Jose Palomino

The Great Social Media Debate: Which Metrics Matter?

September 25, 2012

There is a great ongoing debate out there on the internet about identifying the metrics that matter when it comes to social media – or the only three metrics that matter – or two – or ten. And so on.

I figured I’d join the Great Debate.

Image credit: Kemp Edmonds, on Flickr

I entered into the debate the a few weeks ago while teaching my MBA class at Villanova University. A good friend and business colleague of mine came to my class for a guest interview on social media strategy. When asked about social media metrics, he said the only one that mattered was cash.

My ears perked up, and I immediately jumped in. “What about non-profits?” I asked. He pointed out it was still about raising money. In fact, my friend further explained that if you’re doing stuff that isn’t consistent with the realities of your organization – whether that reality was profits or money raised – then it might be stuff not worth doing. He pointed out that while many objectives might be worthy, the bottom line is… well, the bottom line.

Now, I don’t want to be disagreeable. My friend is a smart, successful person and knows what he’s talking about. And I understand that in most cases, what he said makes the most sense. Your company needs to see a profitable outcome from its investments. And too much money spent on social is justified by soft and fuzzy arguments. But I still felt that there had to be other things you might want social to do for your organization – other things worth measuring and worth doing.

So, – if you would please allow me, I’d like to talk about some other social media metrics that are worth our time and attention.

1) Brand Awareness

We use social media for brand awareness. Yes, I know that the long-term goal of brand awareness is revenue, but that’s not where it starts. It starts with making an impact – bit by bit – so that people know your company is out there and reputable. Whether you’re B2C or B2B, social media is the new key in bringing about brand awareness with your best audience.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are non-profits out there that exist solely to create awareness – such as the anti-smoking campaign. True, campaigns also raise money – but the actual purpose of their brand awareness is just that – to be out there and known – to change opinions.

So there is another reason for using social beyond mere revenue, but how do we measure such a seemingly intangible thing?

Crowdtap is a company that helps businesses engage their customers and larger audience. Its creators, Brandon Evans and Joanna Seddon, focus on what they call “‘Brand Influence,’ which takes into account not only quantitative factors like exposure and reach, but also qualitative measures like ‘intensity’ (‘How involved is the audience in the message?‘) and ‘proximity’ (‘How close and trusted is the source?‘).” That is to say – how influential is your brand in the day-to-day lives and conversations of your audience? And are people engaging? (More on that later…)

Erich Joachimsthaler, Founder and CEO of Vivaldi Partners, authored a study called Brand Social Currency. He told FastCompany that the study was “not about social media, not about buzz, not about tactics. It is so much bigger. It gets to a brand’s long-term sustainability. It’s about how customers relate to one another in the context of brands and how those brands, companies, products, and people relate to customers… It’s an experiential, holistic concept that we have deconstructed and reconstructed to map to brand value” (emphases mine).

The point here is that social media is so much more than one metric or the other. It’s about first building a brand awareness that is the foundation for other things to come – such as revenue. But awareness usually comes first.

2) True Engagement

Part of building brand awareness is truly engaging your audience.  It’s not enough to get “Likes,” followers, and fans. It doesn’t matter how many times your post is retweeted. What matters is the impact and what you choose to do with that impact. Srininvas Rao over at {grow} puts it this way: “A list of 50 people who talk to you is better than a list of 5000 who ignore you.”

Brian Solis has an exceptional post about engagement, and I recommend you read the entire article in order to understand the full implications of good engagement strategy. He writes,

“The ultimate measure [of engagement] however is now something more substantial, such as…

  • Shift in sentiment
  • Satisfaction
  • Acquisition
  • Referrals
  • Conversion
  • Leads
  • Brand integrity/Reputation.”

Are you converting your comments into conversations? Are you fostering a community that creates value, and informs you in upcoming decisions?

3) Customer Values

The ultimate point of engagement – in other words, of developing a community of devoted and dynamic followers – is to understand what it is your customers value. We now have an access to our customers that is unprecedented, and we can’t take that for granted.

To see our fans, followers, and fellow bloggers as mere statistics to turn into “conversions” is to limit the potential of your brand’s influence. Peter Shankman, author and consultant, tells Inc. Magazine, “Numbers don’t matter… What’s important is that you understand your audience, know what they want, and give it to them.”

If you’re only focused on the revenue implications of your social media interactions, you may miss other, equally significant opportunities. More and more these days, it’s about building relationships. Let’s not forget that.

4) E-mail Subscribers (aka Opt-Ins)

Alright, this is the closest I’ll get to revenue when it comes to other metrics to focus on, but I’d still argue it’s more than money. Subscribers go hand-in-hand with Engagement and Customer Values, but it’s a good way to measure your influence – a measure that goes beyond views on your website/blog or retweeted posts and comments.

Rao says, “This is your ‘silent majority’ and this is who you need to cater to… There’s not one person who is successful that won’t tell you that your email list is what generates your money.”

But to get to the place where you’re receiving enough opt-ins that generate revenue, you need the above three.

Okay, so you might say – “Jose, the bottom line is still the bottom line. All of the above leads to conversions – to sales – to revenue.” I understand, but you cannot use revenue as the only metric to know that you’re getting there. Otherwise, it would be like saying that the only thing that matters on a long journey (regarding navigation) is the arrival point. We need milestones along the way that tell us we will arrive where we’re aiming.

Revenue should (by design) come later – but that new e-mail subscriber is still as important on day one as on day 350, when they finally become a customer and add to your revenue streams.

In order to be sustainable long-term, you need to leverage social media for all the metrics that matter – brand awareness, engagement, customer values, subscribers – and yes, of course – revenue.

  • Where do you stand on the Great Social Media Metric Debate?
  • Do you think revenue is the ONLY metric that matters?
  • How does your company measure social media metrics?

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