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Archive for the ‘Engagement Strategy’ Category

Sorry, Chris. At the risk of contributing to the fatigue of competing voices, I’ve got to say a couple of things about the Forrester Location-Based Services (LBS) study and public advice for marketers.

At the outset, I haven’t read the study. I’d love to read it, but I’m not ponying up $500  (though I’d be more than happy to provide a thorough review in exchange for a copy). I’ll be confining my comments to the public statements accompanying the release of Location-Based Social Networks: A Hint of Mobile Engagement Emerges, authored by Melissa Parrish with Sarah Glass, Emily Riley, and Jennifer Wise. Some of the things I’m pointing out may very well have been dealt with in the actual report, and if they were, that information should have been included in the public messaging about the release. It wasn’t, and the gist of the public statement is unequivocal.

Cutting to the chase, the author lays out her concluding recommendation and key takeaway for marketers:

But is it time for other marketers to start jumping on this bandwagon?  We don’t think so.  Though many LBSNs are gathering steam, the landscape is fragmented and the programs can’t scale just yet. But with large companies preparing to enter the market (I’m looking at you Facebook and Yahoo!) the time for marketers to get involved is coming.

For the sake of context, “other marketers” are other than those who “experiment with new technologies as a way to stay current and to reach key portions of their consumers” (in this case, those consumers being “young, male, well-educated, and influential”). Let’s set aside the fact that the category of experimental, male-targeted marketers is frickin’ huge, meaning the time is right for a LOT of businesses to get involved with LBS. Let’s also set aside any questions about the size of the data set Parrish worked with, the quality of the sample, or any other concerns about the numbers that underwrite the study’s conclusions. Instead, let’s just consider those other marketers, the one’s whose target customers aren’t early adopters of Foursquare or other location-based applications and platforms.

The crux of my complaint stems from three core beliefs/assumptions, the first two of which are:

1. IF location-based services achieve mainstream adoption and high rates of interaction, marketers and businesses will reap enormous rewards from proximity marketing, including attracting more first-time customers, encouraging more repeat business, and increasing sales.

2. IF marketers and businesses are early adopters of location-based services, the incentives they offer for discovery and patronage will attract mobile users who do not currently derive value from LBS.

Given the admittedly anemic usage statistics for location-based services, at least in comparison to other social media channels, it probably seems intuitive for Forrester to recommend a cautious approach for marketers. With a lot of social media technologies, that’d be the right call. But as far as marketing is concerned, location-based services are a fundamentally different kind of social technology, and from what I can glean from the public statements about the Forrester study, that crucial difference seems to have been missed.

The fundamental distinction between location-based services and other social media technologies is this: one of the principal benefits of location-based services is incentivized discovery and partronage. As such, marketing is hardwired into the genetic code of the technology. To understand this difference, consider another social platform that has businesses scrambling to figure out marketing value, Twitter. I still don’t think Twitter has come up with a decent marketing option, primarily because marketing is an afterthought, and generally perceived as intrusive and viewed with suspicion. Engagement with brands on Twitter is chiefly dictated by consumers, as advocates and critics, and while there’s ample opportunity for interaction, customer service generally prevails over marketing in terms of organizational imperative, scope of engagement, and communication content. In plain English, Twitter users don’t want to be marketed to. Foursquare users, on the other, want and expect to be marketed to.

In a previous post, I explained the value I get from Foursquare – “discovering new places, receiving special offers, serendipitously meeting up with friends while out on the town.” Aside from the social benefits of LBS, which are a distant third among my priorities, my use is primarily driven by desires to discover new places, explore entertainment options, receive loyalty rewards, and reward or punish businesses for customer experiences. In order to realize the full benefit of Foursquare, I depend upon the participation of businesses. I want to know details about your venue, hear about the daily specials, receive special offers, and be rewarded for my patronage. Incentivized participation is one of the principal benefits and primary selling points of Foursquare and other location-based services. Your marketing is welcome here. It actually enhances my experience. How many social media channels can you say that about?

