Social Media Marketing’s Dirty Little Secret

3 Steps to Start Measuring Social Media

Roughly three out of five marketers poised to allocate more of their budget to social media marketing in 2011 according to Strong Mail’s 2011 Marketing Trends Survey. So what’s the dirty little secret? They can’t measure it!

Measuring social media ROI is one of the five key indicators of social media adoption according to State of Social Media for Business Report from SmartBrief and Summus. Yet look deeper into the research and you’ll see that, during the first two years, less than one out seven survey respondents measures social media ROI.  Even, after these marketers get some experience under their belts by the third year, this rate more than doubles to 36%. Considering we’re starting to talk about spending “real” money by this point, this is more than a little disturbing.

4 Social media marketing metrics challenges.

Social media marketing metrics aren’t built in a day. Here are four of the reasons why:

  1. Social media is new so there’s no measurement process in place. Without history or processes in place, there’s no ready-to-go method to analyze social media marketing, making it difficult.
  2. Social media is used for branding more than promotion. Like any branding campaign, social media can take time to yield results. As a result, metrics tend to be less direct and more difficult to track.
  3. Social media’s impact occurs at each step of purchase process. Social media tends to have the influence sales either early in the sales cycle before customers focus on a brand or specific product or after the sale where customers need support and fans are created.  In both cases, it’s relatively difficult to measure the eventual revenue impact.
  4. Social media is generally not the last form of marketing touched. Some companies only track the marketing that closed the sale. This can lead to overvaluing search or affiliate marketing because it can be traced directly to a purchase. Further complicating the issue is the fact that social media’s influence may not be indirect.

3 Steps to get social media marketing metrics going even when you’re just testing

During the early phases of social media marketing, many marketers jump in without thinking about the marketing basics. To get your social media metrics started on the right track, here are three easy steps to get you going on the right track.

  1. Define goals for social media marketing efforts. If you start using social media with the idea that “I’ll figure it out somehow after I get going,” your ability to get measurable results will be limited. This is true whether you use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or a blog. Early in your planning, think about what you expect your individual social media marketing efforts to accomplish. Just because you’re using internal resources, it doesn’t detract from your need for goals. As with any other form of marketing, once you see how you’re doing, you can make midcourse corrections.
  2. Determine metrics related to your marketing goals. Would you test any other form of marketing, branding or direct, without a clue of what you’re looking to accomplish? Probably not. At a minimum, you want some indicator whether or not you’ve anyone is responding to your efforts. To this end, track factors that are already part of your on-going online analysis or that can be derived easily. Among the basic social media metrics to use are readers/visitors, content created, actions, time spent, brand awareness, sales and costs. While these elements may be somewhat approximate and may not be as precise as the ones you will want to use going forward, they’re often available in some form and can give you a ballpark estimate of where you are.  Since you have to start somewhere, using what is free from the platform provider or available in-house means that you have some basis for comparison with your other marketing efforts.
  3. Include a call-to-action and unique promotional code or contact number/address for tracking. Just as you do for any other promotion, you often need to have a special code. This way, even if your social media marketing’s influence starts early in the purchase process, you have some way to track it.

As you gain experience with social media marketing, your insights into what you need to measure to ensure that your marketing is on track will improve and your analysis will evolve. Moreover, numerous commercially available social media monitoring and metrics tools already exist and their ability to effectively measure results will progress.

Does your firm measure its social media marketing efforts? If so, which metrics do you find most useful and why? Please include your answers in the comments section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Tip of my hat to the #SMMeasure chat which inspired this post.

Here are some related posts that you may find of interest:

Photo credit: Basykes via Flickr

Tags , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Social Media Marketing’s Dirty Little Secret

  1. Solid analysis, Heidi. So important to set goals and measurable objectives for any social media efforts so we can answer the question we all know our supervisors will ask at some point: “So is that good? How do we know if this stuff is working?”

    We’ve got to do a better job of having the right conversations with our clients and explaining to them why social media makes sense and that the ROI is more of a long-term result. Impact on those measurable objectives is often what we can show in the short term.

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Justin–Thank you. Many marketers and business people overlook that they need to set goals with related metrics to be able to track their effectiveness. Additionally, social media is more like an on-going communications or branding program, it takes time to accomplish. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  2. 40deuce says:

    Great stuff here Heidi.
    Your challenges section is something that I come across on a daily basis and try to help people figure out answers to. As well, as Al pointed out above, every business will have a different reason for being in social media in the first place, meaning their things to measure will also vary. The best thing I can suggest is for companies to understand why they’re getting into social media and their objectives for being there before even starting. Once that is figured out each company will come up with a way to measure their specific objectives rather than just trying to copy another measurement strategy that may not tell them what they need to know.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • Heidi Cohen says:


      Thank you! I’m glad to hear that I’m on target with my analysis. One of the big problems that I find is that companies just jump into marketing and social media in particular without setting their goals, related strategies and appropriate metrics.

      Happy marketing,
      Heidi Cohen

  3. Al Brocious says:

    Great post Heidi. I am going through this right now with a new client that did not have a plan or systems in place to track success. Every goal, strategy and tactic should have some kind of measurable result and then be evaluated against the actual.

    We have also found the measurement is different for every client, one for example is strictly customer service. So believe it or not we actually count how many “thank you” we get over a given time period. It is also part of the their overall Net Promoter Score.

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Al–Thank you. For many marketers and business executives it’s often easier to jump into tactics without thinking strategically about what they want to accomplish and how it relates to their overall business goals. Therefore, it’s critical to overcome the urge to jump in and do something without considering how it will move your firm closer to achieving its objectives. Then put together well thought out strategies and tactics with appropriate metrics. What do you think? Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen