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Making Quantitative Sense of the Social Web

  |  June 10, 2009   |  Comments

Combine tactical measures and conversational data to devise a way to determine the return on social media investments.

My last column offered three things to help you get started with social media based marketing: being clear about your business objectives, knowing your audience, and picking specific starting point. In this column I'll offer one more "to do." In response to e-mail, this column will address measuring the impact of the social Web on your business and using what you learn to move forward.

Quantifying the Conversation

The starting point for measurement as it applies to understanding social media, perhaps surprisingly, has little if anything to do with your campaigns. Instead, it's about understanding the conversations. Compare the social Web with broadcast, print, direct mail, or interruptive digital media (e.g., display ads and pop-ups). Measuring the latter is straightforward: count the number of outbound communications you pushed into a selected channel and determine the extent to which you delivered those impressions against your planned or target audience. It's not at all trivial, but you do have the benefit of years of experience and established best practices available through certified and proven firms.

Measuring conversations, however, is a different matter. You've a great set of tools, such as Google Alerts and TweetDeck's search capability. In a matter of minutes, you can set up real-time monitoring of your brand, product, or service on Twitter using DIY tools from such companies as Techrigy, Collective Intellect, and Radian6. Or try full-service offerings, like BlogPulse and Cymfony platforms. By using tools like these, establishing conversation basics is within your grasp. That said, you've still got a more significant challenge ahead of you: making quantitative sense of what is inherently qualitative data. For example, consider this tweet about Southwest Airlines, including an uploaded photo: "New 737 being delivered to Southwest Airlines."

What are you supposed to make of this, other than wondering what type of truck they unloaded an airplane from? Still, it's worth something to know that people are interested enough in your company that they'd take a picture of your new plane and share it.

Social listening tools help you make sense of qualitative data by performing basic relevance analysis, quantifying how often your brand is mentioned in the context of specific search terms, for example, and the extent to which those references are positive or negative. Going further, tools like Techrigy's SM2 will give you a cut on the actual sources of data: is your audience blogging, using Twitter, or both? You can use this data to steer your outreach campaigns and cover holes in your social-media-based marketing efforts.

Measuring Tactical Efforts

Getting a bit closer to your actual business, tools like Facebook's Insights provide data that quantify the value of your business presence on a social network and your associated advertising program. Using Facebook's ad manager, you can quickly set up campaigns that target very specific slices of Facebook's massive audience. Even better, using the Insights tools, you can see who actually visited your page or clicked on your ads and establish a quantitative understanding of this platform's value to your business.

Using your own business analytics data, you can extend this analysis deeper into your social media efforts. Compare your customer relationship management data with the conversational data you uncover. You'll gain direct insights into how what is being said about you is driving your business. Because people tend to build on what others talk about, you'll see the conversations forming on the social Web. It's quite likely, then, that you'll also find questions relating to these conversations showing up in customer service. The social Web is a sort of early warning system for attentive marketers.

Software platform vendors, including nGenera, are developing integrated solutions that recognize the links between the social Web and the enterprise. CustomerThink's CEO, Bob Thompson, references nGenera EVP Brian Magierski as he describes the increasing integration between customer service and community data.

Take together, these disparate data sources -- think silos and the need to eradicate them -- can go a long way toward moving your business forward as you learn to navigate the social Web and extract the business value of the information it has to offer.

Assessing Strategic Progress

By combining tactical measures and conversational data, you can come up with a way to determine the ROI (define) for your strategic efforts. If this seems a stretch, consider this: if you tracked applicable social conversations over time and could show that shifts in conversational tonality correlated strongly with the expenses incurred in product returns and associated service outlays, wouldn't you adopt this as a strategic measure and integrate this into your business dashboard? I would.

Now add in the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and take the conversational data down to the individual conversation level. Not only do you have long-term sustainability benefits (think "green" as in profits here) of the NPS methodology, using the listening platforms you can spot the primary sources of influence and prioritize your efforts in responding to and leveraging what you learn. Looked at that way, it's a pretty short step to proving real value, all gained essentially though nothing more than listening to your customers when they talk between themselves and then translating that talk into action, inside your firm.

Tying It All Together

By taking the time to listen and measure -- and reorienting your enterprise to respond to customer data rather than defend itself against it -- it's possible to navigate directly into favorable winds, so to speak, to move your firm forward and into alignment with the things your customers find valuable and talk-worthy. That's a double win and a guaranteed competitive strength. Take advantage of the current economic conditions. Tough as they may be, now is the time to put a few paces between your team and runners coming up behind. It all starts with measurement.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Evans

Dave is the VP of social strategy at Lithium. Based in Austin, Dave is also the author of best-selling "Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day," as well as "Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation of Business Engagement." Dave is a regular columnist for ClickZ, a frequent keynoter, and leads social technology and measurement workshops with the American Marketing Association as well as Social Media Executive Seminars, a C-level business training provider.

Dave has worked in social technology consulting and development around the world: with India's Publicis|2020media and its clients including the Bengaluru International Airport, Intel, Dell, United Brands, and Pepsico and with Austin's FG SQUARED and GSD&M| IdeaCity and clients including PGi, Southwest Airlines, AARP, Wal-Mart, and the PGA TOUR. Dave serves on the advisory boards for social technology startups including Palo Alto-based Friend2Friend and Mountain View-based Netbase and iGoals.

Prior, Dave was a co-founder of social customer care technology provider Social Dynamx, a product manager with Progressive Insurance, and a systems analyst with NASA| Jet Propulsion Labs. Dave co-founded Digital Voodoo, a web technology consultancy, in 1994. Dave holds a BS in physics and mathematics from the State University of New York/ Brockport and has served on the Advisory Board for ad:tech and the Measurement and Metrics Council with WOMMA.

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