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Don't worry about the numbers

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With recession-strapped ad budgets under increasing scrutiny, marketers are turning more attention to campaign measurement. Many will fall back on the channels they know, scrapping social media marketing experiments because the returns are unclear. That's a mistake. There's never a better time to try something new than when competitors are slinking back to their foxholes. The reluctance of marketers to invest in social media because of lack of measurement standards is an excuse for inaction. Yet it's one of the most common reasons I hear for disinvestment. The paradox of this argument is that social media is the most measurable medium ever invented. In addition to the standard Web metrics, marketers can tap into an assortment of services that track online sentiment, segment audiences according to their interests and even pinpoint individual influencers. This is measurement heaven. You just have to choose what you want to measure. Before throwing in the towel because of uncertain metrics, consider these factors: Social media campaigns are cheap. Don't ignore the ā€œIā€ side of the ROI equation. Blogs, Facebook accounts, YouTube profiles and the like are basically free and come with plentiful built-in metrics. BL Ochman of agency What's Next Online,who has run several successful blog-based campaigns, estimates three-month costs of a formal campaign as little as $50,000, which is a trivial investment compared to the cost of a single 30-second TV spot. It doesn't matter what metrics other people use. The issue isn't choosing between page views and unique visitors; it's choosing the right metrics for your situation and applying them in a disciplined manner. Different measurements match different situations. In a lead-gen campaign, for example, you probably want to know which Web sites are sending you the most traffic. But for a branding push, unique visitors or time spent on site may interest you more. The point isn't to hew to a standard; it's to make choices that are meaningful to you. Web metrics may not even be meaningful. The results of a successful social media campaign may turn up in such offline metrics as increased favorable media coverage or shorter customer service calls. In a world of millions of new influencers, traffic and visitors may mean little compared to favorable publicity created by positive word-of-mouth. For example, Comcast Corp.'s current campaign to respond quickly to online complaints is aimed at reducing the overwhelming amount of anti-Comcast sentiment online. The fact that success can't easily be measured doesn't make the initiative any less urgent. Don't let the industry's lack of agreement on metrics deter you from making these relatively low-cost, low-risk bets. Forrester Research predicts that small businesses will grow their social networking investments by 20% to 33% this year. Do these cost-sensitive businesses know something you don't? M
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