The confusion surrounding which brand won the Super Bowl social media battle is indicative of a medium still finding its way.
Twitter crowned McDonald’s "king of the Super Bowl" after the brand notched up 634,310 mentions during the game, which was the most-Tweeted Super Bowl ever. This was no doubt enhanced by McDonald’s campaign offering those who shared its Tweets a chance to win every product advertised during the game, including cars.
Meanwhile, Budweiser’s tear-jerking "lost dog" was the most-shared ad on social media during the game, with 2.2 million shares across Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
The welter of social media analytics about the Super Bowl shows that marketing on these platforms relies on diverse and complex metrics. There are so many ways to measure success – Tweets, retweets, follows, shares, "likes", sentiment – that it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons between ads. But Budweiser’s spot did trounce all comers on overall viewing, while Always, McDonald’s and T-Mobile also performed strongly.
Chrissy Totty, the head of innovation at Vizeum, agrees that it is hard for brands to get to grips with social media analytics as they change so rapidly. "In terms of navigating this complex, fragmented world of views, ‘likes’, shares, follows and retweets, there isn’t a simple answer," she says. There is little incentive for the big players to co-operate on a single industry standard, so media agencies have to offer their clients sophisticated dashboards with a variety of data streams.
But Nick Palmer, the head of content strategy at MediaCom Beyond Advertising, wants a single, defined metric that brands can use – though concedes that it will vary depending on the type of campaign a brand runs: brand-building, response or conversion.
"While different platforms measure performance in a different way, we’re never going to be in a position to have a single metric we can use as a reference point or to optimise towards – even for campaigns with a similar objective," Palmer says. "We must choose the most appropriate metric, per platform, that is indicative of the outcome you are trying to deliver."
Social platforms are creating and changing metrics as their own goals shift. Candace Kuss, the director of social media at Hill & Knowlton Strategies, gives the example of engagement rates that count all actions – whether that is sharing content with friends and followers or actually clicking through to a website – as the same.
"They take any user action and add them together when, clearly, they are not equal," she says, adding that measuring "mentions" of a brand is another problematic area since they may be positive or negative.
Perhaps the biggest social media story from the Super Bowl was that the discipline is becoming an extension of TV as another medium for watching ads. This is a far cry from the Oreo power-cut Tweet in 2013, which was seen as ushering in a new era of real-time marketing. Facebook, in particular, is gaining in popularity in this area. Last year, 1 per cent of Super Bowl ads seen on social media were through the platform; this year, it has risen to 25 per cent.