Why Are Marketers So Bad At Measuring Social Media? (And How Can They Get Better?)

Nate Elliott[Posted by Nate Elliott. Follow me on twitter.]

Marketers don't think they're very good at measuring social media. 
When my colleague Emily Riley asked marketers to
rate their ability to measure the impact of their social media
initiatives, the average grade they gave themselves was 4.5 out of 10.
Not a great score -- especially given that accountability is one of the
key selling points of interactive marketing. So I've spent a lot of
time this year trying to understand why marketers aren't good at
measuring social media -- and how they can do better.

The fact is, social media marketers are drowning in a sea of
metrics. Every social platform and vendor offers its own metrics, and
there are literally hundreds of ways to measure the success of social
initiatives. With so many numbers to choose from, and so little insight
into which metrics are important, it's not surprising that marketers
feel overwhelmed.

Most marketers fixate on easily-available measures like followers or
fans -- regardless of whether those metrics are important. Many others
fail to measure obviously useful numbers just because they're not on the first page of a report. A marketer focused on talking [video] should have a radically different definition of success than one focused on embracing
[video]. But marketers are much more likely to tailor their social
media measurement to the tools they're using than to the objectives
they're trying to achieve. Have a look -- most marketers measure pretty
much the same metrics, no matter what their objective:


obvious that marketers need more clarity into which social media
metrics they should be tracking. So we've developed a simple three-step
process to help marketers better tailor their measurement strategies to
the objectives they're pursuing. Walking through these three steps will
help you cut through the clutter on your marketing reports and measure
your social media initiatives more effectively:

  • Step 1: Think back to your marketing objective. Go back and
    find your notes from when you were first planning your social marketing
    effort -- and remind yourself of the objective you were pursuing. If
    you don't know what your goal was, you'll never know what you should be
    measuring, or if you succeeded.
  • Step 2: Consider what types of metrics signal success. Don't think about specific lines on a report yet -- instead, think
    about what types of consumer behaviors and sentiments match your
    objectives, and focus your measurement on those categories of metrics.
    If your goal was energizing, success is defined as lots of people
    saying positive things about your brand; if your goal was supporting,
    you want to know if users were providing good advice to each other --
    and whether it kept users from having to ask you for support directly.  Again, this isn't about specific metrics, it's about how
    you hoped your social initiative would change your relationship with
  • Step 3: Look for that category of metric in the social technology you're using.
    Once you've identified the type of metric that will signal success,
    then you can look for ways to track those metrics within the social
    platform you're using. This is when you should get into the specifics
    of which lines on the report Facebook or Jive gives you are most
    important -- and which other vendors you need to use to find the exact
    numbers you're looking for.

In my new report, 'Three Steps To Measuring Social Media Marketing,'
I offer a framework that helps marketers place social
media metrics into one of six categories, shows them which categories of
metrics should be used to measure which objectives, and gives examples
of how to obtain those metrics from each social platform. I hope
clients use my framework; I think it will make their lives easier and
their measurement more successful.

But the key message of that report (and this blog post) isn't the
framework, it's this call to action: We as an industry must do better
at measuring social media marketing. Social media budgets keep rising,
but that trend won't continue forever if we can't prove that social
initiatives are effective. Perhaps more important, if we don't know
which social applications succeeded and which didn't, we can't learn
from our experiences and improve on future efforts. And it's
surprisingly easy to measure social media effectively: we just need to
focus on measuring objectives rather than technologies.

Whether you use the detailed framework in my report, or simply keep
these three steps in mind as you design your own measurement strategy,
I hope these ideas help you sift through all the social media metrics
that are available, and find the right ones to measure your efforts.


re: Why Are Marketers So Bad At Measuring Social Media? (And Ho

Great post. It seems obvious that we know our objective when creating a media plan or a search campaign. Yet somehow we lose sight of that when it comes to social media. We easily become lost in the chatter and the hype surrounding the medium itself.I might just add one more point, which would be to chose only one metric to track and influence. Once you have that squared away and have produced satisfactory results, chose a secondary metric and build the complexity of your interaction from there.

re: Why Are Marketers So Bad At Measuring Social Media? (And Ho

My clients are often marketers and the biggest issue they complain about is how to integrate social media metrics into their other platform's measurements. They find it extremely debilitating to know that they can't always get and apples to apples comparison between platforms. Any thoughts?

re: Why Are Marketers So Bad At Measuring Social Media? (And Ho

Thanks Nancy. And great point about focus. We always encourage our clients to select just one key marketing objective for each social media effort -- which helps them focus their strategy, and also helps them focus their measurement.Jake, that's a very good (and very big) question -- and one we're working to answer. I'd suggest you have a look at Emily Riley's ideas on 'block-and-tackle attibution' (you can see highlights in a blog post here: http://blogs.forrester.com/marketing/2009/03/measure-your-social-marketi..., and clients can read the full report here: http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/0,7211,53600,00.html). There's still no perfect way to bridge between social media metrics and offline marketing metrics -- but I think Emily's research will get you most of the way there.

re: Why Are Marketers So Bad At Measuring Social Media? (And Ho

Nate, I really enjoyed reading your post and the idea of a 3-step process to get back on track. The biggest issue I have seen is most marketers do not read the reports or try to understand them. Do you think the issue is more fundamental on how marketers work in general? Most firms I have worked with have the philosophy "Love'em, leave'em and move on the the next one". Many don't even know how to login to Google Analytics let alone understand what is really happening on their normal website.

re: Why Are Marketers So Bad At Measuring Social Media? (And Ho

Great advice! I think that too many companies skip the objective phase because they feel the pressure to get into social media. I also appreciate the framework you have created. It has been helpful in my measuring efforts.

re: Why Are Marketers So Bad At Measuring Social Media? (And Ho

I don't think it's that marketers are confused or have too many metrics to chose from. I think that for the most part, most marketers and organizations are in social media as a "me-too" strategy and did not enter with an idea to move any needle other than amass followers, fans, etc. Now that more and more are in, its time to figure out what we're getting for the money and time we are investing in it, not to mention in return for the paradigm shifts that so many executives and brand stewards had to shift over to in order to even allow the sometimes "uncomfortable" methods of social media into the marketing mix. I would venture to say, that regardless of what Forrester surveys might indicate, most marketing efforts out there are still behind when it comes to effective and business-relevant metrics. Lastly, social media is still new. Most business models have no idea how an open social network related to their organization impacts business. This may be one of the fastest marketing technology adoptions in recent times, but its still too new for many to tie to the bottom line. http://petertennis.wordpress.com