Social Media Marketing Research: Rolling up my sleeves and getting social

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I’ve listened to the gurus and read their blogs. I studied the MarketingSherpa ROAD Map for social media marketing. Heck, I’ve taught that ROAD Map to a hall of very gracious marketers. From experience, I have to say that pretending to be a social media marketing guru is a pretty sweet gig.

So, when I had to roll up my sleeves and walk the walk, I had no idea how much work would go into just getting started.

The most cliché statement of 2010

“Social media is about listening.” (Really, all marketing—perhaps, all business—is about listening; but that’s a separate topic.) Knowing where to listen, how to listen and how to separate meaning from noise is the trick.

To answer these questions, we put together a research team inside MECLABS to run a hands-on research project, just in time for the MarketingSherpa Email Summit in January.

The project objective is simple:  use social media to sell Email Summit tickets, learn to apply some of the more common tactics, and carefully monitor their effectiveness. Ultimately, we want to understand how to measure the effectiveness of social media marketing.

Social media marketing is not Santa Claus

With opinion ranging from “just believe in it” to “measure your fan/follower/etc. growth” to “Web analytics still tell the whole story,” there is no clear consensus on what social media measurement should be. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) published its social media measurement guidelines in May 2009; but these guidelines failed to do what I consider to be the key to social media measurement, connect the marketing activity to bottom-line outcomes. Whether this is possible remains to be seen, and our humble project is an early step in that direction.

The audacious objective is to arrive at a framework that will be as useful at analyzing and optimizing social media marketing activities as the MarketingExperiments conversion sequence for landing pages, Robert Cialdini’s rules of influence for interpersonal communication or Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits” for success planning.

Toward a social media measurement methodology focused on business value

Before we can build an explanatory framework, we need a measurement methodology. Granted, PR as an industry has survived for decades on soft metrics. But now, with a mountain of evidence in landing page optimization, email marketing and other heavily experimented-on channels, we know that the “marketer’s intuition” can seem to work, and yet be more often wrong than not.

The tools for concrete measurement exist, and I am willing to put my money on the idea that social media marketing is indeed measurable, and we will not have to take it on faith much longer. Pepsico’s global director of digital and social media, Bonin Bough, emphatically told me that—although a data fanatic himself—he didn’t feel that he should be held as accountable for social media activities as his Web analytics-bound counterparts. Perhaps the measurement framework isn’t available yet, but I see this as a problem, not as a permanent condition (and certainly not a benefit).

As we are taking our first, very tentative step toward social media measurement, we engaged Radian6—an established authority in social media monitoring, measurement and workflow automation—to help us understand how our (and some of our affiliates’) marketing activities in the social space could be tracked and analyzed.

At the Email Summit in Las Vegas, we will share with the attendees what we learn, and outline the subsequent steps on the road to social media marketing measurement. Until then, I will be sharing our challenges and insights in a series of blog posts. The next one, already in the works, is about using existing Web analytics data as part of your social media monitoring toolkit.

If you have ideas or experiences you’d like to share about social media marketing measurement, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly, or just meet me in Las Vegas in January for a pundit-to-pundit chat!

Related resources

Social Media Marketing: Interview with Kodak’s Chief Listening Officer

Community Managers in Social Media

New MarketingSherpa Inbound Marketing Newsletter

The MarketingExperiments Quarterly Research Journal, Q3 2010

Photo by stevenharris

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10 Comments

  1. Sarah Barbee says

    I’m very interested to see how your measurements reflect true sales. Often social media allows anonymity to go further. Many people might be responding to your efforts but not buying. And while you can track bounce back rates and more, you won’t find out the Why, only the What. Social Media is about listening, but sometimes if you don’t ask, you never get an answer.

  2. Chris says

    I think this is a good experiment and the results will be interesting to see. Tracking social media to a business outcome is more complex than just a direct relationship – there isn’t one framework that fits all businesses. Each business is different and different triggers affect different markets. But I definitely agree that social media is leading us to concrete measurements. I recently built an algorithm for my company to measure direct $ values from social media that I’ll be showcasing in the next few months. Would be good to chat it over, if interested.

  3. Garious says

    You know what’s funny with all these social media marketing cliches? They don’t really teach you a lot and you’re left groping in the dark. I think that in the end, numbers can lie and the real measurement is how many people really have bought what you’re selling. Tracking analytics and all can be fun sometimes.. but if given a choice, I’d rather spent that time talking to my audience than trying to decipher the hidden meaning of things, like how long they stayed on my site and more.

  4. 40deuce says

    Sounds interesting, Boris. I’ll be intrigued to see what kind of results you come up with.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    ps. I live and work right around the corner from that picture in the post. Just thought it was cool and that I’d throw it out there.

  5. Tim says

    We are looking to close the loop for email swyn through tracking codes and data analytics of transaction data.
    I’m booked for the summit already and look forward to hearing your results.

  6. Heidi Strom Moon says

    If anyone can quantify the results from marketing in social media channels, it’s Marketing Experiments. Look forward to hearing more about what you discover.

  7. kevin says

    Interesting experiment. I look forward to seeing the results. I’ve racked my brain on this one and have come to the conclusion that you can measure some but not all things related to social media as you can never measure the impact on a social media audiences decision making at multiple points of sale/channels.

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