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The Big Brand Theory: AOL's Goals and Metrics

ImageSometimes we forget: before the era of the large social media platforms, there was America Online. While its peak base exceeded 30 million users, a number that is modest in comparison to the social media goliaths of today, the service played a key role in the development of the social media we know today. 

AOL  has since transformed into a multinational mass media corporation, with holdings that include TechCrunch, Huffington Post, Moviefone, Engadget, Patch Media, Stylelist, MapQuest and Cambio. Social Media is a key part of the growth and propagation of content from those sites.

ImageTravis Bernard is the Audience Development Manager at AOL, and helps develop social media strategy for each of the AOL brands. As a member of the marketing team, Bernard's role is that of an internal consultant that assists each of the AOL brands, with a primary objective to drive traffic from social media to AOL web sites.

Focus on Goals

Bernard starts off each and every project with a focus on and an understanding of the goals of each brand. For some, like Huffington Post and TechCrunch, the goal tends to be simply to have more people reading more content. On other sites, like MapQuest, Gathr, or AOL Mail, the goal might be more focused on creating better product and customer experience.

Bernard gets the information about each brand's goals the old-fashioned way: he has a conversation with brand stakeholders. The questions are often fairly direct, such as, "What are you trying to do here? Why do you have a Facebook page? What's the deal?"  He adds that often, this catches them off guard a bit.

It isn't unusual for brand managers to be making a play on a particular social platform because of a feeling that they "need to be there." Bernard often plays the role of pushing back, "No; that's actually not a good reason."

Bernard adds, "I use that approach because there's a lot of brands and marketers that in general are trying to get on all these different social platforms."

Bernard used Instagram as an example of such a site. "When I show how they're really not getting a ton of value by being on a platform like Instagram because it doesn't actually help you get to your goal. They start rethinking it a bit and thinking, 'maybe we should just focus on our Twitter and Facebook strategy for now - we can get more bang for our buck out of it.'

By the Numbers

Bernard's background is seeped in metrics and analytics.  He uses those tools to connect with the goals of the brands he assists. He said, "Anything you’re doing in marketing now you need to be backing with data." 

In his work, Bernard says that he sees metrics in two overall buckets: cause metrics and effects metrics.

Cause metrics are data points or indicators that lead you to your goal, whereas effect metrics are metrics associated with your actual business goals.  Examples of cause metrics include:

  • Reach and impressions
  • Engagement
  • Clicks
  • Fans or followers added
  • Posts per day
  • Mentions by hour
  • Audience demographics

Effect metrics include:

  • Sales or purchases
  • Site traffic
  • Sign-ups or acquisition
  • Sentiment

Bernard suggests that we should analyze our cause metrics, and use them to test and refine our strategies. Ultimately, though, we should report on our effect metrics.


The Big Brand Theory is an exclusive column for Social Media Today written by Ric Dragon that explores the social media strategies of big brands, both B2B and B2C. Look for the next installment next Monday. Logos by Jesse Wells.

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