instead examine how social media success ties to business success over the long haul, and make correlation studies about that relationship. What you want to see is a situation where business success increases with social success.
True ROI is a better equation, but sometimes is too difficult to find-not just for social media, but for TV, radio, print, event sponsorships and your customer service department.
Step 4: Select metrics.
Once you've gone through the first three steps, pick the metrics that make sense for your company. Pick them before you get heavily involved in social media to reduce the temptation to pick metrics that support your position down the road.
I strongly believe you should pick approximately three metrics and see how they fit for your company. Sometimes it's worse to measure too many things than too few.
Step 5: Share the data.
If you want your entire company to support your social initiatives, it will help if everyone can access the scoreboard. Don't treat social media results like the nuclear codes. If you share your results, you will inspire the internal discussions and ideas necessary to take your program to the next level.
Step 6: Embrace anecdotes.
Anecdotes aren't mathematically defensible in the way ROI is, but you should try to include them in your social media metrics.
Ask your operations, customer service, and community management teams to document circumstances where the company turned lemons into lemonade, delighted a customer, or just did something awesome in social media. Sometimes those unique case studies create more internal support than a stack of spreadsheets.
Jay Baer is a social media strategy consultant, speaker, and co-author of "The NOW Revolution." He is the founder of Convince & Convert, a social media strategy firm, and he blogs at the Convince & Convert social media strategy blog, where this article originally ran.