Fans and likes are great metrics, but not outcomes

Recently, some colleagues and I were introduced to someone in our space whose firm was primarily focused on social media strategies and activities.

Recently, some colleagues and I were introduced to someone in our space whose firm was primarily focused on social media strategies and activities. As a PR guy who's always interested in hearing about what people are creating and doing, and what's been working (or not), I was hoping to learn a bit given the reputation this team had garnered in the marketplace and some of the clients that they'd won of late.

While some of the ideas were definitely creative and buzz-building, pretty much every single execution's results were measured with “we got so-and-so to tweet about it” or “we got 500 ‘likes' for the brand in one day” or “it got retweeted 3,000 times.” While perfectly valid as metrics, those are certainly not outcomes. At least not in 2011, in my opinion. Disappointing, to say the least, considering the way people viewed this particular team, if that's all we're focused on.

Sure, we can set goals against “awareness” and what levels of fans, friends, followers, responses, and such we want to secure as part of our programs and campaigns, but shouldn't we set the bar on something that actually moves our clients' business goals? For instance, if it's a charitable organization for which we're doing a campaign via Twitter, the number of retweets is valuable, even directional in measuring success, but the amount of donations of time or money or gifts in kind is what we're really concerned about. If we're going back to our clients or colleagues with “We got 3,000 retweets for our charity message” as the result of our efforts, we're wildly overvaluing social media activities in those cases.

Anyone who's spent time pitching stories and seeing the results of that work with journalists, bloggers, and other publishers knows they're not 100% measured on the page views, circulations, or readerships of wherever those stories appear. Those days are long gone, at least in my experience. Our clients are savvy, the time to market for most news and sales is amazingly fast, and if they're not seeing sales, inbound Web traffic, or other outcomes, they're likely to change gears.

This doesn't mean we're not going to have goals set against social media metrics – 10,000 “likes” this year, 1 million Twitter followers, and so forth. What it does mean is that those won't be the end result, or outcome, that we should be focused on in the long term.

In a story this week in the UK's Marketing, Unilever's Keith Weed says that while “most of the time we can prove better ROI online than in TV,” he's looking for “engagement and advocacy.” From where I stand, single retweets and hitting “like” on a page isn't necessarily either of those, if you have to start from zero every single time you want to activate those “fans” you've been counting. We can do better.

Tom Biro is a Seattle-based VP at Allison & Partners. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com or on Twitter @tombiro.

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