Social benefits: refocusing effectiveness on social measurement

Our best effectiveness minds must refocus on the measurement of social, Stephen Maher argues.


Social measurement is a hot topic for agencies and clients. How much should be invested? How does one evaluate return? There’s much counting the available numbers, but less actual measurement supporting causal effects on business performance.

As an industry, we’re world leaders in rigorously measuring more traditional activities using techniques such as econometrics.

With growing social investment, isn’t it about time more of the effort and learning is redirected to understanding what we don’t yet fully un­derstand? We have put up with less robust measurement of social for too long.

We are holding up examples that are supported only by follower volumes and re­tweets or correlated sales data (without establishing a causal relationship).

#IPASocialWorks was created because of this cross-industry frustration. It is an open, collaborative working group involving the IPA, the Marketing Society and its members, social platforms, and the thought leaders Mark Earls (pictured below) and Professor Paddy Barwise.

The mission is to provide definitive guidance as to the roles that social can play and how to measure its effectiveness and ROI.

These are the first steps of a long journey. We analysed more than 40 reports, spoke to measurement experts and investigated more than 100 case studies. From this, 20 examples were submitted to the rigour of "peer review".

"Inspired by Iceland" from The Brooklyn Brothers is a social campaign idea. Iceland faced declining visitor numbers following economic and volcanic turbulence. By empowering Icelanders to tell a story about their country on social platforms, fortunes were reversed. Using footfall data in the airport and an average spend per visitor, an earth-quaking ROI of 61 was reported.

Fridge Raiders’ sales were declining. Saatchi & Saatchi developed a co-creation strategy, surrounding a socially influential gamer, to solve how teenagers can game and eat at the same time. The winning invention was a fearsome meat-snacking helmet! Using market-mix modelling, an ROI of 2.44 was attributed to social channels.

So there is evidence that social used in a "campaign" style works and can be measured using tried-and-tested methodologies. But clearly social goes way beyond "campaigns", such as with breakthrough content and social object strategies. However, we have not yet found bullet-proof effectiveness examples here – though we’re confident we will.

The area where some of the most robust evidence has been found is traditionally beyond agency scope – customer service. Transport for London, O2 and BT have all established a way to compare effectiveness across customer service channels using a metric related to business objectives (eg. TfL’s "cost to serve" is lowest on Twitter; O2 can relate customer service impact to revenue).

The data demonstrates cost efficiencies from social often totalling millions of pounds. Furthermore, we have robust evidence that social customer service reduces churn. BT presented its "net easy" score, a measure of how easy customers find resolving problems in a given channel.

A higher net easy equals lower churn. Social channels deliver the highest net easy.

This is just the initial output from our #IPASocialWorks project. There remains much to explore and learn about the way social can benefit business. To do that, we need your help. Please Tweet @IPA_Updates, search for "IPA Effectiveness" on LinkedIn or message the IPA Facebook page.

That way, we can ensure that the industry’s finest effectiveness brains are refocused on to tomorrow’s dominant medium today.

Stephen Maher is the chief executive of MBA, chairman of the Marketing Society and chair of #IPASocialWorks


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