Without reading the report, I think it’s safe to say that Parrish and the other contributors to the Forrester study see the potential value of proximity marketing via location-based services. Who wouldn’t see the value in a channel that functionally allows you to tap your customers on the shoulder while they’re in the neighborhood and whisper an offer they can’t refuse? They see the value, but they urge caution. Here’s where I think the difference between location-based services and other social media channels really matters, and why I think the conclusions of the Forrester study should be reconsidered. Early adoption of location-based services by marketers and businesses is integral to the mainstream adoption of location-based services. Marketing is inextricably bound up with the sine qua non of location-based services, and therefore an essential component of the user experience. Without marketing-driven incentives for participation, adoption will remain limited to the young, male, well-educated and influential audience that primarily derives value from the social, gaming, and other aspects of the experience, aspects that have thus far failed to demonstrate wider appeal. Instead of urging caution, Forrester should be championing early adoption and encouraging businesses to nurture a technology that can make their dreams of proximity marketing come true. They should be warning businesses not to remain on the sidelines, and advising them to take an active hand in the direction of this burgeoning market. Get out there and figure out what works for your target customers. Generate the added value that will drive adoption. I’d love to see the cost calculations that indicate this approach isn’t worth trying.

I’m using Foursquare as an example here, but I’m truly platform agnostic when it comes to my opinions about the potential of location-based services. I like Foursquare because it has a strong and quickly growing user base, dedicated tools that are easily accessible and affordable to most small business interested in reaching a local audience, and offers one of the top 2 or 3 best UI/UX in the market. Will they eventually dominate the space Facebook-style? Will Facebook get it together in time to lay a Google-style smackdown on Foursquare? Is Yelp itching to tag in? Don’t know, don’t care (though I will care in exchange for a financial stake in and/or lucrative engagement with Foursquare, Facebook, Google or Yelp). The marketing tactics that attract the most new and repeat business are unlikely to vary significantly across platforms. Moreover, since this is an emerging market built on fledgling technology, active marketing participation can influence the direction of future application and platform development. What works for marketers will be built into the feature sets of all LBS platforms, because what works will provide the best experience for LBS users. So, you don’t need to wait for a Winner to emerge from the fragmented platform and application marketplace before you incorporate proximity marketing via location-based services into your marketing mix.

Aside from hindering adoption and missing out on the opportunity to influence the direction of the technology and market, the cautious approach recommended by Forrester will unnecessarily extend the learning curve for marketers, and lead to the adoption of inappropriate engagement models. This is my 3rd basic assumption:

3. A platform agnostic approach that encourages early adoption, experimentation and testing offers the best hope for long-term success when the technology matures.

In the public statement accompanying the Forrester study’s release, Parrish suggests that “other marketers” take a wait-and-see approach to location-based services, primarily because usage is low, the user base is monolithic, the market is fragmented, and the future uncertain. I’ll grant that all of this is true. But as I said before, the ultimate Winner’s technology will not be so unique and distinct from Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt and other existing location-based services as to render obsolete the marketing lessons learned before the victory. If anything, the uniformity of existing users should indicate a need to tailor marketing tactics to particular target customers. As with all social media technology, usage differs dramatically based upon the diversity of users. Learning what works for your particular target customers will be a matter of trial and error. Waiting simply amplifies the pressure to adopt a “previously proven” engagement model once the market matures, one which is unlikely to fit the unique circumstances of your business, product, services, customers, competition, and local market. Marketers should be encouraged to start experimenting with LBS now, while the barriers to entry are relatively low, and the benefits of early adoption so very high.

Aside from pragmatic concerns about the recommendation of caution issued by Forrester, what the study ultimately highlights is the need to preface our research with an understanding of the things that make each particular social technology unique, as well as the particularities of user experiences and expectations of each. Marketing is a critical aspect of location-based services, and recommendations based on any study that fails to put that fact front and center should be highly suspect.

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[Note: This post picks up the discussion of social media strategy introduced a couple of weeks ago. In this post, I elaborate on the first step – setting goals for your social media initiatives – but in the following two posts I’ll skip ahead to step 6 – establishing engagement metrics and deploying tracking tools (and those follow-up posts are coming very soon, I swear).]

