Most marketers are using social media in some shape or form, but what's the return on investment? It's a question that many just can't answer. A recent study
by BtoB found that while 96% of marketers are using some type of social media, only 41% reported that they made any attempt to measure social's return on investment, showing a measurable increase in revenue, a growing market share or reduction in marketing costs. The problem, said Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst at research firm Altimeter Group, is that most companies are not clear about how social media supports their business objectives. Until a company decides it wants to use social media for a specific reason—collaborating with customers to find new products or services, for example—it won't be able to measure against that goal. Figuring out which metrics to use can also be an issue. "Different metrics matter more for different types of businesses," Etlinger said. Even those companies that have objectives in mind and know which metrics to look at may encounter a different problem—figuring out what to do with the data, said Jeff Cotrupe, global research director at Frost & Sullivan. "Digital analytics and Web analytics always impressed me because they are designed to help you analyze and act," he said. "But with social media tools, you glean all the analytics and then it's up to the user to know what to do with them." Some techniques can help companies get more out of their social marketing efforts. Here are four things all marketers should know before sending out another tweet or posting to a company blog. 1) Measuring sentiment is as important as measuring impressions or follows.
A customer's post on a social media site could have multiple meanings, so marketers need to make sure they interpret those messages correctly, said Catherine Van Zuylen, senior leader-product management and marketing at Attensity Group, a social analytics provider based in Palo Alto, Calif. "A big problem is that people are looking at basic traffic [how many people mention a product name] and misunderstanding the sentiment," she said. It's good to see if comments, tweets and posts are positive or negative, but it's more important to find out why people feel the way they feel. In other words, a human needs to read social posts to interpret meaning. It's also important, Van Zuylen said, to validate that sentiment with other off- and online channels such as email, customer care centers and Web comments. 2) Some of the most important social mentions won't use your company or product names
. The idea of brand monitoring is not as valid as many believe, said David Rabjohns, CEO of MotiveQuest, a social market research firm. "When people are talking about something in social, 95% of them aren't going to mention a product because they are talking about brands as enablers of their passion," he said. "But marketers think that everyone is talking about their brand." Marketing is evolving from storytelling to story listening, he said. Again, marketers need to be on sites where customers are spending time and listen carefully to everything they say—not just pay attention to specific keywords or phrases that show up in reports. 3) Every tool that provides a metric is not the same
. Frost & Sullivan recently completed a global analysis of the social monitoring market, finding that there are more than 200 different vendors and agencies—and a lot of end-user confusion, said Global Research Director Mukul Krishna. He said that the best tools are ones that will help marketers analyze what they need to do and make good decisions going forward. The tool and the data should be able to be integrated with other multichannel marketing and analytic tools. "Modularity is important, too," he said. "Ask vendors if you can scale up and scale down as you start and complete marketing campaigns." 4) Social media data has an expiration date and limitations
. Twitter data moves very quickly, and it's difficult to gain access to the entire feed, said Altimeter Group's Etlinger. Facebook data is often incomplete, she said, because privacy settings may make it difficult for companies to see everything on a page. "All metrics are not equal," she said. "For instance, if someone posts something to Pinterest it stays there forever, but a tweet may only be valid for a day, a week or a month." She suggested that instead of looking at specific posts or tweets, marketers try to find trends in the aggregate.