Not Everything That Counts can be Counted and Not Everything that can be Counted Counts: Measuring Social Media

I’ve recently done a lot of presentations on social media ROI and the question that everyone has is “How do I track ROI from Social Media?”.
This is a legitimate question, and one that you should strive to answer.  The problem is that the answer to this simple question isn’t simple at all.


For two reasons.

Not Everything that Counts can be Counted

First, not everything that counts can be counted.  What this means is that many of the things that add business value in social media can not be easily counted (unless you have a 6 figure budget to invest in measurement).
For example the value of brand awareness.  We know that there is value in brand awareness – that is what most TV and Billboard advertising aims at – yet we can’t directly tie that back to sales.  Many studies show that the more we are exposed to a brand, business, product or person the more we like them (assuming that the experience isn’t negative) and the more likely we are to choose them when making a purchase.  Even though we can’t measure the sales from brand awareness activities, we know that they lead to purchases.
The reason is that most people don’t make an immediate decision upon hearing about something or seeing it.  Purchasing is a process and the things that build awareness, trust and ultimately equity can be difficult to measure, although they are factors that lead to an eventual purchase.

Consider another example.  A customer tweets about a positive experience “I love company X – they are amazing and have top notch customer service.”  Did anyone immediately click on the link and buy the product?  Probably not.  Over time however, it may lead to purchases.

This is the problem with measuring social media, and all marketing for that matter.  Purchasing is a complex process, and many of the things that ultimately lead to a purchase are difficult to measure.  Just because you can’t tie it back to immediate sales doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

It is important to use common sense and consider the complete buying cycle to successfully measure or attribute value to social media.

Not Everything That Can be Counted Counts

This is the other truth to measuring social media.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Just because you can measure fans, friends, followers, RTs, @ replies, etc, doesn’t mean that these metrics counts.

Take # of fans.  I can’t tell you how many businesses measure the success of their Facebook efforts by the # of fans that they have.  The problem is that this has nothing to do with the ultimate success of their social media marketing efforts.  Number of fans/followers doesn’t necessarily tie back to business results.

Just because you can count something and tie a number to it doesn’t necessarily mean that it counts, and it doesn’t mean that it is ALL that counts.

Even things like engagement don’t necessarily count.  For example, a business owner I spoke with said his social media was very effective in driving his business.  He pointed to @replies and RTs.  The problem was that most of the replies and RTs were related to posts that had nothing to do with his business, so it is difficult to judge whether or not they are ultimately driving his business.

Tips for Success

The key to success in measuring social media is to inject some common sense and back of the envelope math to assess whether or not your social media is really working.  Don’t forget to look at qualitative metrics as well as quantitative, and consider your efforts comprehensively.  The keys to success are:

  • Use common sense
  • Do basic “back of the envelope math” like – how many new customers do we need to acquire for this to be worth it?
  • Include qualitative samples
  • Look at the IMPACT of social media mentions/impressions vs. counting them
  • Ask the people on the front line
  • Don’t rely too heavily on charts and graphs

What do you think?  Do you count the things that count?

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