Master Class: What metrics are most important when measuring social media efforts?

Importance is always defined by the organization and the business objectives any communication effort is seeking to support.


Johna Burke
SVP of marcomms, BurrellesLuce

Jay Krall
Global product management manager, Cision, US

Tim Marklein
EVP, measurement & strategy, Weber Shandwick

Katie Paine
CEO, KDPaine & Partners

Milos Sugovic
Research analyst, Peppercom

Johna Burke, SVP marketing and communication, BurrellesLuce

Importance is always defined by the organization and the business objectives any communication effort is seeking to support. 

The most prominent and obvious metric of social media impact is engagement. Engagement is a key performance indicator (KPI); and it does not matter who in the organization currently "owns" the social media space, be it PR, marketing, or customer service. Engagement can be defined by: Are your efforts in this medium prompting interaction - either online or offline - from your programs' targeted audiences? Are you influencing attitudes and behaviors? Are your efforts increasing your sphere of influence?

Unfortunately, like most evaluation that adds true value to an organization, engagement isn't an easy metric to capture. It requires in-depth research more so than quick quantitative dashboards and tools. True engagement requires qualitative evaluation to not only show your efforts have helped shape attitudes and influence, but also show direct behaviors that you seek to achieve from your target audience. 

As there is no easy or standard metric that works across organizations and industries, this is why the "easy" quantitative metrics of number of fans/followers, retweets, comments, inbound links, and click-throughs are also important data points of metrics that can show engagement at a basic level. In social media, quantitative metrics carry more weight than in traditional media because they also impact SEO, a KPI of many PR programs.

This review of metrics further shows the similarity between traditional media and new media. Best practices use both qualitative and quantitative metrics together to tell the whole story of their efforts.


Jay Krall, manager, global product management, Cision, US

By now we all know that the social Web offers PR pros an unprecedented level of direct interaction with the public. What's less frequently talked about is the vast amount of concrete data describing which messages, themes, and voices are most influential online. The ways to measure influence online are far more plentiful and precise than the readily available metrics we've long used for traditional media. But many people don't yet know where to begin.

Simply put, the two best questions to ask when trying to measure a brand's share of voice on the social Web are: How many people are seeing mentions of the brand? How many people are sharing that mention?

The first question is measured using traditional Web metrics, such as unique visitors per month, time spent on site, and other measures of "eyeballs." These measurements are very similar in nature to traditional print circulation and broadcast audience figures. What's special about measuring social media is the ability to see how many people cared enough to share the mention with others or comment on it. Using social metrics such as inbound links, comments, and citations on social bookmarking sites such as Digg and Delicious, we can see not just who was exposed to a message, but who found it compelling enough to pass along to friends.

Have you ever been skeptical of a maga- zine publisher's claim that each copy of the magazine is read by, say, three people? Online, you can watch that "magazine" (though it might be a blog post, tweet, or YouTube video) get passed around. That's a powerful way to demonstrate return on investment for your social media efforts.


Tim Marklein, EVP, measurement and strategy, Weber Shandwick

Depending on your point of view, social media is either a powerful force that has redefined communications forever or simply a new set of channels for people and organizations to communicate with each other. Either way, for most companies and brands, social media has moved from being an object of curiosity in 2007 to modest experimentation in 2008 to mainstream adoption in 2009.

Now it's time to justify that investment in 2010. Where to begin?

First and foremost, start by clearly defining your organization's desired outcomes. For social media, this might include driving $X million in sales, engaging a new audience or community, improving customer satisfaction, or changing customer behaviors. Define the goals as precisely as possible in measurable business terms.

With desired outcomes in hand, you can then identify and prioritize the activity, reach, and relevance metrics to support those outcomes. We tend to organize these as three Cs and three Ss:

C1. Content measures: Analyzing how content is consumed, shared, adapted, and amplified, including:

S1. Site measures: Analyzing Web site metrics including visitors, time, downloads, feedback, etc.;

S2. Search measures: Assessing paid and organic search for company content and keywords;

S3. Syndication measures: Assessing engagement with brand-related content beyond your Web site, including video views, links, etc.

C2. Conversation measures: Analyzing volume, content, and sentiment of relevant conversations, including share of voice, message penetration, favorability, or intensity of opinion.

C3. Campaign measures: Assessing ROI against defined campaign objectives.

The good news is that social media is rich with data, much of it freely available. Just make sure you focus on both the metrics and the outcomes, not the tools. Insight doesn't live in silos, so you'll need multiple sources.


Katie Paine, CEO, KDPaine & Partners

Right now, there's probably no more debated issue in social media than how to measure it. The simple answer is: Yes, you can measure social media. Organizations like Southwest Airlines have known for years what the ROI of their programs are because they set clear and measurable goals, and they have excellent CRM and business analytic systems to calculate it. For the vast majority of PR folks, however, the answer to the question "How do you measure social media?" is almost always: "It depends"  - on your goals, your audience, your market, and your budget. But once you're clear on your goals, it gets easy.

First you need to make sure that you are capturing all mentions of your brand and the competition. Then you need to make sure you have Google Analytics or another good Web analytics solution in place. With those two tools you can easily generate what we've found to be the most popular metrics for measuring social media. They are:

1. Percentage increase in outcomes as measured by increase in downloads, registrations, qualified leads, or online sales

2. Percentage increase in engagement as measured by the number of repeat visitors, time on site, comments, retweets, links, and references from your blog posts or tweets

3. Percentage improvement in Google page rank

4. Percentage increase in share of desirable conversations or recommendations versus the competition

5. Percentage increase in share of desirable positioning on key issues versus competitors

6. Percentage increase in posts containing one or more key messages

7. Percentage increase in share of visibility for your thought leaders


Milos Sugovic, research analyst, Peppercom

Digital communities are founded on interaction and the currency of exchange is attention. To use economic analogies, the success of a social media effort is measured by its ability to make the audience more willing to "pay" in attention "dollars." To quantify the amount of attention paid by audience members, we should rely on the following three factors to paint a full picture: content production, authority, and intensity of interaction.

Content production is the most obvious and most readily measured factor. Research confirms the direct relationship between digital content generation and attention received - the more content you supply to the market, the higher the likelihood that it will be consumed. But measuring content production, in terms of posts to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., in any given time period is only one piece of the puzzle.

That brings us to the second factor: authority. Authority can be measured by the duration of online engagements, extent of presence in various digital communities, or the credentials and dedication for the subject matter. So gauging authority gives us a qualitative indicator of attention, as higher authority is positively related with trust, impact on the audience, and degree of attention received. 

The third - and perhaps most important - is intensity of interaction, which measures how frequently consumers pay attention. Take, for example, the number of comments and responses traded with respect to a particular blog or Twitter post. More noise means more intense online interaction, and that undoubtedly correlates with higher levels of attention, either positive or negative.

It may sound clich├ęd, but when it comes to measuring the impact of a social media effort, it's important to pay attention to the whole and the interaction of its parts.

The Takeaway:
  • Both qualitative and quantitative metrics should be used to determine the true reach of social media
  • Social bookmarking sites like and help determine not just who's reading, but who's sharing
  • Set clear and measurable goals, and put into place an analytics system to calculate

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