Ignore social media metrics before abusing them

This is the first in a group of posts in which I explain why I have advised some clients to adopt a “dynamic brochure” social media strategy, focusing on publishing, active listening and “pulse” metrics while ignoring “performance”-related metrics.

Winning the social media game
Racking up “likes” in the addictive game of social media isn’t the same as delivering ROI

As a client once pointedly asked me, “how much social media do we need?”

The answer lies in measurements of both the pulse and performance of social media activity.

Yes, I know measuring social media performance is almost universally considered a best practice. No, I’m not intimidated or uneducated when it comes to metrics (quite the opposite: I have an undergraduate degree in social psychology from a department with a hard-core approach to statistical methods). I am opposed to the abuse of metrics, however, and I accept the fact that not every organization is prepared to use them correctly.

For many businesses, the measurements that are accessible aren’t actionable. And often enough accessible metrics are abused just because they are the only ones available. I advise those organizations not to focus on metrics, and the strategy described in this post is for those organizations.

What do I mean by pulse and performance? Let’s say you are a rock star. (No doubt many of you reading this are rock stars in your fields already, but this metaphor is about the musician sort of rock star.) “Pulse” means finding out: is your microphone turned on? “Performance” means finding out: how much of what’s going through your microphone right now is contributing to your band’s sales?

Here’s the problem: your microphone needs to be on, of course; but turning up the volume may or may not sell more song downloads. The amplifier settings alone don’t tell you whether there is a relationship between volume and revenue.

Social media measurement, in simplest terms, involves counting the number of likes, comments, shares, mentions, clicked links, etc. that a brand’s social media accounts are getting. But the question of what to do with these numbers opens a can of worms for many businesses. It’s not clear to many what to conclude from the statistics they’re being offered. Some have noticed that the easiest and most hyped metrics—number of Likes on Facebook, for example, or Klout score—don’t mean squat in the abstract, without reference to sales.

Likes, etc.: that’s pulse. Revenue per like: that’s performance. The number of likes and the rate at which they arrive may or may not mean more revenue for your brand. So the tendency of many social media folks to focus on getting more likes makes little sense—in fact, it may be an expensive distraction—when they don’t document ROI.

On the solution end, I’ve encountered an impressive number of social media consultants whose measurement frameworks fit every occasion…but aren’t practical for every organization. Barriers for companies or product groups with limited marketing budgets include implementation cost—employee and/or consultant hours, technology acquisition and configuration—and operational overhead. Meanwhile there can be a chicken and egg problem when an organization’s leadership isn’t marketing-centric or is unable, because of resistance from people controlling key connection points within the company, to connect the dots between marketing and revenue. Ironically, implementing an ROI measurement framework isn’t practical in these companies because the value of ROI measurement isn’t established. For instance:

  • I’ve talked to product groups whose web sites are managed by other departments  who were unwilling, either because they didn’t want the responsibility or because they were too busy, to make simple modifications needed to track “conversions”.
  • I’ve talked to executives unwilling to integrate their CRM with their digital marketing program because the advocates for integration didn’t have enough political pull to justify the budget and learning curve…yet.
  • I’ve talked to sales people who have no incentive to attribute any portion of sales to anyone or anything but themselves.
  • I’ve talked to companies too small and frantically busy to shift anyone’s focus away from their current, explosively successful, formula.

In a future post I’ll describe the nirvana which can be achieved when organizations take the necessary steps to measure social media ROI. But in this post I’m going to recommend a framework specifically tailored to companies that are unable to get to that level. You know who you are (or you should).

You need to formally adopt a dynamic brochure social media strategy so that everyone in your organization gets on the same page about what actions generate value for your brand, and no one gets sucked into playing pointless numbers games.

A dynamic brochure strategy focuses on social media as a publishing platform, akin to a dynamic web site. With it you showcase your brand “personality” via current stories, events and images, including but not limited to your own content. Your dynamic brochure social media platform becomes a valuable marketing asset, projecting the company’s point of view online 24x7x365. And combined with minimal monitoring for discussions about your brand around the web, plus sufficient resources to respond to anyone who reaches out to you, it’s a bare bones but respectable social media solution.

But it’s not a performance driven strategy. With a dynamic brochure strategy all measurement is pulse-and-temperature taking: “Is this thing alive?” Are you keeping up with your content publication calendar and participating in brand conversations? With publication going according to plan, and hailing frequencies open, you can stay focused on projects that are undeniably important for your organization. Marketing personnel and organizational leadership don’t waste time studying irrelevant social media data and trying to influence the number of likes, follows, comments, shares, etc., their social media output attracts.

Why, without being able to attribute a contribution to sales, is it pointless—or worse yet a waste of resources—to pursue target numbers of likes, comments, shares, etc.? I’ll dive deeper into this in a future post, but the short answer is: because increased volume of social media activity doesn’t necessarily cause revenue gains, much less profit. Likes aren’t that elusive. For instance, you can easily spend a fortune “buying” thousands of likes with advertising, celebrity endorsements or contests. But those likes may reflect a one-shot exposure to the brand akin to a single ad impression served to someone who isn’t even a prospective customer. One frequently mentioned study found that 88% of people who like a brand’s Facebook page never return to it; another revealed only 1% of followers “engage” via the page; then there’s the fact that relatively few updates are even viewed by followers (notice that “reach” means could have been, but wasn’t necessarily, noticed by a follower). Without measuring it yourself, there’s no telling how many of your followers become customers or purchase anything in connection with their commitment-free “liking” of your brand.

I know of a mobile phone maker which, in one recent year, invested its digital marketing personnel and budget into purchasing the support of an entertainer with a large social media following. They succeeded in their goal of gaining an enormous surge in followers and buzz for their brand—which all but vanished after the endorsement contract ended and the entertainer moved on to actual interests. This experience was costly for the brand in both time and money but it teaches a valuable lesson: followers are not the same as customers.

Without the ability to connect activities to revenue you risk pouring resources and focus into an abstract numbers game that is divorced from business results. Don’t ignore the seductive quality of social media engineering. It’s relatively easy to score likes in the social media game if you put in enough effort, and that’s a great motivator for managers and interns alike. But racking up points this way is akin to seeking to fire as many rounds of ammo as you can fire in a shoot-em-up video game without reference to whether it helps you win the game.

In part two of this series we’ll dig into the benefits of the dynamic brochure social media strategy I sometimes recommend. Stay tuned….

2 Replies to “Ignore social media metrics before abusing them”

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