From the Trenches

When 2,000 Facebook Fans Means Nothing

Mike Sweeney | January 5, 2011
When 2,000 Facebook Fans Means Nothing

“How are we going to measure our social media activity?”

Ah, the inevitable question.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fortunate to have conversations with a variety of prospective clients, all of whom are interested in investing in social media, and all of whom want to know the best way to measure social media success.

My typical response is “Great question.  Glad you asked.  Let me turn this around.  How do YOU think we should measure your social media activity?”

The responses are always interesting.  Here are a few samples (along with the thought bubble that sits above my head when I hear each one):

“We have no idea.  That’s why you’re here.”

Thought bubble:  Fair enough.  Admitting you don’t know something is a sign of strength – not weakness – in my book.

“Whatever we do in social media should match up with our overall marketing strategy, and therefore social media should support and be measured in a similar way to other marketing vehicles.”

Thought bubble:  Can I hire you?  You mean, social media is just a piece of the marketing puzzle, not THE be all and end all?  Excellent answer.  Now…are you actually measuring the rest of your marketing efforts effectively to begin with?

“Aren’t there all kinds of tools we can use to track activity and measure things like engagement and interaction?”

Thought bubble:  This usually comes from someone with responsibility for data/analytics, or someone who knows they will be reporting the actual results.  Tools are just tools though, we first need to decide WHAT we’re using as a success or failure barometer.

“If it’s all about the numbers, shouldn’t we be focused on accumulating as many friends and followers as possible.  I know this site where you can pay for Facebook friends and retweets and…”

Pop!  That’s the sound of the thought bubble bursting.

This is the trap that too many marketers fall into.  Whether it’s followers, friends, likes, thumbs ups, or whatever, measuring pure volume is almost always the wrong thing to do.  Especially as it relates to social media.

So what should we measure?  Contrary to what some clearly biased industry people might say, no agency, consultancy or software provider has put together the ultimate solution for tracking and measuring social media efforts.  Here’s what the average company can measure and evaluate today:

  • Effectiveness of content

We’ve been beating this drum for awhile, and will continue to beat this drum even harder in 2011.  Trying to execute a social media plan without a content plan is misguided.

You should have been measuring the effectiveness of your content before social media, and you should be measuring it now.  How many folks are reading or viewing your content?  How much time are they spending with it?  Are they interacting with it, via comments, retweets, or even direct contact?  These are the types of things we can measure and evaluate today.

  • Impact on web traffic and engagement

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume you have some type of web analytics installed, something that tracks your website, microsites, landing pages and blog(s).  You can absolutely use your analytics tool to measure the impact of social media, in basic ways like tracking traffic sources (illustrated below) and in more advanced ways like tracking the engagement levels (time on site, pages/visit, bounce rate).

Social Media Traffic

Social Media Traffic Sources

  • Actual interactions and/or outcomes

Ask your prospects or customers where and how they found you, and you’ll be surprised just how honest some will be.  Sure, some will offer the default “I googled you” response, but we’re seeing more and more people entering the sales funnel via a social media entry point or interaction, and being completely transparent about it.

Remember: social media is just another part of your marketing mix.  Yes, it’s a unique animal that should be executed and measured in a specific way, but that is not unlike how we treat search engine marketing, email marketing, display advertising, or anything else that falls under the interactive umbrella.

The cliché “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” bothered me early in my career, because it made the actual process of building certain skills and a knowledge base seem so insignificant.  That being said, I discovered that there is – and always will be – some truth in that statement.

Some in the social media world would have you believe that the cliché should be revised to “It’s not who you know, it’s how many you know.”  Thank them for telling you about their 2,000 fans and 5,000 followers, and run.  Fast.

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