In the agency space, we often find ourselves on one side of an epic conflict. The battleground: the lush, rolling hills of the digital marketing landscape. The weapon of choice: social media marketing. Marketing officers (and their overseers in senior management) always seem to want very particular results regarding social; in other words, ways to justify the expense or prove that an agency is “worth its salt.”
This can be problematic.
To make sure everyone is on the same page, a detailed strategy and accompanying measurement plan are the big guns that should reduce the battle’s magnitude and casualty count. The problem is that huge misconceptions still exist with regard to social. For the sake of making actual forward progress in your organization or those for which you consult, we must officially embrace the following social media strategies going forward.
1. Remove All Mentions of “ROI” or “$”
First things first. The “social=sales” maxim that forms the foundation for so many misguided social media marketing endeavors has got to go. This is a big problem and, really, represents the catalyst for so much of what we do (and don’t do) for our clients. We agency folk find ourselves spending a lot of time convincing marketers that social isn’t solely for pushing products or services.
Put simply, if you’re in it for the fame and fortune, you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed (and succumb to the same fate as your run-of-the-mill telemarketer). If, on the other hand, you understand that your brand’s very identity can be refined or showcased via these platforms, then you’re starting down a path toward success.
Step one is simple. Strip out any goal, objective, or tactic that you’re expecting will make your business more bank. Trust me, your priorities should lie elsewhere. Speaking of that…
Figure 1 – A more literal path to enlightenment. Image courtesy of TaraHunt.com.
2. Make Your Measurements More Meaningful
So if we can’t measure social in terms of dollars and cents, how do we measure it?
To answer this question, there are a few things you and your team will have to keep in mind. Chief among these is that, in most cases, we’re measuring human behavior. The folks that use your products and services will have different behaviors, and your goals will be slightly different from your competitor a few blocks over. In other words, how to best measure social just “depends.” We won’t leave you hanging with that though. Here’s a quick breakdown of a process you can use to take your business goals and derive actionable social media measurements from them.
Let’s start by identifying a business goal. Imagine your e-commerce business hopes to “surpass a top competitor among the ‘outdoor hobbyist’ demographic by 15% in the next 6 months.” We can then take this higher-level goal and break it down in the context of social media. In this case, we could say our social media goals are to “reach 5% more users in our ‘outdoor hobbyist’ segment with social media messaging,” “warrant 5% more average engagement from these users,” and “increase advocacy within this segment by 5%,” all within the same time period.
Finally, with our social objectives in hand, we can boil them down further into individual success metrics or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Some tools exist that will calculate these metrics for you. We’d recommend not straying too far from “native” analytics platforms like Facebook Insights, Twitalytics, and LinkedIn Analytics though, as most solutions you’ll find simply aggregate this information into a dashboard-style setup. Each has its own unique flair, but you’ll find that they all invariably suffer from limitations with APIs and data privacy agreements. As far as we’re concerned, whether you calculate your metrics with Excel formulas or a complex dashboard in Google Analytics, consistency is what’s most important.
In our example, our first mini-goal could be defined by measuring the following metrics:
- Total reach (your seed audience x shared network audience)
- Message velocity (reach x time)
- Social share of voice (branded mentions / total mentions, including competitor(s))
As a more detailed example, Reach is often accessible via “native” social analytics platforms. It’s also a widely used metric in the dashboard tools we mentioned before (e.g. HootSuite, Sprout Social, ViralHeat, etc.). We’re a team of analytical purists, so any solution that exports to CSV more than fits the bill for us. Let’s assume that you decide to run a social-centric campaign that aims to tackle this first mini-goal. You find that your messaging related to this campaign (which you can isolate because it’s tagged and tracked appropriately) has achieved a reach of 100,000 users on Facebook and 300,000 on Twitter. While not an exact science, information on Reach can give you an idea of specific networks with the most opportunity.
Evaluating Velocity, or the speed at which your campaign-focused messages grew and spread over time, helps assign relevance to the audience you’ve reached. The more your offer or promotion is picked up, passed around, or shared, the greater likelihood that it has resonated and led to action.
This campaign reached more users at a particular time of day on Twitter, while Facebook had more longevity after business hours.
