We hate math.
Our abhorrence for calculation enables us to mutually agree on statistically dubious metrics with nary a shrug or arched eyebrow. Consider Nielsen ratings, which are used to determine the popularity of all TV shows and, consequently, how the dozens of billions of dollars in TV advertising is apportioned.
Nielsen ratings have a direct impact on hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. In 2009, there were 1,147,910 households with a TV in metropolitan Charlotte, North Carolina. Of those more than 1 million households, the behavior of just 619 was tracked by Nielsen to determine ratings. A total of 619 families became the unelected representative tastemakers for 1,147,291 other families. That’s not math; that’s folly.
But yet, we welcome numerical vagary and imprecision into our businesses like a box of free Krispy Kremes. We accept as truth Arbitron (and Nielsen) radio rankings, the number of cars that drive by a billboard, and the notion that somehow people read every page of a newspaper or magazine (and pass it along to 2.5 friends). Do you really know the financial impact of your TV, radio, outdoor print, public relations, and customer services initiatives? Probably not.
Social Media is Inherently Measurable
Social media almost always offers the advantage of complete—rather than extrapolated—data. The same is true of all online marketing. Whereas we have mutually agreed that 619 families are an appropriate stand-in for 1 million others, online marketing offers the compelling alternative of measuring each and every individual.
That’s the good news. One equals one.
What Should You Measure? It Depends
The bad news is that there isn’t an easy-to-convey, standardized, one-size-fits-all metric, like Nielsen ratings, for social media. And there isn’t going to be. What is measurable differs from company to company. If you’re a business-to-business (B2B) company that has a long sales cycle with many conversations with prospects before they become customers, you can determine with relative ease whether that customer was influenced in some way by your social media efforts. Alternatively, if you’re Pringles, it’s a lot tougher to make that connection.
Your type of company and how your business is structured has tremendous influence on what you can credibly and reliably measure within the social media realm. Measurement of all things—not just social media—is a discipline, not a task, and it needs to be a cultural imperative. If you’re going to ask about the value or impact of social media and how to measure it, you need to know how you determine those things for other areas of your business and translate or adapt some of those practices.
The Common Excuses
“Social media isn’t measurable” is an excuse. Here’s what companies really mean when they say that:
- We don’t have the right tools in place to collect the data we need.
- When we have all the data, we don’t know where to start.
- We don’t know which data might relate to other data to analyze it well.
- We don’t have or won’t deploy enough data collection and analysis resources to figure this out.
- We’re afraid of what measuring will actually tell us about our effectiveness.
You need to understand whether you’re equipped with the right tools and data, whether you’re willing to spend the time evaluating that data, and whether you’re functionally and culturally prepared for what it might show you.
Once you’re past that hurdle, you can get to the numbers – and if you’re going to do social media right, you need to get past your loathing for math. Nobody promised social media would be easy, only that it would be awesome.
(image from Shutterstock, a Convince & Convert sponsor)
This is the seventh in a 7-week blog post series covering themes included in The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter, and More Social - my new book with Amber Naslund, (available at Amazon now in hard-cover and Kindle).