This is the first part of a three-part series on social media evaluation tools and techniques.
There’s a lot of talk around social media and return on investment; how do we measure it, what are the most relevant metrics, what counts as good ROI, and on and on and on. But what the vast majority of this chatter fails to take into account is one thing: human behaviour. And so I’m just going to throw something out there…social media ROI is mostly bullshit.
Over the last few months I’ve been giving the subject of ROI a lot of thought. There are conventionally two spheres of social media evaluation; social metrics and business metrics. Social metrics are ‘soft’ metrics, things like follower numbers, retweets, impressions, subscribers, shares and comments. I use them visibly on this blog in the form of the tweet, recommend and share buttons. Business metrics are altogether harder, looking at website visits and source data, URL click-thros, conversion rates and average spend; they’re about sales and the bottom line. That’s your Google or website analytics data. They’re all intertwined, as one set doesn’t mean much without the other in social media evaluation terms.
And yet neither sphere adequately demonstrates what’s really going on and, in my opinion, that’s why there’s so much hullabaloo about social media ROI. The last 18 months have seen a plethora of new monitoring tools being launched, but no-one’s really come up with a decent way of measuring the impact of social media yet. And why? Because the impact of social media is on human behaviour, and that is very difficult to measure.
Going back a few years, if I wanted a new TV I’d see ads, read a few reports and make a decision based on that information. Nowadays, however, if I want a new TV I’ll Google for suggestions, ask my networks on Twitter or Facebook for recommendations, read online product reviews, research websites, go back to my networks for opinions on my shortlist and only then, once I’ve chosen a product, will I research the best price I can find. So how on earth do you actually MEASURE what role social media played in all that? CAN you even measure it? I’d argue not. I’d argue that both social and business metrics are a load of tosh when you’re trying to measure attitudes and opinions.
The closest we’ve come so far is sentiment analysis. But this either relies on automated programs that can’t possibly evaluate the nuances of the English language (show me a computer that understands sarcasm) or relies on human input that is extremely time-consuming and expensive. So where does that leave us? How can we possibly understand what’s going on in the minds of consumers?
In part two of this series I’ll take a look at the buying process and suggest a model in which brands can influence consumers before, during and after purchase to create an ongoing ripple effect throughout the social web.
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