Steve Richards, managing director, Yomego
Steve Richards, managing director, Yomego
A view from Steve Richards

Think BR: The difficulties in developing social media metrics

Why are we still lacking decent social media metrics, asks Steve Richards, managing director, Yomego.

A lack of decent metrics is holding back the development of social media as a marketing channel. Clients know it - and their budgets remain constrained without them.

Agencies know it, but it’s a big problem to fix. Measures such as likes and follows are doing no one any good, but why do we remain so wedded to them?

It’s no secret that at Yomego, we are looking to overcome this, as many agencies are. We are in the middle of developing a metric for measuring engagement that stands up both academically, and with major clients.

But before we began our project, we took a long hard look at the social media measurement landscape - and we invited others, prominent in the field, along to an open discussion on the topic at a round table this summer.

At the event, we had top thinkers from the likes of British Airways, Mediacom Worldwide, the CIPR Measurement and Evaluation Group, an academic and more. All experts in understanding social influence.

What did we find?

In essence, there are several issues that the industry is grappling with, and these are barriers to being able to really tackle the impact that social media has on a business.

Here they are, in brief. If you want to read more, take a look at our whitepaper for a fuller explanation. We’ll also be releasing details of our metric soon.

  1. 1. Definitions

The first big issue is understanding what we mean when we talk about ‘the impact social has on a business’. What are we measuring? This is a big issue across the sector, where terms like influence and engagement are bandied around with multiple definitions.

There is some work being done by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) around defining meanings of widely used terms, which is valuable.

But on top of defining terms is the need to understand what social means to a business - and how interactions in that space can impact on them. Businesses need to define the terms they are working to so that these discussions can move on.

  1. 2. Data and training

The second major issue is data - both processing it and making sense of the huge volumes involved. In theory, we should be able to understand what engagement looks like by crunching numbers: how many people are engaging; where, how and what we can do to get people to do more of it?

Except instead we’ve got a new myth: that because there’s behavioural data there, we can measure and understand it. But we are lacking the analysts so make sense of things.

As much as we need creatives, we now have tonnes of data on any given brand and not enough clever data ‘architects’ to analyse it. Until brands really understand the cost/benefit analyses behind social engagement, budgets will be constrained by a lack of meaningful ROI.

Businesses across the marketing sphere need to invest in people that can make sense of the data deluge.

  1. 3. Dangers of micrometrics

Does a ‘like’ denote engagement? How about a ‘follow’? We instinctively think a retweet is positive engagement, but how much more valuable is a retweet than a like? A like can also be bought cheaply with a discount coupon or special offer from a brand, and as quickly lost. These metrics are applied inconsistently, and looked for in their own right without asking: "what comes next?"

As long as it’s genuinely given, a like or a follow is necessary for engagement. If you want people to interact with you, then it helps that they have taken the first step. You need your fans and consumers to say: "Yes, OK. Keep talking…"

And that’s the major difference. If we are considering engagement, then these metrics are a first step, not a last one. They are a gateway but don’t constitute engagement. These metrics also encourage a more traditional, advertising-led model of thinking, with acquisition as the end goal.

  1. 4. Understanding the journey

So what is the point of understanding social engagement and attributing a value? Did the fact your brand engaged with someone on Facebook or Twitter contribute to a sale? Would that person have bought it regardless? Did purchases contribute to engagement?

Social engagement has so far been driven by instinct. Social budgets have grown to date largely on a collective hunch by marketers that building a two-way relationship is a good idea.

The specialists will underline the fact that 74% of online purchases in the UK are based on peer reviews. Advocacy matters. It’s important, but how important is not really understood. How much positive engagement does a brand need to make a difference to the bottom line?

It’s an easier nut to crack if you break it into pieces and look at business drivers - such as reducing churn, driving traffic, increasing footfall, boosting conversion and cutting operational costs.

Then we can see how social impacts these and start to work out a value across a business. And as these measures improve over time, then social’s role can start to be appreciated.

  1. 5. Responsibility

One of the biggest battles in the engagement debate is about where it sits in the organisation. Is engagement a PR aim, or is it something that will shift units?

An enlightened answer would be that it is both - there are no interactions with consumers that don’t impact on perception. And long-term, perception impacts on sales.

At the moment, the battle to own engagement is between the PR and the marketing teams. On one side are those arguing that what matters are the relationships and advocacy that can be fostered through social channels. And on the other are the brand owners that need to justify a return for all this warm and fuzzy positive sentiment.

Both sides are right. Both matter. But unless both sides can work together and break down the silos to come up with a workable model

  1. 6. Good enough metrics?

Even recent attempts to understand the value of an engaged fan - important research - still acknowledges that there are problems. But understanding values in social will bring it more into line with some other media channels, where campaigns can be planned with a confidence that means spend can be justified.

BARB, ABC and RAJAR have long been subject to criticism - anyone that uses them regularly knows that they are not perfect. But at least part of their trust is built on the fact that they’ve been around a long time and no-one’s come up with anything better.

They are measures of awareness, of course, and not engagement, but they still release the purse strings. Social needs a plausible model if it is to achieve what it is capable of and punch its weight in budget allocation.

Recognising the faults in a metric is an important part of knowing how to deploy and understand it. As Richard Bowden, digital marketing innovation manager at BA said: "When it comes to social, I’m not interested in a framework that is 100% completely proven across the board, because we’re not going to get there in 12 months’ time."

Steve Richards, managing director, Yomego