In a conversation with eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson, Kamal discussed why focusing on business metrics is crucial in social media marketing, how companies can move away from metrics such as fan count, and why it’s important to understand how social media contributes to customer purchase decisions.
Why is measuring success in social media marketing so hard?
Irfan Kamal: We expect social media to be like other media that we’ve measured in the past. That leads to thinking that probably doesn’t take full advantage of the full set of measurable metrics within social media.
Another aspect is that we are measuring just because we can measure, instead of measuring what we need to measure. So the metrics that are easy to measure are the ones that end up getting measured, vs. the ones that really would be useful in understanding business impact.
“The metrics that are easy to measure are the ones that end up getting measured, vs. the ones that really would be useful in understanding business impact.”
What should companies measure?
Kamal: Our philosophy is that we need to measure metrics that are related to business value. Does social media change brand perception? Does it increase consideration? Does it drive actual sales for the brand? Those are difficult questions, and they require new ways of measuring and tracking, and that makes it challenging.
What often gets measured instead are what we call diagnostic or optimization metrics—the number of Facebook fans, the Twitter follower base, the size of a group or a message board or a LinkedIn group. All the metrics that are easily visible are the ones that end up getting measured most often.
The problem is that it’s unclear whether there is a direct relationship between these metrics and genuine business value. What we are trying to do is go the next step and understand first, what is the relationship between the metrics we can measure and business value, and second, if we can find a good relationship, what are the metrics that we should be measuring for business value?
Do you think that the sophistication of social media measurement is where it should be, or is it falling behind where marketers need it to be?
Kamal: Any new field has a lot of chaos when it’s getting started, and that’s the same for social media as it was for digital media in general. It’s not unexpected that there’s a lot of discussion about metrics. But we have gotten to the point where brands and companies are making decisions on whether to increase investment in a channel that is receiving a huge amount of consumer attention. It’s very important to start to move toward measuring in a better, more business value-focused way.
I think that slowly we’re seeing the ability to start measuring some of those things. Some of the social media heavyweights are starting to develop better measurement capabilities, and I think that’s tremendously important to advancing the ability to allocate investment dollars.
“Some of the social media heavyweights are starting to develop better measurement capabilities, and I think that’s tremendously important to advancing the ability to allocate investment dollars.”
How do we move away from measuring what’s easy to measure, and toward measuring what actually contributes to business value?
Kamal: Companies need to develop tools and analytics to better measure some of the business-focused metrics. We are starting to see some technology like that. Facebook has a couple of partnerships with analytics companies that allow for deeper testing and measurement of the impact of, at least, their paid advertising programs, and I think that is becoming helpful. And we’re seeing other companies that are developing the ability to embed tracking and surveys and analytics tracking within custom tabs on Facebook, as an example, that allow for deeper tracking and measurement of people’s exposure to certain types of content.
I do think there’s a lot more to be done. There are very robust social media discussions on blogs, on message boards, on Twitter and other emerging media, like Google+. And we need to have better tools to allow for measurement around business goals in a way that allows you to track people who are exposed and who aren’t exposed.
Social media measurement can be expensive, especially if you’re working with outside vendors. Is it still possible to use free tools, such as Google Analytics, to measure social media?
Kamal: Our clients’ marketing programs have varying levels of budget. A big part of what we do is try to figure out the best way to measure within specific budgets, and not all programs allow for really expensive measurement tool integration. Existing tools such as TweetReach and Google Analytics offer ways to measure things like reach relatively well.
I do think that the more complex measurements, such as the impact on brand perception or sales that are indirectly driven by social media, are important to measure, but they are somewhat more expensive to measure. It would be great if some of the social media companies realized the importance and made these measurement capabilities more accessible to a w
ide variety of companies, from small businesses through to the largest brands.
Do marketers focus more on their social media marketing activities than they do on measuring the results?
Kamal: We definitely have some clients that are spending more on measurement. To the extent that budgets increase—and we see them continuing to increase because of the consumer attention focused on the media—more money is starting to get spent on measurement. And that tends to be led by some of our most measurement-focused clients, our larger brands that have always measured the quality of, or the effectiveness of, programs.
And then it’s starting to spread to other clients that perhaps haven’t found the need to measure as much in the past, but are being challenged because of questions around what happens next. They’ve hit their easily measurable goals, such as fan-base size, but now they’re perplexed about what to do next.
I think that the next steps become much clearer when you can measure clearly what is working and what isn’t.
It’s not a new point, certainly, that there’s been too much focus on collecting fans and followers, and not enough focus on what to actually do with these people ?
Kamal: Yes. And one of the next horizons we see is that with better measurement you can really understand how to create incredibly impactful programs that not only acquire fans and followers and customer advocates, but also engage them in a way that drives value.
“One of the next horizons we see is that with better measurement you can really understand how to create incredibly impactful programs that not only acquire fans and followers and customer advocates, but also engage them in a way that drives value.”
Brands are starting to realize that they need to figure out how to engage to drive business value. And I think the way to do that is to really implement some very granular, very specific measurement-focused initiatives.
What’s exciting is that that will make social media programs smarter, more entertaining, more informative, and more useful to both consumers and to brands, because if you’re looking at a goal that’s around core business value, that’s typically something that helps both the brand and the consumer. So it’s going to be interesting to see the next level of engagement campaigns that come out of this.
Irfan Kamal ,Senior Vice President, Digital/Social Strategy,Ogilvy & Mather