Determining social media's value is still a challenge

As social media becomes an integral part of communications strategy, companies outside the traditional consumer-focused brands are still figuring out how to effectively use it and measure its impact.

As social media becomes an integral part of communications strategy, companies outside the traditional consumer-focused brands are still figuring out how to effectively use it and measure its impact. These issues were discussed at a recent PRWeek roundtable on social media, sponsored by Euro RSCG Worldwide PR.

"You have to take the situation and figure out what is the best way to communicate," says Ephraim Cohen, MD at Fortex Group, a participant at the roundtable. "Social media always plays a part, and what you have to figure out is how it plays a part, what are the right sites, what is the right context, what are the best approaches, and what are the types of conversations going on."

Marian Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, says more localized events, such as tweet-ups, really help bring social networking to a local level.

"These local events, where people go and have a beer or some coffee, that is where I would say it becomes a network of humans versus a network community," she says. "We're going to see more of that."

Deloitte LLC is one b-to-b company still figuring out how to best use sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, says Dana Muldrow, PR manager for Deloitte. While the company has gotten involved more over the past year or so, it is not using social media on a day-to-day basis.

"The decision-makers we want to reach are generally C-suite executives, so determining who is actually on social media and whether or not they are receiving and retaining our messages through social media has been something Deloitte has grappled with for the past couple of years," she says.

MasterCard is balancing its consumer-facing online outreach with more complex corporate issues, "putting out some fires or monitoring some conversations," says Jim Issokson, senior business leader of worldwide communications for MasterCard and head of the company's social media efforts.

"From a corporate point-of-view, MasterCard is in a unique situation where you all are our cardholders, but you are not really our customers," he says. "Our customers are the banks, so when we look at social media, we divide it into two different categories."

Though many charities and nonprofits are using social media more, Robert Wallace, VP of communications for Keep America Beautiful, says the organization focuses on empowering its local affiliates.

"People want to know what they can do in their backyard," he says. "We've come to the point where we've decided we're not the most appropriate home for [a dialogue with the public] and we're better providing the training and the tools to the local folks."

Mary Rodgers, director of marketing communications for Cuisinart/Waring, says while the company is involved in social media, she is still deciding how much investment there should be, and is looking for measurement to help her decide.

"It can end up being a gigantic hole that you can constantly pour money into and then say, 'we have X amount of people who watch our videos,' but what is the value of that?" she asks.

"I come at this from a media relations background," adds Matthew Broder, VP of external communications for Pitney-Bowes. "What's the value of a front page article in the Wall Street Journal? I have no idea, but I'm glad I got it. It's important to be part of the conversation just for the sake of being part of the conversation."

"Our main suggestion to clients is to have a call to action," says Jeff Blumenfeld, CEO of Blumenfield and Associates. For example, campaigns can ask consumers to participate in a contest or other activity that is easier to track and measure.

But overall, the social media measurement question is one that still stumps PR executives. “Your followers aren't a powerful enough measurement tool,” says Salzman. “You can check every hour to see how much money is being raised, how many people have forwarded something along, where is it being forwarded to? The next big wave is somebody who comes in and says, 'Here is the value of that.'"

Issokson says MasterCard uses a third-party vendor to handle sentiment analysis of the brand.

"We look at beyond social media, but we look at all coverage of the company in the industry and we attach more of a reputation analytics for each of the coverage," he says. "What is a positive mention on Twitter versus a negative mention? It's great that they said you're great, but they only have three followers. So there is a struggle to find the measurement on the social side."

Salzman also mentions the impact that social media can have on other areas of business, including traditional media coverage "that is going to take place because of what bubbles out of social media," and human resources.

"It's made internal communications suddenly a hot spot and takes HR and has put it in the center of the conversation," she adds. HR and internal communications can help keep employees satisfied so they are not out online, talking negatively about their company.

Muldrow agrees: "When we think about how to play in the social media space from a b-to-b standpoint, we're also thinking [about] the reputation of the organization and how we can help encourage our people to make good decisions online."

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