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Social Media Metrics

More and more companies are taking blogging, podcasts, and the like as seriously as other forms of advertising. But blogging and other social media channels require sustained effort, for the most part, bringing up the question of how to measure social influence, one that has yet to be agreed upon. While no one is questioning the opportunity that this cost-efficient channel can provide, key components for measuring the effectiveness of social media efforts have yet to be defined, at least in any way that SEM experts can agree on. With the usefulness of traditional internet metrics already in question as new technologies (Flash etc) render them ineffective in some cases, the social media debate is primed for takeoff.

The Social Organization Blog proposes a lengthy list of metrics for measuring social influence, segmenting them into activity metrics (pageviews, posts, comments, referrals), survey metrics (relevance, satisfaction), ROI metrics (cost per number of engaged prospects, number of new product ideas), and individual metrics (new friends after 30/60/90 days, number of ideas per individual). The list is intimidating, to say the least, the most comprehensive list online to date, combining the suggestions of various bloggers and social media gurus. The motivation for many of the social media folks who advocate these measures seems to be the same. As SEMs we should narrow down which ones we think might work and blog/wiki/podcast away, pausing to crunch the numbers every now and again.

Is it really this easy? Can we ever really make the murky, quasi-real world of online communities quantifiable? Does tracking metrics like citations, audience growth, etc, really tell a company that social media is a smart decision? Is there anything to be learned from more traditional network theory, which has yet to be touched upon in these discussions?

The low cost of this channel, as compared to traditional media, helps take the risk out of engaging in social media regardless of the lack of answers. SEMs do seem to agree that social media efforts may be worthwhile without any guarantee, thanks to the value of the information, experience, and opportunity to connect with smart, driven entrepreneurs. Social media is thus the perfect choice for companies dedicated to continuously investing a portion of resources in emerging trends to promote innovation. And, directly monetarily profitable or not, companies always benefit from listening and responding to customers, particularly those with negative feedback. Social media increases their liklihood of actually getting a chance to hold those conversations.

In the end, each company that invests in social media, and the SEMs they hire to help guide and evaluate these measures, must decide whether they need the of numbers in order to warrant the time spent. If the answer is yes, selecting metrics that target different aspects of this channel, such as raw participation versus sentiment versus relevance versus meme propagation, may be one way to hedge one’s bet. From there, basic statistical significance methods can help “prove” (or disprove) a correlation between the channel and profit.

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7 Responses to "Social Media Metrics"

  • Darren
    May 22, 2008 - 10:54 am Reply

    The one thing I don’t see accounted for in this list is the influence of viral expansion loops, as they apply to the growth and impact of social networking. Any thoughts on the impact of this as it applies to marketing and measuring audience engagement and participation in social networking?

  • jhullman
    May 22, 2008 - 12:08 pm Reply

    I do think there’s something to be said about social media marketing from a graph/network theory perspective (post coming very soon). In a very general way, the occurrence of power law governed networks, and thus increased possibility of viral infection flowing across the network exponentially (what I assume you mean by viral expansion loops – this term badly needs some clarification if it is going to be thrown around by marketers!) often means more bang for your buck when you invest in social media. But not all networks are power law, and even in those that are, a virus or meme is not guaranteed to reach the high degree nodes that will spread it exponentially.

    But while network growth rates may be very roughly predictable in power law networks, I don’t see power law structure in and of itself as particularly helpful in proving that the audience is engaged in a way that is valuable to the company. Companies would need to define first whether all engagement equals valuable engagement (I don’t think it does). Many fads, in the form of memes, videos, etc, are spread quickly across the internet but that doesn’t mean those who helped pass them along even remember them a short while later.

    Whatever the community’s structure, if you can demonstrate to your client that at time b, it is x times more difficult to remove a node from the community than it was at time a, that might be useful in proving that social media is worthwhile. But again, before these sorts of graph-theoretic metrics are going to be proposed, it might be useful to define some terms. Post coming!

  • Dave
    May 22, 2008 - 10:29 pm Reply

    Hey guys you have a broken link in this post. Looks like it is missing the .com

    Nice post Jessica.

  • Rachel Happe
    May 23, 2008 - 11:28 am Reply

    Thanks for the link to my list of social media metrics. And a clarification – the intent of the list is not to suggest that *all* of those metrics be used but rather to provide a list of the various metrics that I’ve heard about being collected.

    I’m actually a big fan of choosing 1-3 primary metrics and tracking those but which 1-3 is highly dependent on the goals and purpose of the initiative.

    Great conversation. Thanks!

  • jhullman
    May 23, 2008 - 12:32 pm Reply

    Didn’t intend to imply that the list was your proposal of all the metrics we need, Rachel – I’ve edited to make that a little clearer. Thanks for reading, and for the discussion on your site!

  • Daniel O'Neil
    May 23, 2008 - 4:19 pm Reply

    Another great blog about social media is http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/. The author has some really neat things to say about the creation and measurement of social media.

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