Last year at SXSW, I participated in a panel on social media measurement with Margaret Francis of Exact Target, Megan Costello of Crimson Hexagon, Blake Robinson of CNET and Chris Lightner of Edelman, called “Advanced Integrations of Social Media Analytics.” In retrospect, not the most user-friendly of titles, but it was essentially a workshop, with framework, examples and tips on social media measurement.
We prepped intensely, meeting weekly to run through the most recent and useful examples, tips and tools we could find. Our slot was the highly-coveted Tuesday at 3:30 session, by which point, we figured, we’d have to yell over the sound of the vacuums to the one hungover guy who’d missed his plane and was snoring in the back. The room was packed; people need and want to know this stuff.
In the interim, I published my research report, “A Framework For Social Analytics,” in which I interviewed about 40 brands, vendors and agencies on how they measure the business value of social media. It’s an emergent, imperfect discipline, still as much art as science, but there’s no question: companies are measuring social media, many with rigor, significant investment, and most importantly, useful results.
All of which is to say: Social media is measurable. It can be done. To say social media can’t be measured is a cop-out, and dangerous for anyone who works in an organization that, say, plans to make or raise money at some point in the future.
This year, I thought it would be interesting to go to SXSW as a tourist and see as many sessions and meet as many people as I could. I met with a bunch of companies including some interesting stealth startups whose ideas I’m sure we’ll be talking about next year. They take the measurement of social extremely seriously, and they also understand, as is a foundational philosophy at Altimeter Group, that it is innately driven by relationships. These ideas co-exist happily in their minds and business models.
So I was disappointed to miss Olivier Blanchard at today’s Social Media ROI panel, even more so to hear people whose opinions I respect recycle the same magical thinking about social media measurement that I thought (hoped?) we’d dispensed with already. Olivier quoted a lot of it on his blog post today. Here’s a representative example:
“Asking if there is ROI for Social Media is like asking if there is an ROI of the telephone or a pencil.”
Actually, no. It’s not. Social media is different. It’s not “just another channel,” because telephones and pencils simply don’t empower consumers the way that social media does.
Asking about the ROI of social media is a legitimate question, and the people who paid money and took time to attend the panel today (as do the people who funded their trips and programs and are expecting some insight when they return) deserve thoughtful and specific answers. I can think of a couple dozen people working in this space as analysts, authors, consultants, technologists and practitioners who would have sent the audience away with plenty of valuable examples. Olivier has written a book on the subject, I’ve written a research report (and am starting work on another), and there is no lack of serious work in this area. Really.
So, for the last time, we need to dispense with this magical thinking about social media; that somehow it exists on a plane beyond accountability or understanding. Jeremiah Owyang recently released a report on social media management systems in which he found that the average company he surveyed has 178 social media accounts. Are we really naive enough to believe there was no investment in these properties worth evaluating? Will they magically receive funding next year? Do we even know what they are?
We measure lots of things, and they seem to withstand the process perfectly well. We learn from what we measure, and we get better as a result. It’s our responsibility, whether we work for a magazine, an oil company, a global charity or ourselves.
So, whoever does this type of panel next year, I challenge you to treat these questions–much more importantly, your audience–with the respect they deserve. We’ll all be the better for it.