It's time marketers started measuring, not counting, social media impact

Social media is ever powerful and ever growing in influence in the lives of all brands - in their customer service, in their source of rich insight and in their marketing, writes Stephen Maher, chairman of #IPASocialWorks, chairman of the Marketing Society and CEO of MBA.

Stephen Maher: marketers must learn from robust social media case law
Stephen Maher: marketers must learn from robust social media case law

Social now finally has a seat at most boardroom tables – often helping glue together more siloed operations. Social media budgets are only going one way and social data is only going one way to the extent that new social platforms are being valued for billions overnight . This we know and know well.

And yet the rigour and forensics that rightly determine the marketing investment decisions and returns for today’s brands are not always applied so intensively to social media campaigns. We hear about likes and retweets and views as evidence of success, but how often do we hear about social’s impact on revenues and business value and on ROI? Social is a nascent industry and flexes eel-like every day. But it will only get more difficult as social dominates.

We hear about likes and retweets and views as evidence of success, but how often do we hear about social’s impact on revenues and business value?

Surely therefore we should be harnessing the greatest minds of our industry to this cause – those who have helped turned effectiveness awards such as the IPA Effectiveness and The Marketing Society Awards into the world leading case law and benchmarks that they are?  Should this case law not be the model for helping brands determine how much to invest, how to invest and how to evaluate their social media campaigns?

Social media case law

That is why over 18 months ago we created #IPASocialWorks – a unique industry-wide collaboration between the IPA, the Marketing Society and the MRS, with the involvement of brands such as TfL, BT, RSA as well as Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and luminaries such as LBS’s Paddy Barwise and Herdmeister Mark Earls.

Our aim – create and share a rich bank of social marketing case law as well as helpful industry guides to establish best practice in social media measurement and so help all marketers and their agencies navigate through today’s social firehose of data to prove the genuine business value of social. We must create a culture of ‘Measuring Not Counting’.

#IPASocialWorks has now peer reviewed more than 160 social campaigns from the very best brands from around the world and we have identified 13 where the case for social ROI is robust. These include IKEA, Mondelez, O2, TfL and Mattessons. All these are housed on the IPA, Marketing Society and MRS websites and we will continue to add new ones every quarter.

But importantly these cases help us create general learnings, guidelines and frameworks for how social works best and how its business value can be judged effectively.

Guidelines for brands

So last night to a joyous fanfare at the IPA, our authors and contributors Ray Poynter, global head of business planning at MindShare Simeon Duckworth, the Cassidy Partnership’s Fran Cassidy, MBA planning director James Devon and Emeritus professor of management and marketing at LBS Paddy Barwise, and I launched the Short Guide to Measuring Not Counting – How to Evaluate Social Media for Marketing Communications. And I am glad to say our guide received a very positive reception from the evening's cross-industry audience of brand owners, agencies and researchers alike.

We explained how this new guide delivers seven key messages which address the challenges associated with evaluating social media campaigns. For example, the guide highlights the need for social media evaluation to be baked in from the very start and how social should operate in tandem with other traditional channels rather than adopting a siloed approach.

The same rigour must be applied as we observe from established marketing measurement

It argues that the same rigour must be applied as we observe from established marketing measurement - using comparable metrics, linking activity to overall business objectives and ensuring a focus on long term results. At the same time the guide reinforces the need to exploit the real-time evaluation benefits that social offers to evolve a campaign and so effectively change the way many campaigns are measured today

At #IPASocialWorks we see this short guide (and our longer ‘expert’ version of the guide primarily for research practitioners), as the first step in providing definitive, industry-wide guidelines to social media measurement and so proving its genuine business value. We will also run a series of industry training workshops around it which start this Friday at the IPA for clients and agencies and research companies alike.

It is our hope that this guide and its subsequent iterations will become a vital tool for all brands and organisations concerned with measuring the business impact of the tomorrow’s dominant medium. In short, we are hoping The Short Guide helps ensure that the marketing world, in its application of social, is always (and not just sometimes) ‘Measuring Not Counting’.

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