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How Important Measuring Social Media Impact

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Facebook currently has 2.2 billion monthly active users, Twitter statistics state they’ve 600 million registered users. Social media has taken off big time. For many marketers, particularly those whose demographic target is suited, this represents a new and huge media platform to communicate with people.

Before getting into how to measure the impact of these new marketing efforts, it’s worth asking: is social media marketing likely to work?

How traditional media like TV, newspapers, magazines and radio have worked is a three-way bargain has been struck. Media want advertising for revenue; marketers will pay for media appearances because of the numbers of people watching. The third, and most important player, consumers, go along with it. They understand advertising allows them to get low cost or free media content.

If a similar bargain is struck in social media, and we can find ways to make marketing work in that new media platform, we could see a paradigm shift in marketing. As not only is social media something where media can appear, the crucial new difference is that it’s active – people can interact and do things in social media as marketing crosses their paths. It’s also global. This is fundamentally different from passive, mostly local, media marketing of the past.

Key pieces of this new bargain are in place. Social media have advertising earmarked as their revenue source. Marketers are trying it. In a recent survey published by the American Marketing Association they found social media was the top new budget priority.

The jury is still out however on how well social media works for marketing. There have been major successes with driving promotions, and creating mass movements (social marketing), but other big budget marketing items like brand development aren’t so clear. It’s also unsure whether consumers are going to buy into marketing as a vehicle to pay for their social media. After all, it is a venue for socialization. Is it acceptable to have marketing there as a way to pay for having that venue? Time will tell on this.

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On the earlier point – does marketing work – that’s where measuring the impact of social media marketing comes in. Can we measure it accurately now? The answer here is a definite yes. There are two streams of measures you can use. I’ll briefly describe each for you and give our recommended approach.

The first stream of measures is technology ones. There are technology tools that have been created that allow you to follow people (not individuals or personal data), but what unidentified people do online. There are things such as: 

Facebook statistics

on Facebook you can track the total number of fans for your pages, you can see the friends from those who became fans for a specified time period or promotion, and the number of comments generated. This gives reach measures for marketing (like tarps / readership with traditional marketing). It also gives a new type of very important measure – interaction – which is now possible because of social interaction as people see your marketing (so this is akin to what we used to call word of mouth or recommendation).

Twitter statistics

Likewise on twitter you can measure reach and interaction with total number of followers, and the number of followers who re-tweeted your message.

Google analytics

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As people travel from social media into your pages you can measure with this free service from Google. This allows you to see the numbers of people coming from different social media sources, then track what happens in your pages – did people buy, refer, how much time have they spent and so on (note, as with interaction, time is a crucial new variable used as one part of measuring engagement).

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Sentiment analysis tools

There’s also a range of sentiment analysis tools which try and track more qualitative factors. Companies like SentimentMetrics and Crimson Hexagon track what people are saying in social media about your brand or marketing and whether they like or dislike things.

What all these technology mechanisms do is track online behaviours. With the first three above, these types of mechanism are essential – you really have to be using them to judge weights, interactions, and time spent, from different sources. The last type, sentiment analysis, I’m not convinced. .

It’s useful to know what comments are being made online, and how many there are. In terms of what effect that has on your brand, sales and customer retention and so on, it’s limited. The best way to measure these are with directed questions to known sets of customers, as opposed to random comments that appear online. These give you limited understanding of the market.

The other stream of measures you can use are consumer perceptions – what impact has social media marketing made on peoples’ minds exposed to it. This then gives you the link to understanding how your marketing has effected perceptions – which have resulted in behaviours (both on and offline). It also lets you know how your social media interacts with your other media, so you understand your cross-media packages’ total impact.

Consumer perceptions

How you do this second type of measure is by using social media exposure as an independent variable in survey data. Then you compare what those exposed to social media perceive, versus those not exposed or exposed to your other media. For example, let’s say your market has 3 customers in it. You ask all 3 do they use social media, and their social media recall of your marketing. Let’s say 1 uses social media and recalls seeing your marketing. 1 uses social media and didn’t see it. The third, doesn’t use social media. How does the person exposed to your social media perceive your brand, intend to buy etc? How do those not exposed perceive your brand, intend to buy etc?

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This lets you measure precise perceptual impacts of your social media marketing. You then combine that with technology data (above) and you get a clear picture of how your marketing is working and where you can improve.

My recommendation is the technology measures of behaviours (reach, interaction and time) are essential. Use sentiment measures as an optional item of interest. To provide the link to understanding why customers behaviors happen with different types of marketing, and to get a grasp of the wider market, use perception data. If you do this you have full impact measures and can be more effective in adjusting social media (and other marketing) to work better and better.

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