When social media becomes the metric

There is, of course, a huge debate about metrics, measurement and ROI in social media.  This tends to be framed in terms of   “if I do some social media, what am I going to get out of it and how will I measure that”.  Last week I came across an a new take on the whole metrics issue – not measuring the impact of social media activity, but seeing social media activity itself as a metric.

I had been invited by the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA) to give a presentation in Brussels at the awards ceremony for the Belgian shortlisted participants in the European IMC Awards (Integrated Marketing Communications).  The audience, therefore, consisted of  what we used to call below-the-line or sales promotion agencies and their clients.  I was given (rather alarmingly) a full hour slot and I delivered my social media revolution  stand-up routine, which is all about what social media is all about, why it is different and what you should do about it.  I think it went down relatively well but the reaction was perhaps a little more muted than is usually the case. (For a more effusive assessment of this routine you can see this from Steve Henry)

The reason became apparent when, after my presentation, there was a slot where videos of some of the award-winning entries were shown.  All of the campaigns heavily featured the usage of social media tools.   Clearly, therefore,  the people in the room thought they didn’t need some upstart social media consultant to come and tell them how to Do social media when they were already Doing it (and winning awards).

There were two issues though.  First, few of the winning entries were actually social media campaigns or campaigns that were designed specifically to work within social media.  Rather they were mostly conventional ideas – some of them very good ideas – onto which social media had been grafted.  This gets us into the whole debate as to whether a social media campaign can actually exist.  I take the view that a social media campaign is actually a contradiction in terms – social media doesn’t do campaigns, it is about long-term and sustained engagement.   But the more interesting thing was the extent to which social media was being used simply as a metric.  The obligatory Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube and Flickr channel would be set up for each idea and then the number of friends, followers, views would be logged and pulled into the slide which presented the campaign results – as in “The campaign achieved xxx friends, xxx followers, xxx views and xxx  increase in sales” – usually in that order!  There was never any analysis of what was going on in Facebook or Twitter and certainly no consideration of whether these tools were actually appropriate for what was trying to be achieved.  These tools were simply being used to generate a sort of proxy engagement statistic, based on the assumption that if you become a follower or a friend you must therefore have become engaged with the idea.

Of course, there is some validity in this approach.  One of the problems of any sales promotion activity is that, aside from increased sales or other direct forms of participation, it is very hard to measure the more residual impact a campaign actually has.  If you don’t buy the product or participate in the promotion, there are no other buttons to press.  However, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube  et al give you that button.  They also present the opportunity to gather other forms of feedback about the campaign, although in most of the examples I saw this opportunity was not exploited.

I think there is actually some merit in thinking about this further – not using Facebook or Twitter to promote an idea or drive a form of behaviour, but instead using these tools to gather people’s reactions to an idea, or even to suggest new ideas.

This then leads to the question as to whether you actually need to create campaign specific social media identities, rather than a brand specific identity.  The well-nigh criminal aspect of most of the campaigns showcased was that, when the idea stopped, the engagement stopped and the Facebook page, the Twitter account, the microsite were abandoned and became just so much redundant digital debris.  What this emphasises is that you can’t get meaningful engagement with a campaign, you only get this with a brand or company.  Campaigns can be used to generate engagement with a brand and therefore your principal engagement channels (social media) must be brand, not campaign, specific.  And they must be sustained, you don’t want to turn them off.

Conclusion from all this is that brands must create enduring engagement channels via social media and then link these into their campaigns.  Their role is not so much to drive people to the campaign, it is to allow people to move beyond the campaign and engage with the organisation.  This link is then sacred and must be treasured and nurtured, not cruelly severed once the campaign has run its course.  Unfortunately this involves first creating an effective social media strategy for the brand, which requires a level of long-term commitment and is much harder than simply creating a raft of disposable Facebook presences.  It is also something that lies beyond the capability or remit of most traditional digital or integrated marketing agencies.

For the record, my view on metrics, ROI and social media is this: social media is not about selling more boxes, it is about making better boxes or making boxes more efficiently. The ROI comes from getting people whom you don’t pay to help you do your business better.


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