Most unhappy with social media measurement, survey says

Overworked social media staff lack time—and sometimes the know-how—to measure their impact and monitor the Web, a new survey reveals.

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Measurement may be the hottest topic in social media, with everyone trying to figure out how all those tweets and Facebook updates affect the bottom line, but execution remains problematic.

The majority of those responsible for juggling social media aren’t entirely happy with measurement and monitoring, a Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey reveals. (Download the survey’s findings here).

Some 69 percent are dissatisfied or only “somewhat satisfied” with how they measure all that work posting on Pinterest and soothing Facebook flamers. Only 31 percent are “satisfied” or “very satisfied,” and many say they lack the time to track such data or are generally uncertain about metrics.

“I’m not sure what to measure or how,” one survey participant wrote. “I know it’s important, but I can’t show my boss how many retweets a post received and expect him to care.”

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Shel Holtz, of Holtz Communication + Technology, says of the overall gloomy tone. “It’s disheartening, but it doesn’t surprise me.”

The online survey drew 2,714 participants, ranging from small firms that have a single staffer handling social media on top of other duties, to a corporation with a global team of 20. The survey was also open to government agencies and nonprofits. The survey found:

  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents consider lack of time a major hindrance in monitoring.
  • Almost 40 percent are unsure what tools to use.
  • Monitoring primarily focuses on what’s being said about one’s organization, with a smaller majority listening in on competitors.
  • Google—both analytics and alerts—dominates the free tools that are used in monitoring. HootSuite and Radian6 lead the pack among paid tools, with Vocus and newcomers such as NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions trailing.

The survey’s findings of confusion about measurement square with what David B. Thomas is seeing. Thomas is senior director of content and community at Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

“People get started, and they expect they will be able to get quick answers and easy answers to what they’re supposed to be measuring,” says Thomas. “People have to understand what they’re trying to measure and what they’re trying to influence.”

What to measure?

Nearly 86 percent of respondents said they measure interaction and engagement, including followers, fans, and “likes.” According to the survey, 74 percent are tracking Web traffic, with 58 percent measuring brand reputation. Forty percent track new leads, and only 31 measure sales.

For all the talk about measurement, it is important to keep the bigger picture in mind, suggests Jeremiah Owyang, a partner in Altimeter Group. The problem is deeper than just figuring out the tools; many brands don’t know what they’re supposed to measure, he says.

“They think follower count is a business metric, but it’s not a business metric,” Owyang says. “What you do with your fans and followers is a business metric.”

For example, if your goal is to increase sales, then you need to measure referral rates and how social media affects the process through the point of purchase, he says. A tally of fans and followers doesn’t tell you that.

Some respondents find it difficult to make this connection. “We are a hospital, so sales and leads are very difficult to track via social media,” replied one.

“Let me know when you figure out social ROI/metrics,” said another respondent.

If many are dissatisfied with how they measure, perhaps it is partly because clear standards have yet to crystalize.

David B. Rockland, CEO at Ketchum Pleon Change and a partner at Ketchum Global Research, says measurement is hard to pin down because social media is evolving. This leaves uncertainty as things shake out.

Rockland says the seven Barcelona Principles, adopted in 2010 at a summit of the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, are a step toward more accurate social media metrics. (He participated in the conference.) The declaration states that the social media can and should be measured, and that transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement.

Social media can be measured through solid quantitative and qualitative metrics, he says.

Perhaps some perspective is in order, suggests Jonathan Rick, CEO of Jonathan Rick Group, a digital communications firm. If you place an ad or get a media mention, it is difficult to track how many people saw it or what they did with the information. But the Internet can tell you which social platform referred a viewer and how many clicked through to your website and went on to buy.

“Take anything social or digital compared to its dead-tree counterpart, and you’ll find that there are a plethora of measurements at your disposal,” Rick says.

Most monitor selves; fewer track the competition

A total of 86 percent of respondents monitor what’s being said about their organization, while 77 percent monitored industry news, trends, and events. Fewer—57 percent—monitor their competitors.

“We should be monitoring the competition, but don’t have the time,” one respondent wrote.

Another organization “only monitor[s] and respond[s] to posts on our pages. We don’t monitor any outside influence,” a survey participant wrote.

