Social Networking ROI: Measuring the Impact of C2C

“I have to tell you about this new brand of shoes I found…”

This statement can make a marketer’s heart burst with pride. It means the messages being delivered from business to consumer (B2C) are transforming into consumer-to-consumer (C2C) messages. Most marketers believe this is an exceptionally powerful and valuable transformation. But exactly how valuable is it?

A great discussion of this issue is in the “Never Ending Friending” report (PDF download) commissioned by MySpace and published in April. The report proposes that “B2C + C2C = value creation,” and I essentially agree with this equation. The trick for the harried marketer is determining the plan that will actually make this formula come to life. It’s easy to get swept up in belief of C2C momentum without actually figuring out how to do it (or how measure it).

Social networks should be a component of an online marketing strategy, but they must be integrated into your overall plan. A lot of businesses may rush into the social networking environment and find they push the data into its own silo. This is even more likely when multiple teams create programs: some traditional site side, some SEM (define), and some social networking. It’s critical there be a cross-tactic measurement and ROI (define) model in place before a new program is launched.

Integration needn’t mean slow and cautious. The ability to launch programs from the safety of an integrated marketing infrastructure actually gives you more freedom to experiment. If you know up front how you’ll measure it, you can focus energy on the program itself. Always having a measurement framework and ROI models in place permits you to roam far and wide tactically without giving up strategic momentum.

Having consumers tell your story can set your brand on fire, but you want to make sure you keep close tabs on exactly which story they’re telling. Putting a foot in the social networking pool also obligates you to learn how to track and measure conversations taking place. From publicly available services like Technorati to proprietary tools such as Visible Technologies, you can create a powerful toolkit for measuring C2C impact.

The biggest lesson to be learned here is that almost everyone else: your competitors, your partners, and your customers, are still trying to figure all this out. Though there are many young consumers who spend massive amounts of time involved in social networking, the general population is still ramping up. Study the MySpace generation carefully, and treat those lessons as predictions of future behavior for your own audience.

So, what should you do first?

  1. Check out the “Never Ending Friending “report.
  2. Set up your MySpace page (at least have someone in your marketing department show you his).
  3. Find a message being passed around and try to track it back to the source (i.e., find an online campaign that drove subsequent C2C conversations).
  4. Mock up a new scorecard for your business that includes C2C metrics.
  5. Tap into the conversations using social media tools.
  6. Create a campaign idea and run it through your team — and your teenager.

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