Seven years ago, when social media first emerged as a brand tool, the measure of competent social media marketing was knowing how to set up a Facebook page. Thankfully, we've come a long way since then, even if it feels more like dog years than human years.
Social media marketing is evolving daily. We've witnessed many trends including content marketing and brand journalism. But whatever trend comes along in marketing, the baseline competencies are still the same today as they were 20 years ago: do you know how to define the problem, create the solution, and measure the results?
I read a thoughtfully written piece by Susan Evans, senior strategist at mStoner recently called, "Measurement: Why Do We Fear It?" It reminded me that successful social media strategy isn't about cutting and pasting what others are doing, knowing how to use TweetReach or Klout, or setting what she calls New Year's Resolution metrics such as, "we want the most followers of anybody."
Susan gave us this stern warning:
"Marketing and communication plans are easy to create when you don't have to pay attention to the facts. If you don't measure results, all marketing tactics are equally reliable and successful."
The stark truth of the article was distilled for me in this one sentence: "not everything that can be measured is worth measuring."
A mechanic with a big tool box is not a mechanic until he fixes a car. Just because you know everything there is to know about the tool box doesn't qualify you to be able to measure correctly. Tools are just the start. Every craftsman needs a tool box whether you're a scrapbook enthusiast or a carpenter. And it's not just the application tools like Klout, Facebook Insights, and Twitter Analytics. As a matter of fact, those tools don't really provide any insight unless you apply them correctly. You can't build a house with a pair of scissors. So, let's simplify the process to get a general understanding of how social media measurement fits in the marketing process.
First Things First
In a very simplified look at social media measurement, I'm going to outline three stages of the process: define the problem, create the solution, and measure the results.
In the neophyte world of measuring, many people skip steps one and two. But, as Susan Evans stated above, marketing plans are easy to create if you don't have to pay attention to the facts. And the fact is, measurement is only effective when you are measuring solutions to problems.
Define The Problem
What is your problem? It could be low ticket sales, a lack of viable social media follower growth, lower than expected social media engagement with a specific demographic or stakeholder group, or a need to launch a new product or program. I've found that many problems emerge from research. It could be a risk analysis or baseline audience research. It could be an annual audit of ticket-selling practices. It could be data gathered to identify a specific problem area, or just a regular collection of data points we have identified that need regular analysis.
Case in point: We've had a winning football season for six of the last ten years. There's even a conference championship or two in there. But, over the last three years our ticket sales, especially in the student section, have been sliding as the team's performance on and off the field has not been as stellar as usual. This is a problem. Or, it could be a product launch that started out great guns and is now waning. You see the data, you know the problem, now you need to find some strategic solutions.
Warning: Let's face it-some people hit the sweet spot without strategy. Maybe your football team is constantly on the top of your league or your coach is extremely popular. You will organically have lots of followers on social media. Everybody loves a winner. But if you skip this step, you will fail. You have a tool belt and no house plans. You have a car with a limited gas tank--it will run out at some point.
Create The Solution(s)
This next piece of the process befuddles many. The solutions to the problems are a result of strategic goal setting. There is no way around this point. The solution is not applying a tactic to the problem that looks like it might do the job. It is first creating the goal, defining the strategies to meet it (road map), and then spelling out the tactics (step-by-step directions to get to your destination).
It doesn't really matter if you use the SMART goal process, or another more elaborate system like GOST. The key is not in the system. The key is in understanding how the goal or goals solve the problem. I prefer the GOST process for this reason. It is almost impossible to set the wrong goal using GOST. It takes more time up front, but after you've used the process enough times, it becomes less time consuming.
I also recommend two books to get these first two pieces right. The first is Measure What Matters by Katie D. Paine. The second is How To Measure Social Media by Nicole Kelly. Knowing how to navigate Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, and Google Analytics are necessary skills, but you need to know where you're navigting to.
Measure And Analyze The Results
Now you are ready to measure and analyze. Picking the proper tool and specific metric is impossible without the first two steps. Which tool can best produce the information you need to analyze your solutions and make midcourse corrections? Pick the tool based on the proposed solution, not the other way around.
And remember, there might not be a tool for everything. If you read Katie D. Paine's book above, you'll learn that measurement is more about formulas and relationships and less about tools anyway. Some companies have developed tools that deliver a lot of important data, but sometimes you'll have to get the calculator out and create a formula that creates the solution.
Case in point: When Snapchat started to be adopted by brands, there were very few metrics available from the platform. I had a client that wanted to use Snapchat to help solve a problem, so we basically had to create many of our own metrics based on the objectives we were trying to reach. It wasn't difficult because we had already defined the problems and the solutions. Since the only numbers available to use were follower numbers and screenshots, we had to create some additional metrics to get the solutions we wanted. I looked to the four types of content metrics from Jay Baer: consumption metrics, sharing metrics, lead generation metrics, and sales metrics. I use these four categories to create metrics when I can't find a solution from application platforms. Lead generation and sales were not in the goals for this campaign, so I didn't need those two.
I apply this same method of solution to many campaigns for clients. The right metrics aren't always readily available on Facebook Insights. Sometimes you have to do some math.
Warning: Just because I set up a system of data solutions to this particular campaign doesn't mean they will work for your goals. Remember that goals dictate solutions. Copy and paste is a shaky bridge. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. The reality is that case studies give us ideas and show the possibilities, they are not a one-size-fits-all.
So that is a basic look at the measurement process. If you want a deep understanding of the subject, I recommend you read the two titles above and follow bloggers that are steeped in the subject like Tom Webster of Edison Research (@webby2001) and Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) of Altimeter. Measurement is only complicated if you don't do it. It can be a difference maker in the success of your social media marketing. But without measurement, we are just shooting blindfolded. Just remember Susan's words: "If you don't measure results, all marketing tactics are equally reliable and successful."