9 social media measurement myths

Likes don’t mean engagement, and sentiment might not matter. Read on to make sure your measurement strategy isn’t built on fiction.

Once upon a time there was a shiny new object called the telephone. The first person to manage the telephone in an organization was probably the CEO.

Then, sales, customer service, marketing and everyone else started clamoring for this shiny new object. The management team was very scared. It worried about who would control communications management, or if the function would become too fragmented. Eventually, the team looked around and realized that companies with telephones were growing faster and making more money than their unconnected counterparts.

A few decades later, there was another shiny new object called the computer. Originally, the computer sciences department managed all things having to do with the computer. Then sales, marketing, customer service and all the different divisions who needed business intelligence started clamoring for computers. Management was again very scared.

It worried about who would control the proliferation of all these new objects and who would decide who would or would not have access to these newfangled computer things. A few years later, CEOs and CFOs realized that departments with computers were more efficient and profitable than those without them. Soon everyone in the company was online, using computers to facilitate workflow.

What was all the fuss about?

Another decade or so later, there was a shiny object called social media. Management was even more afraid. Who would control this uncontrolled conversation? Who and how would we manage our messages?

Lawyers and IT departments fretted. People wrote books and issued manifestos and policies. You could hear the gnashing of teeth from Seattle to South Beach.

When I addressed the PRSA Miami and Gulfstream chapters, measurement was the hottest discussion in town. The old rules of measurement no longer work in this space. There are simply too many questions about too many numbers.

My advice: You have to ask, “So what?” So what if your company got 1,000 new Facebook likes or 1,000 views on YouTube? You can count to your heart’s content, but unless you examine what made your fan count go up and what happened to your sales funnel as a result, you’re only adding to the confusion. You have to ask what impact you are having on your organization.

Here are the nine great myths of social media measurement:

1. No one needs to own social media

Good companies see social media as part of their core DNA. Everyone is involved—customer service, HR, sales and marketing share information and metrics as part of a companywide committee.

2. Social media ≠ Facebook

Social media is much more than just Facebook, even though far too many CEOs seem to think that is not the case. What social media tool you use should depend on where your customers are. If you are a B2B company, you may want to think about joining LinkedIn groups. If you are a restaurant or bar, use Foursquare to help balance weather-related dips in sales. Got a problem to solve? Crowdsource on a variety of platforms.

3. Eyeballs ≠ awareness

Eyeballs and impressions—also known as opportunities to see—are so 1999. The over-reliance on impressions is a holdover from traditional print marketing, when people evaluated magazines based on regular audits of paid subscribers. No such solid data exists any more.

Compete, ComScore and Nielsen all arrive at estimates based on large panels of people whose online behavior they continuously track. The problem is that if you are interested in a small, obscure blog that no one on the panel reads, you won’t be able to find any impression data for that outlet.

It’s much more effective to look at behavior in terms of click-throughs and actions than to rely on a hypothetical connection between eyeballs and awareness.

4. Followers ≠ influence

Oprah Winfrey and Justin Bieber may have a lot of followers, but that doesn’t mean they have any influence on your business, particularly if you’re not in a consumer market. The danger of services like Klout is that they base their rankings on Twitter activity. If your customers or influencers aren’t on Twitter, it doesn’t matter how high the Klout score—that person won’t have any influence.

5. Likes ≠ engagement

Just because someone clicks on a +1 button or a Facebook like button on your company’s website does not guarantee that the person wants to have a long-term relationship with your brand.

All it says is that at that moment, he or she agrees with something you said. You can bombard them with all the information you want, but if you aren’t relevant, they’ll never engage with you again.

6. Engagement ≠ROI

More importantly, engagement may not be the right metric to measure. Engagement is a good way to judge progress along a sales cycle, but if that’s not your objective, you need to change what you measure.

It may be that you are trying to change your organization’s positioning, or teach or explain a specific message. Messaging and positioning impact company profitability in the long run by shortening the sales cycle, lowering legal costs, reducing churn, or lowering recruitment costs.

7. What matters may not be sales

See above. If your goals are more reputation or education focused, you need to measure perceptions, not activities.

8. Sentiment may not matter

There is very little data that shows that sentiment makes a difference to the bottom line. If you are promoting a movie, book or event, there is some data that shows a direct correlation between sentiment and sales. But sentiment analysis requires the existence of sentiment, and there are a great number of products that people just don’t get passionate about.

9. It’s not about you

Finally, it isn’t about PR. It’s about communications, which is something PR does very well, but any good PR person knows that it is a collaborative effort. PR can’t better a reputation without the cooperation of good products, practices, management, investor relations and human resources.

You should view social media as a gigantic conversation taking place outside your door; some of the snippets of that communication would be useful to customer support, R&D, product management, recruitment, etc.

Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of KDPaine & Partners, and publisher of The Measurement Standard newsletter. She is also the author of Measure What Matters.” A version of this article originally ran on PRSAY, the PRSA executive blog.


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