An effective social media strategy begins with clearly defined goals. Social media hype, and the myriad success stories that spawned it, have proven an irresistible temptation to many businesses, and more than a few have ventured into this mostly uncharted territory without a map and compass. What was initially perceived as a cheap (free!) and easy path to customer adoration has turned out to be a meandering, uphill climb over treacherous terrain. Now that the real costs of engagement are coming to light as the result of some of the more disastrous social media expeditions, deflated expectations are forcing a more sober assessment of what it takes to succeed, and what success really means. Goal setting is a way to manage expectations, align social media initiatives with broader organizational values and objectives, guide strategic and tactical decision-making, and measure success.

Manage Expectations

When you decide to engage your stakeholders (customers, communities, shareholders, employees, suppliers, vendors, and others) through social media, the first question you should ask (or, if they’re worth their salt, the first thing your social media consultant should ask you) is why social media? What do you hope to accomplish? What do you think social networks and social media tools can do for your business? In short, what are your expectations of social media engagement? Before you answer that question, there are a few things you should consider.

First and foremost, social media isn’t just another marketing channel. Sure, social media engagement is a great way to reach customers and build brand equity, but it’s also a way to improve customer service, reduce returns and trouble tickets, enhance your products, discover new markets, size up your competition, attract top talent, and tap into the hidden potential of your employees’ personal networks. Before you establish goals of engagement, first know how far you’re willing to go. Is this primarily a marketing effort, or are you looking for across the board results?

It’s highly likely that the social media push within your organization is being led by subversive elements within your marketing department, and that’s OK. The fact of the matter is that the lion’s share of social media initiatives to this point have been marketing efforts. Social media marketing has garnered significant support from within public and private enterprises, and the bulk of the attention of academics and independent analysts and consultants. It’s likely that the majority of the case studies you’ll rely on for strategic guidance will be examples of marketing-driven social media engagement. Again, all OK. There’s nothing wrong with dipping your toes in the water before you dive in, and given the complexity of this new communication environment, marketing is as good a place as any to start. By applying the lessons learned from a marketing initiative, you’ll be able to set goals and determine appropriate engagement metrics for other social media efforts.

With that said, from a business perspective, social media engagement may serve a variety of purposes (and this list is far from inclusive):

Second, social media engagement isn’t a one-and-done campaign. Effective initiatives require a long-term, sustained commitment. The novelty of social media is that it affords you the opportunity to build more meaningful relationships with your stakeholders, to observe and engage in organic conversations, and potentially to transform your customers into your strongest advocates. But none of that happens overnight, and businesses that are looking for a quick fix, or that enter the social arena half-heartedly, are bound to be disappointed.

Third, while it may look like another messaging channel, social media is as much (if not more) about listening than talking. Independent of your involvement, social media allows consumers to share product recommendations and reviews, applaud or complain about customer service experiences, discuss desired features or design flaws, and talk about other things they like or dislike about your company, your products and services, your competitors, or your market. There is a wealth of critical intelligence already circulating through social media channels, and learning to listen effectively should be a top priority.

Finally, when you do talk, say something useful. Social media requires a different orientation than most corporate communications. Think of social media users not as an audience, but a collection of conversational partners. The chances are better than even that the conversation you want to enter is already underway. Be respectful of that fact, and avoid the all-too-common pitfall of interrupting with an uninvited and unwanted sales spiel right off the bat. Social media communication is about engagement and building relationships. You do that by listening to the needs of your conversational partners, putting their interests before your own, being authentic and transparent, and speaking with humility and compassion. Be helpful and be human. Otherwise, you might as well just put up another banner ad.

