The Five Biggest Mistakes in Measuring Social Media

I know: You feel like you’re already taking social media seriously. You’re Tweeting and posting, blogging and following. You’ve got accounts on every site that allows you to share and you’ve got them all linked together. You’re out there and you’re social.

Big deal.

It doesn’t take much effort to set up an account on most social sites, and the effort involved in putting out content is fairly minor as well. With social media, success isn’t 90 percent showing up.

Just showing up doesn’t get you anything. It’s time for brand marketers to show up to social media with a purpose and goal, as well as a clear strategy on how to get there.

First, become extremely serious about measuring the effort you’re putting in and determining the value you’re getting out. Several companies begin just the early stages of measurement, but — just as frequently — their overall approach to measurement goes horribly wrong.

So, to help you determine how to best measure social media, let’s examine five ways people go wrong when measuring social media. I’ll also give some tips on how to do things better.

Big Mistake No. 1: Assuming Your Fans/Followers Will See a Post

The biggest siren song in social media is assuming that your number of subscribed fans (i.e., to a Facebook page) or followers (i.e., to a Twitter stream) is your audience, and every time you post something, you get to count each one of them as an impression. That just simply isn’t the way that people use social media.

Someone you count as a follower may only log on once a month. Or, she may be a fan to 175 other pages and your post may get washed away in a deluge of other posts. Don’t count your number of followers as your number of impressions.

TIP: Watch the growth of your followers and pay attention to the deeper analytics provided by Facebook Pages. That will give you greater insight into the engagement you’re generating from your page.

Big Mistake No. 2: Failing to Account for Overlap Across Networks

Speaking of fans and followers, another big mistake is double counting people. Don’t take the number of people who follow your brand on Twitter and the number of people who are subscribed to your YouTube channel and then add them together. There’s a high possibility that many are the same people. Adding everyone up gives you a good, high number, but there’s a good chance you’re over-counting.

TIP: Put out a short survey on one (just one) of your pages and ask people if they’re connected to you on multiple sites. This should give you a good percentage of people and then you can reduce your overall count by a reasonable amount and have a more accurate count.

Big Mistake No. 3: Failing to Count Clicks

Ahhhh! Honestly, this one drives me just a little crazy.

A growing number of e-commerce sites are using sites like Twitter and Flickr to drive traffic. Most sites doing this say it works extremely well. Or, rather, they believe it works extremely well.

They don’t actually know because they aren’t actually counting the number of clicks that their social media efforts are generating. They’re simply dropping URLs into tweets (and things) and that’s it. They have no idea if the post actually generated any real value.

TIP: Use a URL shortener like to keep track of the clicks you generate. This may be the easiest and most effective tip in this entire column.

Big Mistake No. 4: Disregarding Search

Increasingly, social media and search have converged. It’s remarkable.

Last month, the number-one thing you did on Twitter’s home page was log in. Today, the number-one thing you do on the Twitter home page is search. You actually have to click to get to the log in.

To measure the value you’re generating from social media, therefore, think about how your brand shows up in search. You never know when a consumer will pop your brand name into a social search engine and make a decision based on what comes up. If you only pay attention to what people are saying right now, you’re missing a long tail of value.

TIP: Use tools like SocialSeek that enable you to get a very complete picture of everywhere your brand is being mentioned and capture that data.

Big Mistake No. 5: Focusing on Followers

Whenever we measure online activity, we tend to focus on the number that is easiest to get. In social media, that number is fans or followers.

The problem with that number is that it, like many other raw numbers, is deceptive. Why? It doesn’t take into account the medium’s characteristics.

Click a button to follow or become a face is very easy and very low-impact for the consumer, so they do a lot of it. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to determine if someone has become a fan because she wants to hear from you and interact with you, or if it was just some passing whim. You may see your fan numbers go up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve created lots of value.

TIP: Pay very close attention (and make a note of) the people who respond to the things you post up: the people who comment, retweet, or engage in discussions. Those people are the most valuable subset.

The bottom line with social media measurement: we’re in some really early stages and there are plenty of bright lights to distract us. The biggest mistake of all, of course, is not to measure. With the effort you’re putting into social media, it’s like that famous bumper sticker: “If you’re not concerned, you’re not paying attention.”

Gary is off today. This column was originally published August 18, 2009 on ClickZ.

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