Measuring Results

Public relations has traditionally held the reputation of being difficult to measure in terms of results. Measuring results, however, especially RoI (Return on Investment), is important for any business or organization. Just like in public relations, measuring results of social media strategies can be difficult; there are no standardized metrics yet.

What to measure?

A popular phrase among social media specialists is “return on influence,” a different take on “return on investment” found in regular business. The social media equivalent is a “broader, more long-term, long-lasting return,” according to a Dow Jones white paper titled “Tracking the Influence of Conversations.” “In social media and the blogosphere, being able to measure, track and compare the results is a requirement for determining next steps and strategy.”

First, an organization needs to find out what it is trying to accomplish. Are you spreading a message, building a community, raising awareness, forging relationships? From there, find out what to measure. The first and easiest attribute to measure is activity; page views and unique site visitor statistics can tell you broadly how much activity there is. But it doesn’t tell anything else and more importantly it doesn’t tell you what kind of activity. Earlier, we established some key elements of social media: community, conversation, participation and connectedness. And of course content; content drives the community. Now, how can we translate these concepts into measurable attributes?

Activity (page views, unique site visitors)

Community (who is your community)

  • Demographics (age, location, income etc.);
  • Psychographics (lifestyle, behavior, values etc.)

Conversation (what is the community talking about)

  • Conversation Index (ratio between blog posts and comments-plus-trackbacks);
  • Influential Ideas (memes; how long does a message remain in the arena of public opinion and interaction)

Participation (what is the community doing; what are its actions)

  • Engagement (the recipient not only responds to a message but acts on it as well);
  • Community Activation (specific actions; are recipients reacting to the message)

Connectedness (what is your relationship with the community)

  • Relationships and Connections (influence within a specific community)

Content (what is the focus of the community)

  • Relevance (how relevant to my company is a particular blog post);
  • Tone (what is the sentiment associated with the response, positive, negative or neutral)

How do we measure these attributes? Many are self-evident and many social media services offer help. Facebook Pages, for example, offers basic demographics of your fans, such as age groups and sex. Psychographics are much harder to measure and might require a survey or two. The conversation attributes require monitoring of the conversations; the participation attributes can be measured variably (amount of tickets sold through a unique link; amount of responses to a contest etc.); connectedness can be surveyed by tallying your connections and monitoring the community; content can be monitored as well, in the same manner press clippings are analyzed.

Doug Costle, Senior Director at research firm Context Analysis, is quoted in the Dow Jones white paper: “Regardless of what we’re looking for in terms of developing attributes—relevance, frequency of posts, depth of content, all that stuff—it’s still going to come back to influence.”

The next step is to determine what impact these results have on your organization and the actions of your organization. Not all attributes might be important to your company. Owyang and Toll write that at the heart of any strategy “will be a company’s ability to identify the key attributes that are important to that organization, and develop and execute a plan to monitor and measure those attributes in the specific context of the company’s sphere of operation.”

Case Study

Kami Huyse, a public relations practitioner and social media advocate, presented a simple case study in April 2008. Huyse put together a social media campaign for the launch of SeaWorld San Antonio’s “Journey to Atlantis” ride. The campaign’s objectives were to build relationships with the coaster community, build awareness of Journey to Atlantis and assist in driving visitation to the park. Can you see the similarities with objectives for orchestras? (Build relationships with the classical music community; build awareness of a new concert format; assist in driving ticket sales for this new concert format).

The campaign was implemented and some of the measurable results included:

  • 22 Web sites were identified; 12 covered the ride (Conversation);
  • 50 links from unique Web sites; 30 of which were from coaster enthusiast sites (Conversation);
  • The American Coaster Enthusiasts group brought 30 of its members to ride Journey to Atlantis on media day (Participation);
  • The riders later left positive comments on YouTube videos (Content; Tone);
  • The relationship is ongoing (Connectedness)

In terms of building awareness, according to Huyse a survey demonstrated that the Internet far outstripped all other sources, such as season pass member communication, soda can promotion, news stories and brochures. Only television advertisement closely followed the Internet. Keep in mind, however, that the Internet must be broken down into static and dynamic content. It is hard to measure whether the park’s static Web site or the social media campaign played the bigger part.

Perhaps the most compelling result, and argument for a social media strategy, was the overall cost of the program and the financial impact compared to other marketing tactics. Overall, the cost per impression for the social media campaign was $0.22 versus $1.00 for television.

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