Social Media: From the Drawing Board to the Board Room

By Jeremiah Owyang

As the Web continues to evolve, so must corporate marketing and communications channels. Social media has become yet another way to take advantage of the Internet. But, blindly navigating the social landscape can be time consuming and costly - you need to measure your efforts. To get an idea of everything involved, let's look at the case of one individual, Betty, who put forth a bold plan to harness the power of social media.

As the community evangelist at a major technology company in Silicon Valley, Betty had quietly implemented public blogs, podcasts and user forums within a sub-marketing department. While the traditional communication teams churned out their press releases, brochures and other broadcast communications, she was connecting with customers in a two-way fashion.

With the hiring of the new CMO, a department-wide audit process of all marketing programs was underway. While the success was clear in her mind, Betty now had to prove to the new boss that social media was important to the corporate direction.

With the hiring of the new CMO, a department-wide audit process of all marketing programs was underway. While the success was clear in her mind, Betty now had to prove to the new boss that social media was important to the corporate direction.

While some of the measurement concepts remain the same as traditional Web analytics, there are some new ideas to embrace. Unlike the traditional website where users browse and harvest information, the tools of social media are unique by allowing people to connect with one another. Also, Web marketing has expanded beyond just the traditional organizational website and search results pages - it has spread to everywhere people are talking about your industry or market.

Here's how Betty and other social media program managers get started measuring a new type of media:

Define goals
Betty knew her support and product teams would save time if they had tools that let information flow. She had her goals in mind before deploying her program - for without a specific purpose, there's simply nothing to measure against. For some, there could be several goals; to reach customers, drive awareness, listen to the community, respond quickly during a crisis or just connect product teams to customers to build better products.

Measurement from the start
Measurement should be baked into your program before you launch. It's not an afterthought but a part of the process. Betty deployed free analytics tools, monitored comments on the blogs and was able to use feed subscription analytics, like those offered by Feedburner. Plenty of data was already present, even if she didn't know exactly how it was going to be used.

Free analytics tools - use them!
There is an arsenal of free tools to initially get into the process of measuring. Web analytics (Google Analytics), RSS analytics (Feedburner), link trackers (Technorati) and keyword instances (Google Alerts) are some. The sophisticated measurement process is a method of gathering intelligence - analyzing incoming links and discovering who is talking about your company, products and key employees.

For best results, don't over analyze
For the sake of efficiency, measuring trends is more effective than tiny movements. Once you define the goals of the program, paring down to the most important attributes will make the job easier. No one wants to be inflicted with "analysis paralysis." While Betty was taking in loads of data from a variety of tools, she knew there were a few key metrics that would be her benchmark over time.

Staying alert in real time
Social media sites are breeding grounds for memes - series' of ideas that spread throughout a society and often mutate and take on a life of their own. Effective memes are a crux of viral marketing, but negative memes could shatter your brand. In Betty's case, staying alert saved her company from an embarrassing situation. While she was able to keep track of activity within the forums, customers were starting to report problems of a recently launched product. She wisely passed this information to product and support teams and a patch was quickly released before the issue grew out of hand - all in near real-time.

Measurement processes will always differ, depending on goals
Betty developed several different social media strategies that required differing measurement processes. For example, her product-focused corporate blogs served a different purpose than her audio white paper podcast program, so she learned that measurement depended on the goals. You may never measure the same way, the goals of each program will change the method in which you measure. The attributes will stay the same, but you'll just use them in different ways to create a new report.

Reporting best practices? Tell a story!

For Betty, her new CMO knew about blogs and forums but did not know how they impacted their organization. An avalanche of facts and figures is not effective in showing trends. Betty learned to tell the story by using timelines; where she was and where she was headed. She also learned to insert a few key quips and anecdotes of successes and, of course, a few lessons learned.

Qualitative is often more important than the numbers
The opinions, voices, and experiences that people are sharing are what really matters to prospects and customers. The written anecdote that turns prospects to customers may be more important than a lengthy clip report. Betty started her reports with unbiased opinions of a customer convincing a prospect. There's nothing more powerful than a customer evangelist. For Betty and many other program managers, new media requires a new strategy and new measurements. In addition, many of these ideas may be deemed non-traditional or unrealistic to corporate decision makers. Therefore, a strong case backed by the proper analytics data must be presented to move forward in the social networking sphere. In the end, Betty was able to demonstrate actionable success, impress her superiors and, over time, she grew her program and ascended into management.

About the Author: As the Director of Corporate Media Strategy at, Jeremiah Owyang ( is a social media consultant to Fortune 1000 corporations. Jeremiah is a blogger, videoblogger, speaker, and former Online Community Manager at Hitachi (HDS).