Friday, May 22, 2009

Social Media: Measure or Not To Measure?

Being a PR professional has it's challenges. You're always chasing new business. You're always looking to get "hits" for your clients (whatever that means these days). And you're constantly being measured on success and failures. In the PR world, clients fire on the lack of success and measurement.

This is a tricky, tight-rope walk, especially in a media environment that is so fractured that the reporter you're targeting today could be taking your order at the drive through the next. Throw social media to the mix and traditional media relation programs are out the door. You either are leading a trend and are littering the pages of top tier publications (and when I say littering, I mean a clip or two every other month) or you're saturating your trade publications (more likely a viable option, especially for B2B companies).

At the end of the day however, PR programs need to be measured. They have to. How else can an executive justify 100k fee retainer to his/her bosses by answering the "did we reach our goals?" with an answer like, "did you see our Facebook page?"

Ah, no. Not what the hire-ups want to hear.

So the question remains. Can you measure social media? Some say yes. Some say no.

I say yes, sorta. It's not brain surgery, but it's not rocket science either. It's somewhere in the middle.

First off, the naysayers will jump down my throat and say that you can't measure a conversation or engagement. I agree, however, you can measure that conversation and engagement IF your brand has some sort of call to action fused into that conversation, i.e. signing up for a free trial of a new software product, signing up for a survey/focus group, reviewing a product, suggesting a website to a friend, etc. All that stuff can be measured by traditional means, i.e. click-throughs, website visitors, downloads, sign-ups, etc. Obviously brands need to ask the question, "how did you come to visit this site" or "what did you think of our product offering" or something to that effect. While you can't measure the conversation around a brand, a product or an issue, you can measure the end result of that conversation IF there is some sort of call to action. This is true whether your company is B2B, B2C, non-profit, government, etc. Real, business-driving, brand-embracing, call to actions are key to measuring social media campaigns.

However, to measure the conversation or engagement, you have to look at the content produced over the span of your social media program and through each channel individually and collectively. The conversation has to be monitored constantly. Yes, you can track things like retweets or followers, but the real juice is in the opinions of your audiences. What are they telling you that will help you develop a better product or service? How are they referring to your brand vs. how you THINK your brand is known in the market place? Is that perception different from yours? If it's positive and seems to "fit" with your audience's needs, do you go forth and change your positioning in order for your messages to resonate more? Measuring the conversation and engagement takes time, patience and an internal interrogator to ask the tough questions that your brand must address to "ebb with the flow," so to speak.

So while you can measure social media programs that have actionable items for your audiences to move on, you really can't put a dollar figure on the conversation and engagement. That intel, as they say, is priceless.


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