Finding The “Missing” Link
There has been an approach to social media measurement that takes aim at discovering ‘true social value’, the assumption being that there is value in social beyond digital, value that can’t be measured. Speculation is one thing, but the confidence that a new method or tool will eventually surface and allow for a treasure trove of social media value is purely unscientific (as in scientific method).
It would be naive to think that social media didn’t hold some sort of value beyond measurement, as this has been the case since marketing measurement was introduced. These measurement problems aren’t new to social campaigns: creating marketing value is often situational, it’s relationship is dependant on both a business model and environment. What’s successful in one situation may not be successful in another.
Here’s an example:
For those small local businesses that leverage social media and don’t advertise elsewhere, the relative value to using social is massive in comparison to no advertising whatsoever. Social advertising is unquestionably better than nothing, and considering that it’s free, there is huge incremental value created by properly leveraging social networks. This approach also makes it easier to measure the impact and true value of social media campaigns, particularly given that the baseline control is “no advertising.” In a case such as this, lift, or actual net marketing performance, is fairly obvious.
On the other hand, there are a variety of companies that run social advertising campaigns designed around creating awareness. However, when social is treated as a “media”, the incremental value may be close to zero, or is often less than the cost to analyze the true value of an initiative or campaign.
One consideration: Social events such as “Likes” or comments alone are responsible for little value. Rather, these events should be treated simply as a representation or affirmation of awareness initiated by other media. Simply put, social events such as Likes may be used to recognize value in other media spending, however they may not add additional marketing value.
Why is this probable?
Organically, it’s unlikely that a person with no previous connection with a brand or product would “Like” it, and would do so if they were already a fan. Should this be the case, there will be very little acquisition/incremental awareness being created. If this case is untrue and people “Like” a company without reason, then the issue with social marketing analysis extends far beyond tools – the entire concept and data driving the analysis itself is flawed.
In this scenario you would have to consider the percentage of Likes that are not representative of a person actually Liking an entity. With this in mind, what happens to the idea of all those “spread the word” models out there? Is a person really an “influencer” if they’re clearly auto-Liking?
However, if the user truly does Like a company, the number of Likes or similar social events are more representative of the size of a loyal customer base than they are of overall awareness, and are much more accurate when tracking success in other acquisition/awareness campaigns.
Focus Your Energy On Results, Not Excuses In The Wrong Places
All of this said, when it comes to the acquisition/awareness area of social media, I believe some value is being created. The common issue seems to be that the value, when measured, is typically considerably less than everyone expects. This results in “the pursuit of social value”, an immensely popular, speculatory undertaking where measurements seem to be contrived from thin air. I mean come on, there has to be missing value here somewhere, right?
This fundamental problem is an old one: when it comes to measuring online value, the definitions are scattered across the map, making it easier to claim that value is being created by simply inventing a new method of measuring success.
If people keep trying to understand the value of social beyond how it can presently be measured, and limit their focus to the acquisition/awareness area, I think they’ll find that, in many cases, the value will continue to be less than the actual cost of measuring it.
Alternatively, those who are truly seeking this “missing” social value should consider a focus on customer analysis, specifically looking into the retention/loyalty area, where the entire concept of social is much more organic, as opposed to a forced fit. This approach treats customers as people (rather than events) that can generate recurring value.
Why Should You Choose This Approach?
In my experience, it’s people that are social, media itself is not. Media metrics are constrictive, it’s people metrics that are decisive, and that’s where you will derive social value.
By approaching social media in this respect, I am optimistic in the value of social.
One thing I will never do is insist that there is value without properly measuring it first. That’s just not how science works.
Best of luck,
PS: I’m considering creating an article on the customer journey and how its influenced by various marketing channels, including multi-channel funnel measurement. For those unfamiliar with multi-channel funnels, check out the video below. Please connect with me if this is of interest!