Align Social Media Strategy with Broader Objectives

One sure-fire path to social media failure is to try and be something you’re not. As Paul Worthington notes, “The number one thing the Internet does is spot lies and fake-authenticity. If you position yourself against a need that you cannot deliver, or worse yet, that you do not believe in as an organization, people will find you out and make you pay. Nobody respects a liar.” To avoid this potential pitfall, make sure your social media goals are in alignment with your broader business objectives. Think about the first-order goals that drive your enterprise – the values and aspirations that constitute your business identity (and if these aren’t clearly articulated, put your social media planning on hold, because you’ve got more immediate concerns to deal with). Although it’s important to listen to your customers, you shouldn’t lose sight of “who you are, what you believe in and what drives you forward.” As Worthington suggests,

“Before opening yourself up to the conversation, before engaging outside, start with who you really are, what you as an organization really believe in, and what gets you out of bed in the morning…Then, and only then, should you engage in the wider conversation. With a clear sense of internal purpose and direction you stand a much better chance of using social media and online conversation as a source of competitive advantage rather than disadvantage.”

With your first-order goals in mind, derive your second-order goals by answering that question you started with – what are your expectations of social media? Are you looking for better marketing reach, more consumer engagement with your brand, market intelligence, new talent, or to establish thought leadership within your market? These second-order goals will help you choose the social media sites and tools that are most appropriate, and establish third-order goals by which you can gauge the success of your social media efforts.

Guide Strategy & Tactics

Clearly defined goals will help guide the strategic and tactical choices that comprise your social media initiative. As Michael Mendenhall of Hewlitt-Packard explains, strategic decisions about how best to engage consumers utilizing social media are based upon “what I’m trying to accomplish. Am I trying to achieve brand immersion, brand preference or brand experience? Am I trying to generate a lead and then manage the lead through to a sale? Am I trying to drive e-commerce or build a lifetime relationship with a customer?” These second-order goals will direct your strategy, and the third-order goals that follow from them will allow you to evaluate the success or failure of your chosen tactics.

When most social media advocates discuss goal setting, they focus on third-order goals. Tamar Weinberg offers a useful riff on the well-beaten horse of a goal setting standard: the S.M.A.R.T. model. According to Weinberg, goals (and although she’s talking primarily about third-order social media goals, but you’re probably familiar with this from other goal setting contexts) should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. This is fairly straightforward stuff, and you can’t throw a rock without hitting a social media “expert” who’ll tell you pretty much the same thing, so rather than reiterate what’s already been said countless times, I just want to briefly discuss the last element: timeliness.

Because effective social media engagement requires a sustained commitment, your third-order goals should include short- and long-term ambitions. Social media is long tail technology, so results may vary dramatically over time. As your engagement extends, the key indicators of success –authenticity, trustworthiness, helpfulness, commitment – will also increase, magnifying the likelihood of success. Couple this with the likelihood that your learning curve will improve with experience and you begin to understand why immediate results are neither likely nor the point of social media engagement. Make sure that your short-term goals account for this lag effect, and avoid allowing your long-term goals to be frustrated by hiccups along the way.

Measure Success

Establishing goals and determining appropriate metrics are two sides of the same coin. Together, they comprise the guideposts that will allow you to gauge the effectiveness of your social media strategy. As Marc van Bree put it, the first thing your organization needs to do is figure out what you’re trying to accomplish – “are you spreading a message, building a community, raising awareness, forging relationship? From there, find out what to measure” (the subject of my next post). I’d add that it works in the other direction as well. When it comes to establishing third-order goals, knowing what analytics are available for a particular type of social media engagement will allow you to define your goals more explicitly (remember, ‘S’ is for specific).

In the next post, I’ll dig into the issue of social media measurement, including a more in-depth discussion of matching goals and metrics.  I hope you’ve found this useful.  I’m excited to hear your feedback, and hope that you’ll help fill in any gaps.  Thanks for reading!

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Marta Kagan, Managing Director, US, for integrated marketing agency Espresso, and bonafide marketing genius, offers one of the most concise and compelling pitches for social media engagement I’ve ever seen.  Just…wow.

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strategyAs American consumers spend more and more of their online time interacting on social websites, social media initiatives have become a high priority for businesses large and small.  Social media is a booming industry, but it’s also the new Wild West.  The landscape is constantly changing, the technology is continually evolving, and consumer behavior is an endlessly moving target.  Unfortunately for businesses, there isn’t a clear cut path to social media success.  Even more unfortunately, there’s no shortage of self-proclaimed experts claiming to know the way.