Monitoring is crucial at General Motors, says Mary Henige, the automaker’s director of social media and digital communications. The company once took out an ad on college campuses that showed a cyclist covering his face, as if embarrassed, while a pretty young woman in a car passes him. “Reality Sucks,” read the headline.

The apparent anti-bike message stirred up an uproar in cycling- and student-related social media, and Henige quickly passed along the word that the ad had backfired. GM pulled it and apologized. Someone had tweeted about the ad to cyclist Lance Armstrong, so GM messaged him, too. His team retweeted GM’s statement.

“With social media you can find issues more quickly—and react to them more quickly—before you get mainstream media calls,” Henige says.

One savvy respondent uses monitoring—presumably on Twitter—proactively, to keep up with reporters. This survey participant tracks “the comings, goings, and daily life happenings of reporters we want to deepen relationships with—to make the chance of getting coverage exponentially easier.”

Roadblocks trip up measurement and monitoring

Many survey participants found significant roadblocks in monitoring. Some 65 percent said lack of time was the reason; 63 percent blamed a lack of staffing. (Twenty-three percent said measuring is “too overwhelming.”) Just over 41 percent blamed a lack of money.

Confusion about tools also hindered monitoring. Some 39 percent agreed with the statement, “We don’t know which tools to use.”

One respondent’s company monitors a wide range of areas “in theory,” but added: “In reality, there’s not enough time to do any of the above as a small firm. Even though the tools are easy/foolproof, someone has to review the info.”

Said another, “It can be difficult to provide [return on investment] for social media, and without ROI, it’s difficult to build a business case for investment.”

On the other hand, one respondent wrote: “We are fully engaged throughout the workweek and will commonly monitor the sites live. While some folks in our office choose to utilize tools such as TweetDeck and Hootsuite, not all do.”

Several mentioned industry-specific barriers. Wrote one respondent, “We are a government agency and struggle with adhering to strict security requirements and emerging social media trends.”

The sheer mass of mentions renders monitoring and measurement difficult. One person wrote: “Some clients have hundreds of social media mentions a day, often by disgruntled students who are required to use their tool for submission of assignments.”

How organizations measure

As to how they do this, nearly 59 percent use free tools, while 35 percent use both free and paid. Just 6 percent rely on paid alone.

Among paid tools, Hootsuite holds a plurality, with 31 percent, followed by Radian6 (25 percent).

Google Analytics dominates the free tools, with 78 percent saying they rely on it. Google Alerts follows with 67 percent. Hootsuite (47 percent) and TweetDeck (36 percent) remain popular. Social Mention, Wildfire, and Trackur follow far behind.

Some mentioned proprietary tools, among them the respondent who uses “some homemade French tools.”

Many individuals did no tracking or couldn’t name their tools. Forty-two answered variations of “none,” “don’t know,” or “N/A” when asked what tools they use. “I’m not sure this is actively done,” one answered.

“I believe there is very little data out there that is unbiased and transparent in the social media world,” one survey participant responded. “We have to rely on Facebook, Twitter, to make their tools better and more transparent so we can get better answers to questions like, ‘What is our ROI?'”

How they found measurement service

Asked how they found their measurement service, the majority—59 percent—said through word of mouth. As in other markets, Google continued to be a powerful means of finding a measurement service, with 21 percent saying they used the search engine.

In the comments, many said they had received calls from salespeople, and one answered, “Through networking and observation of others.”

Added another: “Our agency found them (not sure how) for another client and knew we were looking. So, they had us interview them along with some others. We found them to be the most robust and cost-effective.”

The ‘biopsies approach’

In the end, some are finding ways to measure, even if it is only a snapshot of their market. Lee Aase, director of Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, uses a medical metaphor.

“We use what I like to call the ‘biopsies approach,’ versus the ‘full-body scan,'” he says.

Mayo is satisfied that its “biopsies”—or anecdotal evidence—prove the business case for social media. The number of patients seeking treatment for a rare form of blood cancer doubled over four years after Mayo released and promoted a series of YouTube videos on the subject.

Says Aase: “In these little slivers of the practice where we’re able to do measurement, we’re able to see that we’re having an impact.”

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