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How to Measure Social Media - and Show Results to the C-Suite

  |  December 19, 2012   |  Comments

Steps for drawing a circle of value linking back to the most crucial business metric: the bottom line.

When social strategists and brand marketers launch a social media campaign, metrics are often overlooked during the planning phase. I've seen this on both sides, from an agency perspective and a brand perspective. And often, this oversight is due to loaded questions such as: What metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) should we track, why, and how does this affect the bottom line? These are all reasonable questions that often go unanswered when tracking social media campaigns and measuring the "bottom line."

I'm not here to point fingers or make anyone look bad. I just want to share some simple steps to prepare for a social media campaign's launch, and how to draw a circle of value linking back to the most crucial business metric: the bottom line.

Metrics can be a bothersome, confusing layer to a campaign, whether it's social media or any other digital campaign. Metrics are difficult to prove. And social strategists often have the most difficulty, out of anyone in the organization, trying to prove the value of a major effort put forth in the digital space. The majority of CMOs are traditional marketers, and unless one dollar invested isn't greater or equal to that dollar put forward, business value comes into question. In 2012, CMOs will intensify their scrutiny of social media investments and evaluate their overall worth. Social strategists and brand marketers must be prepared.

Consider this survey by IBM, published by eMarketer:


Traditional vs. New Media Approach

No matter what platform or social media channel that is used, measurement standards should be platform agnostic, and capture the essence of the end business result. Your brand must be creating, rather than be tool dependent. Traditional ROI calculations within social are a wash; they are being supplemented by softer "conversation buzz" and "influencer metrics."

Translating Traditional ROI Metrics

Brand marketers typically calculate return based on investment and what it brings to the bottom line. However, social media campaigns require assessing different metrics, such as five laid out by Altimeter's Brian Solis:

  • Return on engagement: The duration of time spent either in conversation or interacting with social objects, and in turn, what transpired that's worthy of measurement.
  • Return on participation: The metric tied to measuring and valuing the time spent participating in social media through conversations or the creation of social objects.
  • Return on involvement: Similar to participation, these are touch points for documenting states of interaction and tie in metrics and potential return of each.
  • Return on attention: In the attention economy, we assess the means to seize attention, hold it, and measure the response.
  • Return on trust: A variant on measuring customer loyalty and the likelihood for referrals, a trust barometer establishes the state of trust earned in social media engagement and the prospect of generating advocacy and how it impacts future business.

These five participation metrics can allow you to discover and then plant the seed to value in your programs. In fact, it's proven needed in 2011 based on a recent survey done by eMarketer. It evaluated the metrics used by CMOs worldwide to measure the value of social media marketing activities.


In 2011, site traffic, the number of positive mentions, page views, and contributors were the top metrics that CMOs looked toward for value from social media. One significant metric that saw the largest jump was conversion and after that revenue. Each jumped 33 and 20 percentage points respectively from 2010 to 2011, a clear sign that the bottom line and results are a growing need from the C-suite when looking at social media ROI.

5 Phases of Social Media Measurement


Source: Nick Cifuentes

Working your way down the funnel, metrics become "harder," going from the wider top of the funnel where social metrics are often soft and tagged as views, followers, fans, subscribers, and overall brand mentions within the digital space. Once a user enters the funnel and begins talking about you, the next level down would be her influence, how users speak about your brand, what is their perception, what is their social equity, and do they have a high number of followers, fans, a highly read blog, etc?

Next, you want to focus on the actual engagement: Was it a click, a tweet, a retweet, a share, an @ reply, direct messages (DMs), wall posts, comments, and so on? "Engagers" are the next level before an actual conversion occurs that would affect the bottom line. Be prepared: the time delay that goes from being an "engager" to a "converter" can vary. It could happen within a day; it could happen in six months. This part of the funnel is obviously the most attractive to CMOs, but as a social strategist, you must translate this to the higher level in the correct manner. At some point, you may or may not see a conversion, but realize you have built your brand equity even stronger with the addition of this "engager."

Finally, for those who do convert, depending on what level they're at, whether it's a sign-up, a registration, a purchase, a download, whatever that conversion may be - that is connecting the bottom line. And that is what your CMO wants to see.

Once a person converts, social media continues to be active in the "retention" process, keeping your customer always learning and coming back for more. With this, you create brand advocates, who will most likely share their experiences with their communities, on and offline. The long-term effect here is what makes social media more valuable than any other form of marketing. It connects with every part of your organization's business.

Social Branding image on home page via Shutterstock.

This column was originally published on January 4, 2012.


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Nick Cifuentes

Nick Cifuentes is the global social media director at Ancestry.com, the world's largest online resource for family history, with 2 million paying subscribers as of July 2012. An industry veteran, Nick has worked in digital media and marketing since 2004, functioning in strategy, copywriting, analytics, search, planning, online media, and social media. He is a frequent guest writer on various industry blogs, and publishes his own blogs as well, including one focusing on digital media, and another on his side passion, ultramarathon running.

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