The foolproof way to measure social media vs the 3-second brush-off

By Alun Probert

Thursday June 9, 2016

The news that Facebook thinks a video counts as being “watched” after only three seconds reignites concern about the best ways to measure social media. Amid ongoing confusion about clicks and eyeballs, views and attribution, surely very few videos can convey any message at all in three seconds.

Except maybe “please leave me alone”.

Measuring the worth of advertising is a problem that long predates social media. In trying to work out what 50% works, we’ve never really known how many people were watching our TV ads, with audience figures often calculated on the activities of a “representative” panel recording their watching habits in a diary. In print, we were once comfortable with the idea that anyone who had “looked at or read” a copy of a publication in the last six months was of equal value to those people who actually bought it.

Frustrating certainly, but ultimately the point of measuring effectiveness has never really been about how many people you reached. It’s obviously good practice to dissect what worked best, but in any organisation, the most important question to answer, especially in the eyes of the finance director, about the effectiveness of communications activities has never been about “Tarps” or “Pre and Post awareness”. The only question they care about is far more basic.

Did it work?

And whether you’re investing in a dazzling new deployment of digital wizardry or just booking some dull press ads, it’s this question that every marketeer needs to be able to answer.

The most foolproof way to measure social media is against the specific outcomes that prompted you to include social media in your plan in the first place. Your strategy should also be really clear on the part social media plays in the communications mix overall, taking into account other variables that affect how people act in response to your communications.

And it’s against those outcomes that you can measure the effectiveness of your campaign. In short, did it work?

Unfortunately, just like the internet gold rush around 2001 which saw hundreds of millions of dollars spent on poor website strategies, many organisations have jumped feet first into social without absolute clarity about the specific outcomes they are seeking to achieve or where social fits in the big picture mix. As a result, we sometimes see work in “social” happening in silos or in “digital” teams one step removed from the organisation itself.

In the worst case scenarios, lots of effort and time is wasted on the social media equivalent of shouting loudly from a rooftop.

The first step to measuring social media is to step back and audit specifically where it fits in the organization overall. What it is trying to achieve and how that can be measured. So many of the problems organisations face in measuring social started with the mistaken view that publishing on Facebook and Twitter was somehow “free”. Some of those new publishing ventures (and that’s what they were) may not have needed a business case. Or any justification for the hidden costs in time and effort in keeping them up to date and being able to listen and respond 24/7. Without a clearly articulated original strategic purpose, it’s no great surprise their value is now proving hard to measure.

We’ve developed tools to assist organisations who find themselves in that position, just as we have for those organisations that have multiple websites and legacy systems. Our tools take a holistic approach to all communications activities to help people find out what’s working as well as highlighting duplication and waste. Social media is just part of the mix.

And the foolproof way to measure social media? Make sure that before you start any marketing activity, free, digital, social or otherwise that you have a really clear idea on what you’re trying to achieve and realistic and meaningful measures of how well you did. Having those robust measures in place before you start is as important as the activity.

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