Web Analytics for Social Media

Most marketers approach social media in the same way they’ve approached broadcast media for decades. And that’s true of measurement as well. But with social media, the old rules don’t apply.

Traditionally, marketers focused on quantity metrics like impressions. As the Web emerged as a marketing platform, we translated that approach to digital, emphasizing quantity metrics like unique visitors and page views. Later, as the Web matured into a bona-fide business channel, transaction became important: sales conversion rate, average order value, and so on.

Web analytics, like much of the marketing world, has tended to focus on the short term, measuring marketing to do better marketing.

But social media is different than transaction, and it calls for a different approach to measurement. Today we look at the quality of relationships, experiences, and, yes, transactions, and we look at them over time. Unique visitors, for example, is still an important metric, but so is registered users. And more important still are metrics like return visitor sign-in.

We also look at the amount of user-created content, but we’re more interested in measures of qualified content consumption. It’s great if someone comes to your site and buys your product, but it’s even better if she returns for service, tells her friends about the product, buys an upgrade, submits a suggestion, blogs about your response to her idea, and so on.

True Business Intelligence

On today’s crowded Web, the winners are the people who create the most value for both the customer and the business over time. And value happens not when people buy your product but when they use it and love it. Not when they upload a video, but when someone else watches it.

Is it still important to strive for quantity? Absolutely. Awareness, for example, is key and always will be. But you get what you measure. Focus exclusively on quantity, and you’re guaranteed to compromise quality. So make sure your KPIs (define) reflect the creation of value, not just the number of widgets you sell.

Here’s the other thing: traditional (broadcast and transactive) marketing measures tend to show campaign efforts’ effectiveness, and Web analytics tends to measure Web site effectiveness. But social media, because it enables you to listen as well as speak, offers the opportunity to generate true business intelligence.

Measuring marketing in social media isn’t about measuring your marketing to do better marketing, it’s about understanding the customer, uncovering opportunities, and informing strategy to run the business better. The real opportunity in social media measurement isn’t to see how well you’re doing in social media but to translate online conversations into true, actionable intelligence that informs business decisions.

How Do You Measure Social?

Some great tools can help you monitor the online conversation, ranging from free (e.g., Google Alerts, Technorati Watchlists, FriendFeed, Yahoo Pipes, etc.) to, uh, committing (e.g., TruCast, BuzzMetrics, Cymfony). The more expensive tools are worth what they cost, but the free tools are easy to set up and, well, they’re free.

And sometimes getting started is the biggest hurdle. You may just want to get something going on the cheap, show the value of your effort, and lobby for a robust, programmatic solution to monitor online activity and engage your customers where they hang out. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn, and you’ll probably really enjoy it.

The real challenges aren’t technological, but operational. You have to define the right governance policies to manage customer engagement through social media, and you have to build the right workflow to prioritize responses, route information to the right people, and manage your content even as you release it into the wild. Employees need encouragement to participate, and they need clear guidelines about exactly when, how, and where to get involved. It takes effort, but the payoff can be tremendous.

So don’t stop at measuring your marketing efforts’ success, or even the sentiment expressed in the broader online conversation about your brand. It’s great to monitor online activity, better to develop reporting around online activity, and better yet to engage customers in their native online habitats.

Translate Insight Into Action

And don’t stop there. Where the rubber really hits the road, and where social media has the potential to transform your business, is where insight gets translated into action. And that’s where analysts, as the translators of social media data, have the opportunity to position themselves as crucial mediators of customer/business relationships.

Shane is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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