3 tips for meaningful measurement of social activitiy

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With the holiday season in full swing, many merchants are using social outposts to post promotions, attract followers and encourage them to buy.. But what messages are getting through, and how can merchants measure the overall impact of social media on their business?

It’s a tricky proposition, because for many merchants, the goals of social media are abstract — which can translate to “unmeasurable.” For example, industry researcher Forrester found that most merchants consider social media to be highly experimental, and a better tool for listening than selling. Nearly 60% of merchants agreed with the statement “The returns on social marketing strategies are unclear,” while less than a third — 31% — reported using a specific set of metrics to measure the effectiveness of social networking activities.

Chart on social media's utility from Forrester ResearchOn the one hand, it’s admirable that merchants are willing to invest in social networks despite the lack of concrete return on investment. Such willingness signals a recognition that building a lasting customer relationship requires forging sometimes-intangible ties between shoppers and brands.

At the same time, to prove value over the long term, merchants need to find ways to capture, define and quantify the interactions that take place on social networks. Once the novelty factor wears off, only by consistently measuring effectiveness can merchants expect to continue justifying investment in social media. So, how to go about doing it? A few thoughts to get you started:

  • View followers and traffic as the top of the funnel. The number of page “likes” on Facebook or followers on Twitter is worth tracking for growth over time, as is the overall viewership of pages and profiles — but as with visits on an eCommerce site, these baseline metrics can’t tell you much on their own about the impact of your social media efforts. After all, a sweepstakes contest or controversial tweet can cause a momentary attention spike, but if the goal is building lasting relationships with your brand, then these kinds of stunts are a waste of effort.
  • Find ways to measure participation. In his post titled “Best Social Media Metrics”, analytics guru Avinash Kaushik proposes several ways to measure not just the quantity of followers, but also the rate of interactions and activities on social media sites. He identifies three participation concepts to quantify:
    • “Conversations” – the number of comments on posts on Facebook, Google+ or blogs; the number of replies to Twitter tweets
    • “Amplification” – the number of shares, retweets or linkbacks
    • “Applause” – the number of Facebook “likes”, Google+ “+1s” or Twitter “favorite clicks”


Social media data spreadsheet from Kaushik,net


(One of Kaushik’s readers was so inspired by the post that he made a spreadsheet for tracking this data, shown partially in the screen shot above; it’s downloadable from Kaushik’s blog)

Kaushik notes that currently, there’s no way to gather this information except manually – but the payoff is potentially huge. First, merchants who measure participation can more easily demonstrate that social networks are achieving intangible goals such as “listening to and better understanding our customers.” Merchants can also better gauge which social media campaigns actually resonate with customers — and which posts pass along the social transom without achieving anything in the way of word-of-mouth marketing or engagement.

  • Define “conversion” differently. Analytics programs can easily track traffic to eCommerce sites from social networks, and from there can calculate the purchase conversion rates and revenue generated by those visitors. But with less than 3 percent ofvisits to eCommerce sites coming directly from social networks, according to the latest MarketLive Performance Index, the numbers are likely to be insignificant compared to other customer acquisition methods. Perhaps for that reason, Forrester’s report found that just 7 percent of merchants listed social media as among their top three most effective acquisition sources.But the typical path to purchase now criss-crosses multiple touchpoints before shoppers become buyers, as depicted by the Forrester graph below.

Chart from Forrester Research showing shopper touchpoints

For that reason, it’s critical to measure social media efforts in relation to crucial milestones other than purchases. Those milestones could include:

    • Signups for mobile alerts or email updates
    • Posting customer reviews on the main eCommerce site
    • Attendance at in-store events promoted on social media sites

In sum, it’s high time to expand beyond rudimentary metrics when it comes to social media — and the holiday season, when activity is at a peak, is a good time to try new techniques. By employing new data points and expanding the range of social media conversion goals, merchants can capture a more accurate picture of the effectiveness of their campaigns — and thereby devise measurable tactics for future success.

What are you doing to measure social media effectiveness this holiday season? What data points are most useful to you?

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