Brands seek social measurement support in the too much information age

The IPA is working on a new set of guidelines to help marketers struggling to measure and understand the effect of social media on their brand campaigns, writes Shona Ghosh.

The IPA is releasing guidelines to help brands understand social media measurement
The IPA is releasing guidelines to help brands understand social media measurement

According to the wordsmiths at Chambers, the British have been ‘oversharing’ in 2014.

The dictionary’s editors chose the "subtle yet devastating" put-down as their word of the year, ahead of ‘photobomb’ and ‘digital native’. They noted that it was indicative of the UK zeitgeist, and how embedded social media has become in our lives.

Marketers struggling to parse information from proliferating social channels might be inclined to agree. Last year began with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as UK marketers’ primary social-media platforms.

However, that shifted as Instagram introduced ads, then hit more active users than Twitter. Snapchat also rolled out its first ad campaigns last year.

Measurement has moved on from 'likes'

When it comes to measuring performance on social media, the discussion has moved on from whether Facebook ‘likes’ are a valid metric, to how marketers can mesh together streams of data flowing in at all times from all sides, and not just via a dashboard.

To that end, the IPA is working on a new set of guidelines for brands trying to measure social media.

The #IPASocialWorks initiative’s chairman, Stephen Maher, says the organisation found marketers were overwhelmed by data, and all too often kept infor­mation siloed when it might be more usefully woven together.

With new data available almost every week, and a new way of looking at something, brands needed help to understand how to use this information

"We live in this world of the ‘data firehose’, where everything comes at everyone all the time, such as social and locational data," he adds.

"What we’re finding is that there are not many instances where integration of data is taking place. With new data available almost every week, and a new way of looking at something, brands needed help to understand how to use this information."

Metrics need to be comparable to traditional media

One of the IPA’s seven key recommendations, which will be published in February, is to adopt the same planning framework used for traditional marketing activities, such as "linking to objectives, based on clear assumptions, using comparable metrics".

Kristof Fahy, chief marketing officer at bookmaker William Hill, agrees up to a point, noting that the more marketers can align social-media metrics with existing frameworks, the better. That’s linked with another recurring issue for marketers – presenting the impact of social media in a way comprehensible to a brand’s senior executives.

"At some point you have to translate [social] into normal business metrics and commercial KPIs so you can justify it to the board," says Fahy. "Don’t spend time making them understand the language you’re speaking."

Speak the language of the C-suite

Rod Strother, director of technology brand Lenovo’s digital and social centre of excellence, faces a similar issue. "We get five minutes with our CMO every few months," he notes. "How do you explain to your CMO and the C-suite how well you’re doing in social when you need to start off with an elevator pitch?"

Engagement and reach are measurements, but being blunt, I don’t think they are actually that useful... You’re more reliant on woolly measures and you haven’t got a final conversion point

When it comes to results, both brands view sales as the most important metric. For Lenovo, that means actual smartphone or laptop sales; for William Hill, it boils down to new-account creation. Nonetheless, both Fahy and Strother concur that, ultimately, it’s still difficult to measure.

"Engagement and reach are measurements, but being blunt, I don’t think they are actually that useful," argues Fahy. "You’re more reliant on woolly measures and you haven’t got a final conversion point."

Strother adds that social media looks less useful when measured against standards such as last-click attribution, which identifies the last point visited by a customer before they make a purchase.

Social media's impact on the marketing funnel isn't clear

"You get asked where in the funnel social has impact, and the truth is that it has impact all the way," he explains. However, "on last-click attribution, social does not fare well".

It seems marketers have moved from being unable to measure much beyond reach or engagement, to being able to measure almost everything, bar ROI. That growing degree of complexity is also a positive indicator, although brands must be agile to take advantage of it.

"It’s wonderful that you can measure everything," says Maher. "But you must understand what to look at and what not to look at.

"What is physically available to people in the public domain is quite amazing – the fact is I can be an ASOS or Amazon and A/B test different products in a few hours and get real-time, behavioural data off the back of that."

How easy it is for marketers to draw useful insights from social media will, naturally, hinge on how the platforms develop. Since becoming a publicly listed company, Facebook has bolstered its efforts: its relaunch of ad-serving platform Atlas is seen as a major step forward. Now it’s up to smaller, younger platforms to follow suit, while brands learn to focus on a goal beyond engagement.

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