By adaptive - February 13th, 2013

In the second part of this assessment of how social media can be measured we ask why your brand should be using more in-depth qualitative metrics and why the theory of fan numbers is old news.


In the first part of this article we looked at measuring how well your brand connects with your customers through social media. Sage talked us through some of its day-to-day measures and how these feed into decision-making and need to be bought into by the entire business.
It’s important to look at numbers of followers or Facebook likes if only to ensure you’re not speaking in a vacuum, or to so few people that it makes no difference to your business. Even large numbers can offer a false perspective, however. “Some people only ever want to know how many followers or likes you have as that’s a measurement that makes the most sense to them, but this type of measurement fails to show if people are actually engaging with you,” says Sage’s digital PR specialist Cath Sheldon. “You can have thousands of followers, but if no one is reacting to your content then what’s the point?”
Cath Sheldon, digital PR specialist, Sage.
Katie Richman, Director of Social Media Strategy, and Social Media Product Development for espnW and Global X Games reinforced this point when she spoke to USM last week stating: “We do track as much of the social media content we use as possible. However, we do realise that the report of an increase in Facebook likes, or the number of retweets we get isn’t sophisticated enough to be really meaningful to us. We do use these measures, but we try and look beyond just the numbers to understand what they mean for our company and the campaigns they are attached to.”
Measuring social media is about more than just one metric.

Content is still king

Sheldon is very clear, though, that it starts with good content. All the measurement in the world will demonstrate nothing but failure unless your interactions are relevant, entertaining, new or at least offering a fresh angle. After that it’s worth monitoring and knowing what you’re looking for, she says.
“A good monitoring system or social media management tool can tell if people are adding comments, sharing it, liking it or clicking through to find out more. These are all good signals that tell you what you are saying resonates with your audience and if not, it will help you to re-focus your content and activities.” That’s an important point: so many organisations see people are not responding as they wish but then don’t react.
Sage’s answer lies partly in automation but also in listening to its partners. It proactively discusses pertinent issues for its small business customers with its network of Sage Business Experts. These are influential small business owners/advisers with whom the company has developed relationships and which share their experience and expertise with the Sage audience, Sheldon explains. “When we measure the value of this we want to know that we are contributing to the bigger picture and that our social media activities are having a positive impact on how people feel about our brand. Do people who see or interact with us online have a stronger relationship with our brand?”
KPIs and social media metrics now go hand-in-hand.
Some enterprises have to take this ethos worldwide. IBM has clearly been around since before social media or even computers began, with roots dating back to the 19th century, but its measurement of modern metrics is a major part of its identity now.
Ethan R. McCarty is IBM’s director of social strategy and programs, based in the design department in New York City. He takes things a step further: IBM is by now so vast – 20,000 employees worldwide is a figure from its website – that the first thing it does before measuring is to decide what it cares about and therefore needs to quantify. 
Being selective when you have scale is vital because if you measure everything you measure nothing McCarty believes. Open source groups, industry groups, potential investors, clients – there is a considerable list of interest groups and it’s not all about something called “social”. It has had electronic means of communicating with these groups for decades. “My team at the moment is looking at how we scale our official presence in social media,” he says. “And the other chunk is how we’re optimizing interactions among IBM-ers.”

Measuring engagement

IBM looks for what kinds of interactions people are having, how people respond and the sort of depth of knowledge the involved IBM-er has in a relevant area. It measures how people are interacting and understanding their connection with IBM, and it aims to federate all of its channels to make for a consistent overall experience. “We care about the aggregate of IBM’s reputational footprint in social media,” he says. 
To develop this on the scale the company requires it has developed a framework. McCarty stresses that this may mean something only to IBM, and also that any social media interaction is a work in progress and may change over time. However, for the moment it has four overall categories:
“If you look at reach, sure you can ask how many followers someone has, but the more meaningful thing is to ask what is the composition of the followership,” he says. You can literally buy followers and end up with a load of ‘bots’ and it means nothing. Followers mean something in context and the objective that reach has to achieve. Engagement is equally context-sensitive. “It’s some sort of response that creates a participatory effect, sometimes a comment to a blog, and there are quality and quantity measurements. Sometimes a response that says ‘I agree’ is meaningless, sometimes it’s meaningful,” he says.
Amplification is more nuanced, is when something creates so much interest that it compels people to share it. “It’s one of the few cases in which the popular social media report something meaningful; the amount of people who share something definitely means something to us.” This applies particularly to IBM as an ideas-based company, so shares mean a lot; for sales-based organisations, sharing an amusing advert or link might mean a great deal less if it fails to translate into solid sales.
Conversion, explains McCarty, is when the interaction moves away from the social platform and provokes an action, whether that’s someone applying for a job, buying some IBM services and equipment, downloading an investment brochure or any other meaningful interaction. You get to the stage, he says, when there’s some debate about what’s ‘social’ and what isn’t, and since it’s becoming so mainstream whether ‘social’ deserves a category of its own any more.
What is clear is that a simplistic approach to measurement that only focuses on the quantity of retweets for instance is simply not meaningful to today’s corporations. Social media has now moved on to become an essential component of their operations. As such, metrics that deliver meaningful and actionable data are vital to cultivate. No two businesses are the same, which mean no metric can be universally applied, as we have seen with IBM’s approach. Anything and everything can now be measured across any of the current social media channels. The important factor is to understand what your business is measuring and why.

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