How Will We Measure It? Social Media vs. Advertising

by Katie Creaser on March 30, 2010

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Measurement. ROI. Impressions. These are words that normally sound like sweet sweet melodies to a marketer’s ears. However, when we’re using them in the context of social media – that sweet melody can quickly mutate into the sound created by a bad American Idol audition. Sure, implementing social media is one thing, but how are you going to measure it? And more importantly, how are you going to demonstrate its value to your clients?

Although social media is often categorized as a marketing function, it’s important to communicate the differences between social media and traditional paid advertising to your clients before engaging in order to properly set the standard for measurement.

When I am explaining the benefits of social media to my clients, I try to help them understand how they need think beyond traditional measurement (“free your mind, and the rest will follow” – En Vogue), so I often provide a side by side comparison of social media versus advertising.

Here’s how they differ:

Engagement vs. Impressions
Social media is measured by engagement rather than by number of impressions. Engagement with users allows an organization to speak directly to their target audience about their products and services. The benefit of engaging in real-time is the ability to address concerns and questions individually, by customizing the message. This allows for the kind of targeted marketing that may not be possible via paid advertising.

Quality vs. Quantity
Social media should not be considered mass marketing (in fact, it is quite the opposite). The quality of social media followers is far more beneficial than the number of followers. All followers and users followed on social media platforms need to be relevant to an organization’s industry or interests.

Constant vs. Sporadic
Social media enables companies to have ongoing communication with target audience members. Consistent messaging over time will position an organization as a go-to resource when audience members are ready to make a decision about a specific product or service.

Earned vs. Paid Media
Rather than paying for placements and outgoing messaging, social media empowers a voice that is both authentic and credible for companies. Social media allows you to become an influencer among a select group of target users.

Reputation Management
Social media allows businesses to comment and engage in online conversations that are taking place about theirs services and products. Through social media, a business is able to monitor for company mentions, address customer concerns and directly manage overall online reputation.

I have to note that words like “engagement” and “conversation” do not get you off the hook for providing real numbers to your clients. Ideally, you’re using tracking links and are providing your client with click-rates from their web analytics, but if that’s not available use a free URL shortener (like bit.ly) to get an idea of the average click-rate over time. You can also monitor trends (like what types of links get the highest number of clicks) and forecast how much traffic you’ll be able to drive month-over-month. It’s critical to customize social media measurement on a client by client basis, that way you are creating a program that is specifically addressing varying needs and marketing programs.

How do you measure social media? (Hint: don’t say, “it’s not about measurement, it’s about engagement” – we’ve heard that one before, and we all know engagement is awesome but it’s only one piece of the social media puzzle).

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out our Social Media Six-Pack.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie Delahaye Paine 03.31.10 at 8:05 am

the reality is that you absolutely CAN tie engagement to revenue and reputation to stock price. Good PR people have been doing it for years. But you need to have a rigorous research program in place, So that the contacts you “earn” from social media are tracked thru to sales, or applications, or whatever it is you are trying to achieve. The problem is that most organizations don’t know the “R” as in return that they are trying to get to.

Katie Safrey 03.31.10 at 11:43 am

Hi Katie – Thanks for commenting.

I totally agree with you! It’s so important to put a solid program in place to track leads generated on social media – before you event get started. I also think it’s critical to customize social media programs (and measurement) based on client needs in order to deliver the type of “R” that they are looking to achieve. With the right program, engagement , reputation and revenue can be combined for stellar results.

Laura Mead 04.22.10 at 5:55 am

Hey Katie – great blog! The ROI and measurement challenge around social media is huge over here in the UK – no one knows just how to do it yet. And, with the industry talking in terms of engagement (like you say) and sentiment analysis, the trouble is what does that actually mean and how does it translate to numbers, as this is ultimately what our clients want? As you say, engagement is important, but it is indeed only a piece of the whole social media pie…

Katie Safrey 04.22.10 at 12:13 pm

Thanks Laura! One of the reasons that I love working with social media is that it’s constantly evolving – it seems like we’re continuously finding new ways to execute programs, and in turn – measure them.

I really think that social media can be used for both PR and traditional marketing – it’s really about setting the metrics and goals, implementing the necessary back-end technology (web analytics, tracking etc.), and setting parameters for the entire campaign prior to launch.

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