While companies are taking advantage of social media and technology to communicate in innovative ways, the struggle to measure results is very real. In fact, a recent survey by IBM found that 68 per cent of chief marketing officers are unprepared to take advantage of social media and 56 per cent are having a difficult time quantifying ROI for their efforts.
These two statistics are intrinsically related. As marketing and PR professionals look to harness the power of social media, we struggle to link them to a measurable business impact. It has been difficult to justify the budget spent on internal comms, PR and customer service for some time, but social media exacerbate this situation.
In the past, you looked at the stories generated and the quality of those stories (or meetings or event attendance). With social media, the natural inclination is to look at Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but there is a smarter way to measure results. If you are spending money, whether to get stories in the media, retweets on Twitter, or meetings with legislators, you are doing it not for the sake of the story, retweet or meeting, but to accomplish a tangible business outcome. The stories and retweets matter because they introduce people to your product, address a crisis, enable people to say good things, help shape or sell your product, or let customers tell you they are concerned so that you can act.
Measurement starts with a clear objective. Our clients often want to know how we will recognise if our campaign is successful. The easy answer is to know what goal we have for it at the beginning. This need not require years of research or sophisticated models. Sometimes the goal is to increase awareness of what the company does. It may be to respond effectively to a crisis to allay public concern or to better handle customer complaints. And yes, it can often be an increase in sales. If you spend money you want to make money. This is not outside the realm of what good PR or social media can deliver.
These objectives require further clarification. Raising awareness is not specific enough. What you most likely care about is letting people know that you are releasing a new product or service or that you are a good steward of the environment. Increased awareness can be code for increased sales.
Next, you set measures of this success. For example, improving customer service requires a measurement of where you stand now and then tracking how that changes over time. APCO has done this for companies by measuring all comments in social media, call centres and other channels and then assessing each comment for positivity, neutrality, or negativity. This sets the baseline. We then respond to those comments through appropriate channels (for example, tweets are routed through the internal customer relations staff quickly and a response is sent through Twitter).
After a year of engagement for one client, negative comments were reduced from 40 per cent of all comments to seven per cent. Another moved market share by two per cent after pursuing an aggressive digital campaign. These numbers have tangible value for the company. Fewer people are worried about the company, and more people are buying from them.
Things change quickly in social media, so we don't want to get left behind. This causes us to get too hung up on the 'what' without enough focus on the 'why.' Comms professionals should not hide from a need to justify our existence. We simply need to look at what truly matters, and then ensure our efforts deliver that.
VIEWS IN BRIEF
Is there a distinction between your personal and professional use of social media?
Not really. Using social media, even professionally, is all about giving people a sense of what you are like. I think it would be disingenuous to separate them.
I tend to use Facebook more for personal use and Twitter more professionally.
How would you deal with a Twitter account spoofing one of your clients?
Have a better comms plan. Spoof accounts crop up when you are not doing something you should. I've seen spoof accounts disappear once the spoofed account starts sharing more information in a more personal way.
From PRWeek's Digital thought leader supplement November 2011