If a Tweet Falls in the Woods....
Measurement has always been one of the Holy Grails of the public relations profession. And until social media arrived on the scene, measurement was usually at the top of the list for industry seminars, conference programming, professional development training and other related activities.
Measurement capabilities are the table stakes for any successful PR program. Skilled PR professionals understand that without measurement, internal teams and their agencies have little insight into the effectiveness of their strategies, and if and where they need to adjust focus to achieve mutually agreed-upon goals. Not to mention the frequent defensive position that the majority of PR professionals have found themselves in when tasked with “justifying” the return on investment for strategic communications. (I actually prefer the more accurate “return on expense” because the sustaining results of a well-executed PR strategy and program are inherently not fungible.)
Now that social media 1.0 is evolving, the measurement debate has only intensified (along with the volume of incumbent technology providers and start-ups hawking the latest platform to capture social media activities and engagement intelligence). And it again falls upon the shoulders of PR practitioners to rely on our expertise as we try to determine a near-universal and accepted lexicon for social media measurement, along with some semblance of standardized metrics.
Further complicating the challenge is the age-old paradigm subscribed to by many marketing and other corporate professionals who still cling to the “more is more” school of PR tactics. If 10 news releases and media articles are good, 100 of each would be better. Today, we’re grappling with the challenge that once a firm launches its social media program, a company must exceed Ashton Kutcher’s number of followers in a month or the program is a failure.
Yes, there’s always the necessity for quantitative measurement, but numbers only tell part of the story. Social media’s extraordinary and fundamental value is the ability to create direct engagement with our publics, and, similar to traditional publicity, quantity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality.
Drool With Envy
This is why I was puzzled by some recent research and sensational headlines regarding Twitter. According to a study conducted by Sysomos, a Marketwire company, only 29% of the 1.2 billion tweets they examined generated a reaction. Of this 29%, 19.3% were retweets and the rest were replies.
The well-trafficked social media site Mashable picked up on the research, and posted the headline that “Most Tweets Produce Zero Replies or Retweets”. Mashable’s associate editor Jennifer Van Grove further contends that “the findings are an insightful look at broader patterns around replies and retweets….perhaps our tweets really are just pointless babble after all…”. Other PR outlets and organizations also ran similar headlines and stories.
While the research is somewhat insightful, I’m fearful that the discussion will only intensify in the wrong direction. It’s too sweeping to paint a broad brush stroke that most Tweets and other social media posts just hang there. Besides, a 29% actionable response rate from 1.2 billon tweets would make direct marketers (read: mail) drool with envy.
Again, the process must start with a clear identification of the important goals of why we’re engaging in social media in the first place. Then back into the metrics that actually measure the goals you’ve established.
Is your Twitter/social media strategy just to have a presence as a competitive advantage, or can it serve your firm as an additional information dissemination channel? Is your company seeking to only drive one-way dialogue, or do you desire two-way engagement and conversation? Perhaps a social media strategy could bolster and generate more web traffic, leads and customer conversion? In this case, while retweets and replies would be nice, measuring the web traffic and other downstream results that originate with your Tweets (or Facebook or LinkedIn postings, etc.) are more important metrics.
Establishing goals such as the number of followers, fans, “likes” or the number of retweets and/or replies might be what you’re truly seeking. But at the end of the day, the quality of the engagement will ultimately prove to be the hardest to obtain yet deliver the highest value and return on expense for your social media strategy.
Have you had any early success with social media measurement? If so, are you using off-the-shelf tools or are you using simple, in-house metrics? Join the conversation….