To round out our example, the second goal (more audience segment engagement) could correspond to these KPIs:
- Content consumption rate (social conversions / all conversion activity)
- Engagement ratio ((visits, RTs, likes, comments, shares) x time)
- Inquiry volume (direct audience contact / time)
Finally, our third social goal (customer advocacy) can be associated with these metrics:
- Positive brand mention growth (favorable mentions / time)
- Active social media advocates (active advocates / all advocates)
- Advocate impact (number of advocate-driven social media conversions / all social media conversions)
The point here is to create metrics that you can tie back to a major business objective. We’re not merely confining social media to metrics, but having measurements in place on a granular level can come in handy when you’re determining expectations, making decisions regarding campaigns, or explaining your progress to your client (or your client’s boss).
As a way to further show the value of approaching social media measurement this way, here’s a quick look at how this process can break down and show value for a client. Once upon a time, a major energy solutions manufacturer suffered from an inconsistent social media presence. Their new social media strategy focused on customer service as a primary indicator for this sporadic engagement. After taking the appropriate steps, their process followed the one described above:
Business objective: A more consistent social media presence among all audiences
Social media goal: 15% incrementally efficient conflict resolution over 6 months
KPIs: Resolution rate and Resolution time
The trend line in the graph above shows average inquiry response time decreasing significantly month-over-month.
3. Strategize, Revisit, Rinse, Repeat
In other words, don’t be afraid to pull the plug on a particular social media tactic if you’ve determined it’s not worth your time and money. The best strategies are those that are regularly altered, refined, and optimized. If you aren’t evaluating yours at least on a bi-yearly basis, do yourself a favor and schedule the time now. A few hours every six months is far better than ending up shoehorned into processes and campaigns that are ineffective.
When questions like these come up:
- “Is Pinterest or Instagram the better place for our insurance firm to post content?”
- “Are we attracting the right audience on these channels?”
- “Are we moving closer to or further from the goals (and mini-goals) we’ve set?”
- “What should we pursue next?”
Your adaptable strategic plan will allow you to either answer these questions outright or make the moves to get you there.
At the same time, think about revisiting components from an analytical standpoint. If your team continues to harp on about “likes,” followers, “+1s,” and 28x attack multipliers, you shouldn’t be afraid to challenge them by asking how that number will impact your business, monetarily or otherwise. If there’s no clear indication that these shallow metrics will, then rally the troops and head back to the drawing board. Chances are you’re not making the most of your social media strategy.
4. Use Guidelines to Expect the Unexpected
Finally, we come to the worst-case scenario for a lot of marketers. Those dissatisfied customers who choose social platforms to be their most vocal, wearing out their Caps-lock keys, ranting and raving for paragraphs at a time. In other words, we’re talking about those circumstances you can’t plan for. We’d agree that these events can’t ever be prevented, but they can be managed. Here’s how:
- Set a response time for inbound messages and stick to it
Social is a fast-paced beast (if you haven’t noticed), and a particularly caustic post can spread like wildfire if left unresolved. Set a two-hour response window for low-level messages, and 30 minutes for those that escalate to crisis status.
- Allocate the right resources to conflict resolution
If possible (and depending on the size of the business), dedicate some of your team to handling all inbound social inquiries. Doing this will ensure that responses are consistent, personalized, and quick.
- Choose the right tools for connecting with indignant customers
Services that offer real-time discussions among your social media team or the ability to quickly assign messages to the right individuals are out there. Assess your needs and choose a tool that works best for you (HootSuite, TweetDeck, and Sprout Social all offer this to some degree).
- When in doubt, redirect the discussion to a private medium
The only thing worse than dealing with a very dissatisfied customer is having the entire situation play out in the public domain. Oftentimes, efforts toward a real solution will require more details into that user’s individual issue. When sensitive or personally-identifiable information come into play, offer to take the conversation off social either to a phone call, private chat session, or direct email.
Figure 3 – With proper planning, JCPenney recovered from a potential faux pas (and had fun with it). Via adweek.com.
Before I send you off into the social media world with (hopefully) a new perspective and a few new ideas, I want to stress one predominant fact: the rules are beginning to change for marketers, whether we’d like to believe it or not. Audiences are getting smart about their identity online, are more keen on blatant sales pitches, and don’t respond well to companies that treat them like a line-item on a demographics spreadsheet.
As things change and evolve, remember that strategy, research, and measurement will always give your socially-active business a considerable fighting chance.