I’ve spent the better part of the last decade researching consumer uses of social technology, collaborating on the development of social software platforms, cultivating and managing a large online community, and developing social media strategies.  I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not even close to having a silver bullet solution, and the more I learn about social media, the more I’m convinced such a thing does not yet exist.  As a community, social media “experts” are working diligently to define best practices, to cultivate effective techniques for engagement, to develop accurate metrics, and to discover comprehensive solutions that will deliver on the elusive promise of success.  It’s an on-going process, and anyone that tells you something different isn’t someone you should be listening to.

Among the social media “experts” that are worthy of the term (and there are many, to be sure), there is currently a good deal of concern about the meaning of social media “strategy.”  As Tom Webster recently pointed out, what usually passes as strategy is actually tactical advice: be human, be authentic, be helpful.  Great advice? Yes.  Strategy?  Not hardly.  In a tweet this morning, Scott Gould wondered “how many ppl talk about social media, and how many have an actual strategy…”?  I think this is one of the most pertinent questions we so-called “experts” should be asking ourselves, and each other.  Here’s a short version of my answer.  Consider it an introduction to what will become a series of posts dedicated to each of the major points.

A Strategic Guide to Social Media Engagement: 10 Steps to Success

1.  Define goals: Before you undertake any social media initiative, take a step back to consider the view from 50,000 feet.  Why social media?  What exactly are you trying to achieve?  What does this new fangled technology offer that traditional media channels don’t? Although many businesses and social media advocates tend to view social media primarily as a marketing tool, the benefits of social media engagement are in fact much more far reaching.  Social media can enhance your public image, augment community outreach, improve customer service and increase customer satisfaction, provide new sources of market intelligence and information about your competition, and help improve products, streamline processes, and boost organizational performance beyond the marketing silo.  Define the goals of your social media initiatives with these broader benefits in mind.

2.  Audit existing efforts: Budgetary constraints may require that social media engagement trade off with other expenditures, but wise investments need not be zero sum.  Social media initiatives should complement rather than supplant existing efforts, whether your goal is to improve marketing, customer service, product development, or organizational efficiency.   Before you implement a social media strategy, take stock of your existing efforts to figure out how to maximize your current resources and expenditures.  This audit will also help you establish baselines for performance against which to measure the results of your social media engagement, and to figure out how best to integrate those results to improve organizational performance.

3.  Establish baselines for performance: You can’t get where you want to go if you don’t know where you’re starting from.  Social media may offer any number of potential benefits, but they’re impossible to quantify if you don’t have a firm grasp on the successes and shortcomings of your current efforts.  Whether your goal is to convert leads into sales, increase customer satisfaction, or reduce product returns, establishing baselines for performance is the first step in demonstrating a quantifiable ROI for your social media initiatives.

4.  Identify your audience’s social profile: All social media is not created equal.  One of the first questions you should ask before undertaking any social media engagement is where in the world of social media is my audience? In other words, who are you trying to reach, and what social media sites, applications, and platforms are they using? Don’t waste your time and money chasing an audience that doesn’t exist.  And notice that I’m using the word “audience” here, rather than “customers.”  Social media allows you to engage customers, talent, industry experts, community leaders, and other individuals who can positively impact your business.  Don’t let the marketing aspects dominate your focus.

5.  Identify applicable social tools: Once you’ve figured out where your audience is you can determine the best social tools with which to engage them.  Should you be building Facebook Pages or Groups, Twittering, blogging, creating mobile apps, sponsoring contests, socializing on MySpace, engaging the LinkedIn community, or joining Orkut, Friendster, Bebo or any of the dozens of other social networks popular outside of the U.S.?  The options are staggering, and figuring out which ones work best will inevitably involve some trial and error, but you needn’t be shooting in the dark.  Thinking strategically about the ways you engage through social media will maximize your returns and minimize your expenditures.

6.  Develop an action plan for implementation: To achieve the full benefits of social media, you have to develop a plan for implementation.  This plan includes tactical considerations, such as the timing and targeting of initiatives, defining roles and responsibilities, training personnel, developing monitoring and accounting procedures, and most importantly, determining how to integrate the fruits of your labor into your organization.  As the goals of social media engagement differ, so will organizational responsibilities.  Within larger organizations, social media engagement will involve marketing departments, customer service teams, HR, product design and manufacturing, and product delivery systems, just to name a few.  Even if these departments aren’t directly involved in social media efforts, the information gleaned from these initiatives is only useful if it’s integrated into the appropriate operational context.

