We hate math.
Our abhorrence for calculation enables us to agree on statistically dubious metrics with nary a shrug or arched eyebrow. Consider Nielsen ratings, which determine the popularity of all TV shows and, consequently, how billions of dollars in TV advertising is apportioned.
Nielsen ratings directly impact hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. In 2009, there were 1,147,910 households with a TV in metropolitan Charlotte, N.C. Of those more than 1 million households, Nielsen tracked the behavior of just 619 to determine ratings. A total of 619 families became the unelected representative tastemakers for 1,147,291 other families. That’s not math; that’s folly.
Yet, we welcome numerical vagary and imprecision into our businesses like a box of free Krispy Kremes. We accept as truth Arbitron (and Nielsen) radio rankings, the number of cars that drive by a billboard, and the notion that somehow people read every page of a newspaper or magazine and pass it along to 2.5 friends.
Do you really know the financial impact of your TV, radio, outdoor print, public relations, and customer services initiatives? You probably don’t.
Social media is inherently measurable
Social media almost always offers the advantage of complete—rather than extrapolated—data. The same is true of all online marketing. Whereas we have mutually agreed that 619 families are an appropriate stand-in for 1 million others, online marketing offers the compelling alternative of measuring every individual.
That’s the good news. One equals one.
What should you measure? It depends.
The bad news is there isn’t an easy-to-convey, standardized, one-size-fits-all metric like Nielsen ratings for social media. And there isn’t going to be. What is measurable differs from company to company.
If you’re a B2B company that has a long sales cycle and talks with prospects before they become customers, you can determine with relative ease whether your social media efforts influenced that customer. Alternatively, if you’re Pringles, it’s a lot tougher to make that connection.
Your company type and business structure have tremendous influence on what you can credibly and reliably measure within social media. Measurement of all things—not just social media—is a discipline, not a task, and it needs to be a cultural imperative.
If you’re going to ask about the value or impact of social media and how to measure it, you need to know how you determine those things for other areas of your business and translate or adapt some of those practices.
The common excuses
“Social media isn’t measurable” is an excuse. Here’s what companies really mean when they say that:
- We don’t have the right tools to collect the data we need.
- When we have all the data, we don’t know where to start.
- We don’t know which data might relate to other data to analyze it well.
- We don’t have or won’t deploy enough data collection and analysis resources to figure this out.
- We’re afraid of what measuring will actually tell us about our effectiveness.
You need to understand whether you are:
- Equipped with the right tools and data
- Willing to spend time to evaluate the data
- Functionally and culturally prepared for what it might show you
Once you’re past that hurdle, you can get to the numbers. And if you’re going to do social media right, you need to get past your loathing for math. Nobody promised social media would be easy, only that it would be awesome.
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.