Rethinking the Value of Social Media: Measurement

In last week’s installment of  “Rethinking the Value of Social Media,” I discussed how social media marketing is not and should not be a pure numbers game. In this post, I’d like to talk more specifically about re-framing the way we think about the measurement of our social media efforts.

Firstly, we should stop worrying about the numbers of friends, fans and followers we gain, or how quickly we gain them. Instead, we should be measuring the value of our followers over time against engagements — both quantitatively (how many?) and qualitatively (what is the sentiment?).

My company Conversify has been using a Follow-to-Following Ratio on Twitter (dividing the number of followers of an account by the number of people being followed) to measure Twitter health. Maintaining a ratio of at least a “1” or more helps to keep us on track to keep us from “over-following” and helps us illustrate that we’re growing our Twitter following thoughtfully.

It seems like an useful additional number that we might use is an Engagement-to-Follower Ratio. This could track the increase in interactions with one’s following, commensurate to the growth of one’s following. As the number of followers an account has grows, however, can the number of engagements (retweets, @ mentions, etc.) grow at the same rate? And how do we factor in the additional work it takes to maintain or increase engagements?

Using the theories outlined in Julien Smith’s “Follower Hyperinflation” post, it stands to reason that you cannot keep up with growing your following at the same rate over time while having the same access. And you can’t produce enough content, status updates and interactions with your following at the same rate over time to maintain the same engagement-to-follower ratio — it’s just not sustainable.

Given the many variables of growing and managing your followings, here is one more way to frame social media measurement, basing it on Amplification, Conversions and Transactions:

Amplification: How much is your message being spread (or “amplified”) because of your social media interactions? You can benchmark your “social media influence” today with free tools such as SocialMention, Twittergrader and Vitrue’s Social Page Evaluator and paid apps like Radian6 and Attensity360. How do the number of retweets, shares, likes, etc. increase over time? How many more mentions of your message or brand are you seeing online?

Let’s face it: It is far easier to measure to watch the digital trail of pass-along messages (retweets, shares, blog posts references) than the assumptions we make about the reach of traditional advertising. If we advertise in a magazine, why do we trust that the magazine that our ad will reach, be seen and acted upon by other people through offline “pass along” and how do we measure that? We use a formula instead of concrete numbers. When we pay for a television ad campaign, how can we know for sure that the people who see your commercial will not only act on what they see but then tell others about it offline? We can’t, and yet for some reason we trust those things are happening when we’re sold those ad spots.

Conversions: How is your following helping to convert others to becoming fans and eventually customers? We could also call this “Recruitment.” While this number is harder to measure concretely, you can easily run an “experiment” about the willingness of your following to help you build an even bigger following. Simply post a status update to your Fan Page on Facebook asking your existing friends to suggest your Page to their Facebook friends. Pay attention to the increase of fans after that. “Warm” referrals and recommendations have so much more value than those you obtain though cold calling or by paying for, right?

Then go a step further and note who mentions that they did, indeed, suggest your Page. Your social media “superfans” will often comment to let you know they did what you asked, happily. Think about recognizing them for their efforts somehow; perhaps surprise them with a gift. Not an incentive, mind you, but an unexpected “thank you” after the fact. You read more about your social media superfans in “How to Convert Your Facebook Superfans Into Brand Ambassadors.”

Transactions: After converting interested people to to loyal followers, you want them to do something more — some kind of action or transaction: hire, buy, donate, sign a petition, etc. This is an easier number to benchmark and monitor, but it also tends to be the number that is slower to grow, particularly in the beginning. Placing a social ad on Facebook that leads to a shopping cart to buy doesn’t work as well as leading people to your Facebook Page to become a fan, converting them to Superfans and inspiring them to convert others, and then gaining transactions over time.

While time always seems to be “of the essence,” any company that has been in business for a long time will tell you they didn’t grow overnight and that the value of loyal customers far outweighs the one-time customer who responded to an ad but never came back to buy or interact. Repeat customers — and referrals from satisfied customers — are still the “cheapest” marketing we can hope for, but it does take time to cultivate them.

Not everyone has the patience for the cultivation and care social media marketing requires to do it well. They look for short cuts because they are fixated on the wrong numbers and placing value on the wrong things. For those with patience there are rewards, though: There are many case studies out there to prove that social media marketing can be a valuable addition to a company’s marketing mix; it can enhance and amplify their traditional and online marketing efforts and can have a positive impact on a company’s brand, customer service capabilities and, eventually, sales.

What are some concrete examples you have for positive returns on your investment and real value in social media marketing?

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