Social Media is sort of a misnomer. If you compare the definition with print media or broadcast media, it’s not really parallel. Of course, if you own a social media property (YouTube, Facebook, etc.), you’re highly concerned with the valuation of the medium.
For those of us trying to leverage social media channels, the medium isn’t the core focus. It’s the content going through the medium that matters. McKluen said the medium is the message. That’s like saying “the cauldron is the soup.” I don’t buy it anymore.
Vendors are concerned with the quantity and quality of the content being generated by the social media community, and they’re looking to measure and direct the flow for optimum effect with their target markets.
The key to measuring social media is to keep your eye on the prize: the relevant community’s interest, level of participation, and positive regard for you. If you’re just starting out, this can simply be a regular scan of forums, search engines, and blog aggregators to identify flashpoints.
Look for keywords relevant to your company or product. Also, check out “complaint sites” such as Business Reporter.org, Yelp, Angie’s List, Travel Advisor, Complaintsboard.com, Complaints.com, PissedConsumer.com, XOMreviews, RipoffReport, and of course the BBB.
If there’s a firestorm brewing, participate directly (but carefully!) in the social media channel that’s festering. Do what you can to keep it from spilling over into other channels.
While this is a purely defensive “measurement” of social media, it only takes a little time and the tools are free. You’ll soon outgrow that, and will want to move on to leveraging the community interaction in a more proactive and positive way.
The first step of course, is to set up a community of interest. It can be as simple as a Yahoo or LinkedIn group, but it’s better if it’s a two-way forum. Make the forum content informative. Nobody wants to read a sales pitch or bloviation against a competitor.
Over the short run, it’s OK to focus on visibility (raw numbers), but over the long run you must focus on credibility.
Classic metrics of social media impact (in descending order of priority) are the absolute numbers and growth rates for:
- References (“I’d buy this…”) or score in the product ratings sites (“4.7 out of 5”)
- Positive posts
- Conversion rate of people in your community
- Uploads of content
- Willingness to forward your content (“virality”)
- Posts in your community
- Mentions outside of your community
- “Span of influence” of your community members (e.g., how many friends, on average, do your community members have)
- Downloads / reads of content
- Registrants in your community
The heavier lifting
The first step is to seriously listen to the community, in whatever social media channels they are active in. Of course, you can look at metrics about buzz and awareness (sites and tools such as Biltrbox, Socialmention, Tweetscan, Twingly, Technorati, Blogpulse, Steprep, Brand’s eye, Boardtracker, Blogpulse, or Google’s advanced tools). But far more valuable is listening for the sentiment of what’s being said.
Despite all the noise about Twitter and Facebook, some of the most interesting content for B2B marketers to review will come from forums, discussion boards, and even lowly majordomo lists. Unfortunately, to really understand what’s going on in those free-form streams requires a lexical analysis engine or human eyeballs. Both are expensive, but really necessary before you go any further.
Document what you hear in your CRM system
If you know who the source is, attach the social media content to her Contact record. If you at least know what company she works for, put it in the notes for the Account level. If you don’t know anything about the source, put the social media content in the Documents or Content area of your CRM system. At some point, this will become automated in the CRM tools, but I don’t know of any mainstream vendor that has done this level of Social Media integration yet.
Get serious about measuring
Right now, there are myriad tools with highly specialized ways of measuring and presenting the dynamism of your community. There are tools to ID the “speakers” of conversations in real time, analyze and measure trends, determine geo locations of the activity, estimate demographics, evaluate sentiment, understand competitive sentiment, and identify the key opinion leader / influencer.
Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” solution.
Here are firms to look at: Radian6, Techrigy SM2, Infegy SocialRadar, Biz360, BazaarVoice, BuzzLogic, Trackur, Scoutlabs, Visible Technologies, TNS Cymfony, Comscore, Nielsen Buzzmetrics, Reputation Defender, Sentiment Metrics, Brandwatch, Jogange, Lexicon, Monitter, WhoLinksToMe.com, Twendz, Collective Intellect, Spark, and TruCast.
Also, there’s an open source movement for measuring social media.
Unfortunately, precious of these products make a serious attempt at automatically measuring sentiment.
Encourage people to contribute content
The key to social media effectiveness is user-generated content. Sure, your content will be in the mix too. But the community will believe its members more than your employees. Content stimulus can be done with contests, provocative challenges to the community, or other tactics. You’ll want to design and measure these incentives so the right kind of content is being produced when you need it (typically, as part of a larger program).
Engage your audience, continuously measuring their response
While there are some engines that act as avatars for your engagement with the audience, they seem to be focused on consumer markets and I have no personal knowledge of how well they work. The feedback loop is to simply to take time-series measurements comparing audience/community metrics before vs after the posting, commenting, or other community engagement.
It’s still early days
As I mentioned in the wisdom of crowds, there is an amazing amount of hokum in the internet marketing arena. Social media definitely can work, but so much of the environment is in flux that it’s hard to give answers that last for more than a few quarters.
However, I think there are three lasting characteristics of social media:
- The measurement that really matters is “referencability and customers’ willingness to recommend.” Although tools and techniques may apply generally, the preferences, customs, and behaviors of every audience are different.
- Expect a learning curve with every new audience segment. Give it personal attention the first few weeks, before you turn it over to any kind of routine or automation.
- The vendor is not in control. It’s like surfing: your skill will cause obvious shifts in the outcome, but the direction and velocity of your journey is dictated by the tides of economics and the winds of fashion.
David Taber is CEO of SalesLogistix Corporation and author of Prentice Hall’s “Salesforce.com Secrets of Success.” This article first appeared in The Taber Report. Contents copyright 2010 by DOTnet Consulting, Inc., all rights reserved.