7.  Establish engagement metrics and deploy tracking tools: Measurement is the key to success in any corporate communication effort, and social media is no exception.  Developing accurate engagement metrics will allow you to discover which of your efforts are most effective and which are falling flat.  One of the primary advantages of social media engagement is that it offers opportunities for measurement that aren’t as easily accessed through traditional media channels.  Thanks to a variety of tracking software, the digital footprint of social media users is highly visible, and the mountains of data they churn up allow you to revise and retarget your efforts to maximize effectiveness.

8.  Develop social media content and engagement tactics: Social media isn’t just another channel through which to push a corporate message, and companies that treat it as such are going to be sorely disappointed.  The conversation about your brand and market is already happening, and if you jump into it without considering the value of your contribution, you’ll either be tuned out or you’ll take a beating.  Giving the people what they want means developing content that informs, entertains, and engages your audience.  And content is only the beginning.  To capture the value of social media, you have to be social.  That means listening, understanding, responding, and incorporating the conversational feedback into your products and processes.  This is where that tactical advice comes into play: be human, be authentic, be helpful.  Successful social media initiatives require a commitment to engagement over the long-term, and an effective strategy will include a sustainable plan for monitoring, responding, and reacting to conversational feedback.

9.  Incorporate feedback: This part of the equation is probably the most difficult for organizations to put into practice.  What you learn from social media engagement can help you improve your products and processes, discover hidden markets, and get a leg up on the competition, but only if you’re prepared to change the way you do business.  Being a good conversational partner requires a willingness to change your beliefs based upon your interactions with others.  The same is true for businesses engaging customers through social media.  Only those organizations that internalize feedback and adapt accordingly will reap the benefits of engagement.

10.  Measure ROI and revise engagement tactics: A common misconception about social media is the difficulty of measuring effectiveness.  If you’ve established pre-engagement baselines, identified appropriate metrics, and deployed tracking tools, accurate measurement is far from impossible.  Crunch the numbers to determine the real, bottom-line value of your social media investment, and revise your engagement tactics accordingly.

I’m sure there are things I’ve left off this list, and I know some of this requires elaboration.  As I said at the outset, this is my contribution to a much broader conversation, and a brief introduction to a more in-depth discussion of each point.  I hope you’ll share your thoughts, point out my glaring lapses, and point me in the direction of any resources you think might be useful.  And please pass this along to anyone you think may benefit from or contribute to the conversation.  Thanks!

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Maddie Grant has a must read post on Social Media Today that lists 6 Must Read Posts about the ROI of Social Media.  They are:

NTEN – The Three Dimensions of Social Media ROI

The BrandBuilder Blog – Defining Social Media ROI once and for all, and understanding the action-reactive-return narrative

Adam Cohen (A Thousand Cuts) – The Basics of Social Media ROI

Social Computing Journal – Measuring Social Media ROI: Does size matter?

BrandSavant – What’s Wrong With Social Media Marketing Strategy

Jacob Morgan – The Importance of a Social Media ROI Diagnostic

Demonstrating the ROI of Social Media is perhaps the single biggest obstacle to widespread adoption of SM initiatives by businesses and other organizations, and these 6 articles are a great starting point for anyone trying to wrap their head around the issue.  Maddie’s post has already racked up 1150 views, but the comments are a little thin (so far, I’m the only contributor to the conversation).  If you have any suggestions, please click here and share them with the class.  Thanks, Maddie!

