Consumers are investing serious amounts of their time in social-media platforms, with 16.6% of all online minutes now spent on social networks. With so much focus on social as a marketing tool, it's worth stopping and mapping out a smart social strategy.
A new Ad Age Insights report, "Managing Your Brand's Social Life," aims to help brand managers plan for which platforms should get the investment of limited staff and time, what to consider when creating internal social-media guidelines, whether to handle social media in-house or outsource it and what measures a brand should be looking for to get at return on investment.
You can measure the ROI of social media, but it may not get you far. "There is definitely a quantifiable ROI, but the truth of the matter is that it's very difficult to measure ROI within social media," said Edelman Digital Senior VP Michael Brito.
If a straightforward numbers game is what you're after, Olivier Blanchard, author of "Social Media ROI" notes that the ROI numbers game remains the same: "It's still purely a financial measure." But, he adds, "engagement is not a measure of ROI. There's no way to actually calculate the relationship between a dollar investment in a particular activity and the number of likes."
He stresses that brands should be wary of anybody who tries to tell them that they can put an absolute value on a Facebook fan, Twitter follower or their latest Pinterest pinner. "For anyone to suggest that the value of a Coca-Cola fan on Facebook or Twitter is equal to the value of a BMW fan on Facebook or Twitter, it's ludicrous. So the media-equivalency equations unfortunately really lead people astray. They do help sell a lot of services, but they don't actually really give you a true measure of the value of an activity on social media," Mr. Brito said.
Adds Constant Contact's Social-Media Manager Erica Ayotte: "What's really hard is determining the value of followership." Instead, Ms. Ayotte believes brands have to ask very different questions of their social-media campaigns. "What gets me really excited is looking at it from a different intelligence perspective, from taking all that data and being able to ask the right questions, " she said. "For example, do people who are engaging with us on Facebook ... do they buy more, stay longer? That's the type of business intelligence ... I think the whole industry is moving [toward]." Other aspects to consider tracking are trust, purchase-decisions influence, seeking new products and getting recommendations.
ROI is really just one way to figure out how much your brand benefits from having a social life. With a little creativity -- and with an understanding that you need to push your measurement in new directions -- you can more clearly understand what social media delivers to your brand. Steven L. Johnson, assistant professor and director of social-media programs at Temple University's Fox School of Business, offered the example of the Campbell's Kitchen Facebook page, whose "mission is to get people to use more Campbell's Soup products." Mr. Johnson said Campbell figured out that every time somebody printed a recipe from Facebook, they prepared it approximately 2.5 times, and 1.7 times, they used a Campbell's Soup product. "You can't figure that out online," he said. "They just figured that out through some kind of additional market research. But then based on that , you're able to put a value on this action that you're trying to drive people toward."
While larger marketers end up building enterprise-class tracking tools, many companies rely on a cobbled together set of tools. Some of the top names in the measuring game include Radian6; Webtrends analytics to measure Facebook and mobile; and Twitalyze to measure, as you probably guessed, Twitter activity; Google Analytics, which is a very sophisticated product (especially for the price of ... free); and Simply Measured, which also looks at competitors' engagement to provide benchmarking.
"Measuring social is easy: likes, comments, views, shares, engagement, participation, etc. The numbers are all there and are easy to pull. Determining success is still the difficult part," said Daniel Stein, founder-CEO, Evolution Bureau. "The jury is still out on the value of fan interaction. Most people agree that having a loyal, engaged fan base is a good thing -- how good or how valuable compared to other forms of more institutionalized marketing is still debatable."