Winning the Digital Wars - Measuring Social Media Initiatives

by Jason Peck

Social media affects many aspects of business, including product development, customer service, sales and marketing, and for many businesses, the discussion is no longer whether or not to use social media. Instead, some people are wracking their brains to figure out how they can measure the effectiveness or their programs to see what's working and what's not working. Others have not been as focused on the measurement of their initiatives, because they have never had a formal strategy (including a specific budget) for social media.

If you're using social media in your business, it's likely requiring time, resources, and technology. You need to have overall business goals so you can use social media to support them, and you need to be measuring results. Since social media can have an impact on a variety of areas in your business, you should use a mix of social and non-social data to evaluate your progress. In your online marketing efforts, pay special attention to how your social media initiatives are affecting other programs, such as search marketing and email marketing. You should decide exactly what you want to measure based on your own goals, but here a few ideas.

You should definitely be tracking which conversions come from your social media marketing efforts. It's possible to link social media initiatives to business outcomes and see which content/channels are influencing new leads, sales, subscribers, and donors. This involves using a social media analytics tool to group all content you're creating into various campaigns (e.g., tweets with links to blog posts about green shirts, links to videos on your site about red shirts, etc.) to see if one type of content is driving more results than another type. This tool should let you see which conversions are attributable to social media, regardless of whether or not social is the last click.

If you do not properly tag and track links your posting to sites like Facebook and Twitter, a lot of the traffic from your social media campaigns will show up in your web analytics tool as "Direct" (since many people click links and view content from their mobile devices) and you won't be able to properly see what's going on and attribute conversions to social media.

You may also want to be tracking other sales-related data to see how it changes after implementing a social media initiative. The data can include number of items bought per customer, average order size, purchase frequency, customer retention, customer referrals, etc.

The real-time nature of social media has led many companies to provide customer service through social media to quickly help current and potential customers. If you're going to engage with people and provide customer service through social media, you should be tracking your efforts. Look at the number and type of questions answered, and see how your efforts are affecting the number and type of questions your customer service reps are getting through the phone or through email. Providing customer service through social media may help you save money on phone-based customer service and it may help identify important questions that should be added to an FAQ section of your website or that require overall business process changes.

If you've built solid relationships with your audience on social media platforms, it's easy to get ideas and opinions for new products - all you have to do is ask. Based on what it would cost to obtain ideas through a traditional focus group or survey, assign a value to new ideas and keep track of:

- number of new ideas shared
- number of people sharing ideas/opinions without being prompted
- number of people giving you feedback on ideas after you ask
- number of ideas that you're developing

After sales, marketing is probably the reason you decided to try social media in the first place. From a marketing perspective, there are a few buckets and different social and non-social indicators to keep track of to see how your social media initiatives are affecting things over time. Some of these are hard to put a value on, so they can be used in conjunction with metrics that can be valued.

Here are a few things to track to see how social media is affecting your awareness:

- share of voice (number of conversations about your brand in relation to your competitors)
- website traffic and searches for brand terms
- number of views on your content

A good social media monitoring tool should be able to tell you the sentiment (positive, negative or neutral) around mentions about your company. Automated sentiment analysis is definitely not perfect, but it is helpful to use as a general indicator to see what people's conversations reveal about how they perceive you, and how this changes over time based on your social media initiatives.

Engagement is the extent to which people interact with you and your content. Some signs of engagement include:

- likes and shares on specific Facebook posts and content
- blog comments
- ratings
- retweets
- @ replies on Twitter

Influence is the likelihood that what you're doing inspires people to act. Some signals of influence include:

- number (and quality) of inbound links to your content
- average number of likes per Facebook post
- average number of retweets and/or @ mentions per Twitter post
- average number of like and shares per blog post

Reach is essentially the number of people who have the potential to see content that you're creating and engage with you. Here are a few signals of reach to look at and see how your social media campaigns are affecting them:

- number of email subscribers
- number of likes on Facebook
- number of followers on Twitter
- number of subscribers on YouTube

These categories should give you some ideas for how you can measure the impact of your social media campaigns using social and non-social metrics.

If it sounds like a lot to keep up with, try to pick three to five key metrics that align with your overall business goals as a starting point. Make sure to begin tracking these metrics before you start a new program so you can understand how your numbers are changing over time.

About the author: Jason Peck is a social media manager at eWayDirect, where he helps clients implement successful community and social initiatives and manages eWayDirect's own content and engagement efforts.