Social media has brought unprecedented change in the way a business markets its services and products online, as well as how it communicates to customers.
But how much of that change is being measured? From the latest industry surveys, very little, despite heavy investment. Yet with more corporations employing social media for branding, lead awareness and sales, the need for relevant metrics has become essential to successful financial performance. Books on social media have appeared, but few have dealt with metrics from an analytics framework. Until now.
Jim Sterne is no stranger to the Web analytics community. Founder of the E-metrics Marketing Optimization summit and co-founder of the Web Analytics Association, Sterne has tirelessly guided the discussion of digital marketing. Now, Sterne has created a short guide to optimizing your digital marketing called Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing Investment . I bought a copy to review, and feel that while the book is geared for large organizations, small business owners wishing to best manage their resources will benefit too.
Improve Your Social Media Gauge
Sterne says it best in the opening pages:
“This book is more for marketers who already know that social media is important and want to get a better handle on managing it as a serious business tool.”
And he wastes no time getting into the nitty-gritty of measurement planning. For example, Chapter 1 quotes a Web Analytics Demystified post on how to prioritize analysis around organizational requests:
- Is revenue at risk?
- Who’s asking?
- How difficult is the request?
- Can it (the analysis) be self serviced?
- When is the analysis needed?
- Why is the analysis needed?
A small business owner may not face all the aforementioned questions, but some of the questions may help apply some thought to developing a social media dashboard and asking the right questions around the three basic business goals in the book: increasing revenue, lowering cost, and increasing customer satisfaction. Although referencing many corporate sources, the book complements social media beginner references, such as Chris Brogan’s Social Media 101 , and also works well on its own.
Throughout the book Sterne combines numerous references to studies and resources, such as Groundswell author Charlene Li and Web Analytics 2.0  author Avinash Kaushik, regarding blogging ROI and opportunity cost. Analytics resources like Eric Peterson’s Big Book of KPIs (a free e-book on business metrics) are also referenced.
Sterne first lays out the social media categories — blogs, microblogs, forums, review sites, social networks, bookmarking and media sharing. Chapters 2 through 6 covers the kinds of measurement used — Reach, Influence, Sentiment, Triggering Action (Engagement) and Listening — while each social media category is included where appropriate. Sterne takes time to explain what tools are available, and gives an overview of measurement results. In an automotive example, he explains how hub-and-spoke relationships can measure influence and reach via tagging URLs:
“The first step is to code the links you publish so that when the are republished and re-tweeted, any clicks can be traced back to the original tweet or post. That means a normal link like www.example.com becomes www.example.com?1234. You can count the number of times the code 1234 shows up in your analytics database to determine how far-reaching that post or tweet was.”
He then compares the tracking between subjects (power and style) in an example hub-and-spoke figure.
“You now have a clear understanding of what intrigues people most about your new vehicle. You have marketplace insight you can act on. You know how to tweak your tweets.”
This is analytic essence made into accessible language for small business owners and marketers alike.
For experiences with social media, Sterne uses familiar corporate examples, like Dell’s IdeaStorm, as well as some interesting how-do-they-do-its, like BestBuy’s use of Twelpforce to answer whatever Twitter-sourced questions appear. Other tools mentioned include Twittratr, PostRank and Nielsen Buzzmetrics, along with a resource appendix that includes more on social media metrics, a free tool summary and insights from other respected marketers such as Jeremiah Owyang.
Chapter 7 focuses on business outcomes, with an underscore that social media is best seen as a long-term investment, warning that “regardless of what business outcome you are hoping, planning and working for…social media results take time.” Suggested metrics are offered here, while Chapter 8, Convincing Your Colleagues, brings up the current analytics challenges in organizations. For example, Sterne notes the unspoken concern employees sometimes feel, in that they see analytics as more of a personal audit:
“First and foremost humans do not like being measured… ‘Accountability’ is another word for “We don’t trust you so we’re going to measure everything you do.”
Sterne then segues into an example given by a Symantec vice president which crystallizes the other challenge in introducing measurement responsibility and convincing departments of the benefits:
“Besides doing more with less, we’re asking people to add a page tag here and a reporting mechanism there. “
Sterne covers a few topics on organizational expectations and becoming a measurement leader (a recurring theme in many analytics books like Analytics At Work ), though he admits at chapter’s end the topic of change management is too large to be covered effectively. Still, you will definitely learn to manage people as much as the metrics and measurement tools given.
Glaring negatives are few. The book does not elaborate on the impact of some recent online developments, such as mobile devices (I know there has been discussion in some circles regarding measurement of digital magazine articles shared), applications and location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Sterne does note this as he lays out the social media categories — “…more will appear before this book hits the streets.” However, some further consideration would have given readers insight on how to prepare for more change in a fast-moving medium.
A Useful Guide
Overall, Sterne has taken a solid tone and approach with Social Media Metrics. It explains the value of social media in a style that complements strategies for organizations large and small, for-profit and nonprofit. By any measure, Social Media Metrics  is a truly helpful guide in the online marketing jungle.