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Tom Webster has recently published a couple of must-read blog entries concerning the need for better social media metrics.  The first of these pieces, What’s Wrong With Social Media Marketing Strategy, takes so-called social media “strategists” (of which I am admittedly one) to task on two counts: first, for their failure to think strategically in terms of social media performance; and second, for their tendency to confine social media’s import to the marketing silo.   I posted a comment on Tom’s blog, but I think it bears repeating here:

“Great post, Tom. As a communication researcher who backdoored his way into social media and interactive marketing, I’m continually amazed by social media advocates who disavow the need to develop robust engagement metrics or flippantly dismiss the mountains of quantifiable data demonstrating the impact of traditional communication channels. For an industry (online advertising) built on the ephemeral value of the click, engagement metrics should be a selling point for social media, rather than an impediment to adoption. When we created an interactive campaign for Scion on Dame Dash’s now-defunct urban social network, BlockSavvy.com, me measured a variety of interactions: through traffic to the Scion site, time spent engaging interactive assets, participation in on-site contests, viral pass-alongs, and other indexes of user engagement. That was in 2006. With the advent of new social tracking technology, it’s even easier to measure the performance of social media and interactive marketing initiatives. When Avenue A/Razorfish approached us to create similar interactive campaigns for Nike, our ability to measure engagement was at least as attractive as the interactive assets themselves. Brands and advertisers may have a lot of issues with social media campaigns, but impact measurement needn’t be one of them.

I also want to echo your point about social media being more than a marketing tool. For big and small business alike, social media initiatives can improve customer service, enhance market intelligence, streamline product development, expand HR capabilities, and increase organizational IQ to improve performance across the enterprise. If we confine social media efforts to the marketing silo, we’re seriously underselling the value of the technology. Factoring these non-marketing impacts into our discussion of ROI should be an imperative.”

Tom’s second post on the importance of measuring the impact of social media, Raising The Bar On Social Media Metrics, again takes social media advocates to task for their refusal to take seriously the question of performance measurement, this time pointing out that decrying the limitations of traditional media metrics is a misguided diversionary tactic.  Not only are there significant and extensive attempts to measure the impact of traditional marketing channels, but the same analytic approach can and should be brought to bear on behalf of social media campaigns.  In the interest of not rewriting my thoughts, here’s what I posted in the comment thread:

“Another excellent post, Tom. For all the hype surrounding social media, far too little attention is spent on the consideration of engagement metrics. As with any marketing and communication research, the real trick is figuring out what to look for and what questions to ask. In terms of social media, I think the attempt to link the message directly to the sale is a misguided and ill-informed approach. You’re right, of course, that all kinds of traditional marketing tools are being measured, but how many of these measurements demonstrate such a direct linkage? Figuring out where and how social media impacts the continuum seems to be the real issue. The folks at Bazaarvoice have done a great job of measuring the impact of social product reviews on purchasing behavior, and their work goes a long way toward establishing a quantifiable ROI for a particular type of social media engagement. Social media advocates needn’t prove that traditional marketing and communication channels are equally opaque or inferior; instead, they should focus their energy on discovering the relationships between the two not-so-discordant approaches. The analytical tools applied to traditional channels are an instructive starting point for understanding the impact of social media engagement. If we spent less time trying to pitch this technology in either/or terms and more time explaining its relative value, our job would be a whole lot easier.”

To be sure, Tom isn’t the first person to point out the need for engagement metrics. Steve Goldner wrote a great piece on Measuring The Value Of Social Media on his blog back in June.  Unfortunately, I found this piece after reading and commenting on Tom’s, otherwise I’d have given Steve credit for the following sentiment, echoed in my comment:

“Be careful what you promise … marketing is not sales.  It does not result in sales, but rather 1) increases the number of potential clients (qualified leads) and 2) increases the probability of sales closure, while reducing sales cycle time.  Quantifying the value of marketing efforts must be specified in these functional areas, not in sales numbers.  Yes, one can say that sales increased after a marketing campaign, but you can not attribute it 100% to the marketing campaign.”

Steve’s article cites two additional contributions to the conversation, Dave Evans’ article Making Quantitative Sense of the Social Web, and Dragon Search’s Social Networking Media ROI Calculator.  While I share his reservation about both approaches to measurement, I also think they are a step in the right direction as far as intentions are concerned.  The sooner we turn our collective attention to the issue of engagement metrics, the easier it will be to “sell” our corporate clients on the importance of strategic social media initiatives.

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