'Measuring' not 'counting': Bridging the social media gap
A view from Stephen Maher

'Measuring' not 'counting': Bridging the social media gap

The chair of #IPASocialWorks explains why there is not enough "measuring" and still too much "counting" when it comes to evaluating social media.

Last year UK social media adspend grew by 45% according to the IAB/PwC. 2016 is likely to be no different and this is before earned and owned social are mixed in.

A recent chief marketing officer survey in the US said it expected social media spend to be 20.9% share of marketing budgets in the next five years. However the same annual survey reports that only 11.5% of marketing leaders believe they have proven the impact of social media quantitatively and only 3.4% say that social media contributes very highly to their business performance.

Here is the disconnect: we know that social is today’s ascendant and tomorrow’s dominant medium, yet the rigorous case law proving business value which we take for granted with over 30 years of IPA Effectiveness Awards and Marketing Society Excellence Awards is just not there yet.

In short, there is still not enough "measuring" (of causal and not just correlated business return) and still too much "counting" (of intermediary measures such as likes, retweets and indeed views).

It is for this reason that we established #IPASocialWorks over three years ago. As Paddy Barwise, emeritus professor of marketing and management at The London Business School, our academic adviser on the project, says: "I’m not aware of anything elsewhere that matches its scale and quality."

#IPASocialWorks is the world’s first cross-industry collaboration of its kind across brands, agencies, insight specialists and social platforms to accelerate knowledge and best practice on social media measurement. An IPA, Marketing Society and MRS-led body, we are blessed with involvement from marketing leaders from ASOS, BT, O2, Transport for London, Travelex as well as Mindshare’s Simeon Duckworth, Brainjuicer’s Tom Ewing and support from Facebook and Twitter. 

Our aims are threefold: develop a robust bank of case law proving the business impact of social on brands through campaign evaluation; social insight and personalisation; launch accompanying ‘how to’ guides and bespoke training; and spread the word as often and as globally as we can – hence our presence this week at Bafta for Effectiveness Week.

So what are our results so far? We have reviewed over 250 cases, peer reviewed over 60 of these and then selected over 20 for Coca-Cola, O2, US Navy, Philippines Tourism, TfL and many more where we can see a direct relationship between social – whether paid earned or owned – and a business return.

Many of those we’ve reviewed are falling down because they lack some effectiveness "basics" such as defined KPIs and the thinking ahead about the data required, to prove or disprove a hypothesis. This hints at underlying issues in social – such as maybe the need for more training in the rigours of marketing effectiveness. As Fran Cassidy, #IPASocialWorks project director and one of the authors of our guides, says: "The contribution from social datasets to customer understanding and the evaluation of its impact in brand communication remains patchy at best".

To help embed this rigour into business cultures, we have also developed training modules and ‘how to’ guides which are jammed with best practice, case studies, seven-point checklists and five-point plans for how to bake social media measurement into the architecture of any marketing.

The first is on evaluation; the second on insight – where as Jessica Salmon, head of research at O2 says: "As consumers’ adoption of multiple social platforms evolves and becomes more sophisticated, so must our approach – moving from simply counting ‘likes’ to understanding sentiment, context and integrating with other sources".

And just this week we are launching a preview of our third guide on personalisation – where its author Celina Burnett, marketing analytics at Asos says: "This explores the evolution of personalisation and how brands and agencies can use social media to fuel more relevant experiences. We've got some great case studies included such as the BBC, O2 and Adidas which show the real breadth in approaches for how social media and social media data are being used to drive business outcomes".

So at #IPASocialWorks we are committed to continually learning together as social morphs excitedly every day. As the writer and behavioural change strategist Mark Earls says: "This is no one-off wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am study but a more practical body of learning which moves and evolves as the environment does (and one thing we all know is - that landscape is not going to simply shift from how it was to some simple alternative state)."

There will always be one constant in our work however – the need to keep proving (what we know intuitively to be) social’s real business value. And that means more ‘measuring' not 'counting'.

Stephen Maher is chief executive of MBA; chairman of The Marketing Society and chair of #IPASocialWorks