Do Social Media ‘Experts’ Overestimate Their Abilities?

July 20, 2009

by Gavin O’Malley

Perhaps because it’s still a relatively new field, interactive marketers seriously lack confidence in their ability to measure the relative effectiveness of social media campaigns, according to a new study by Forrester Research. Of 119 interactive marketers asked between May and June to rank such measurement capabilities on a scale of 1 to 10 — 1 being novice and 10 being expert — the average response was 4.5. “We find this average ambitious considering that social media is still less than four years old,” said Emily Riley, Forrester Research analyst and author of the report.

Indeed, few respondents reported having any established metrics for their social marketing campaigns.

On average, marketers’ confidence in measuring the effect of their online brand-building campaign didn’t fare much better at 5.3 out of 10. By contrast, when asked to rank their ability to measure the effect of direct-response campaigns, the average response was 6.3.

That is not surprising, according to Riley, “considering marketers have more experience with direct response tools like email and paid search compared with newer online tools like online video or blogs.”

Yet, as consumers continue to spend a greater share of time with social media, how should marketers proceed? “In order to measure the value of all types of online campaigns, marketers must move beyond easy metrics to focus instead on ones that indicate brand affinity and ROI,” said Riley.

Particularly among brand marketers, interactive metrics that are used most measure activity — like clicks, impressions, or registrations — rather than a customer’s engagement. However, clicks and impressions — i.e., metrics that are easy to track — measure little more than campaign volume, according to Forrester.

Mature direct-response marketers, according to Riley, therefore eschew easy metrics — as only one respondent reported using impressions, while 10% listed clicks as a key performance indicator.

Meanwhile, online brand marketers cling to easy metrics, as 35% of them reported using clicks as a key performance indicator.

“Richer metrics vary depending on objective,” Riley said. Engagement beyond activity can be measured for both brand and direct campaigns, although only 14% of respondents actually reported tracking brand awareness as a key performance indicator.

Specifically, mature measurement of interactive brand marketing should include qualitative research gathered through surveys, focus groups, or listening platforms.

Gillette, for example, uses a “sentiment map” created with J.D. Power and Associates to monitor how consumers’ brand attitudes change as they run various campaigns.

Forrester recommends that advanced direct-response marketers measure as far along the purchase process as possible. The University of Phoenix, for instance, links its site analytics tool to its customer database to measure the quality of the leads — based on length of time enrolled — generated by its different online campaigns.

Social media measurement, meanwhile, should employ a variety of metrics. “Most social marketers have brand goals … We recommend that marketers start with brand-oriented (key performance indicators) for their social campaigns,” said Riley.

For example, she suggested engaging the same listening platforms and survey partners as for display campaigns. New tools — like some from Razorfish — are beginning to tie the involvement and interaction pieces of social media to purchase behavior, she assured further.

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1 Response

  1. Peg Griffith

    July 21st, 2009

    As a qualitative researcher for a major research company, I get asked at least once a month to see if users will “share this page with a friend” or “post the URL to Facebook or other social networking site.” In the last year, across about 100 individuals in either focus groups or indidual interviews (IDIs), I have found ONE individual who would post a commercial page to their social networking site.

    For all the noise about social networking, what I find is that people are still talking to the same people they always talk to –friends and family. The CONTENT drives what they share — 1. humorous 2. cute 3. touching or meaningful.

    How to measure the effectiveness of networking? Clicks are not the answer. Impressions are a better approach; online journaling of behavior would be good; actual sharing behavior is probably the best.

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