Don't misuse benchmarks to gauge social ROI

Evaluate success using only metrics appropriate for specific goals of social media endeavors because there's no such thing as right or wrong benchmarks, experts advise.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Businesses should identify a set of suitable metrics that look at specific goals of their social media endeavors to gain the most relevant results of their deployment, rather than fret about whether they are applying the right benchmarks.

According to social media marketing and monitoring experts, strictly speaking, there are no right or wrong benchmarks. Such benchmarks are either used appropriately or not to measure any kind of social returns on investment (ROI), depending on the purpose of such campaigns or initiatives--be it user engagement, brand influence or sales conversion.

"Benchmarks always need to be based on objectives. There are no particular 'social' benchmarks; there are only objective benchmarks," said Bob Knorpp, president of The Cool Beans Group, a marketing strategy consultancy in New York City, and host of The BeanCast marketing podcast.

He noted that there was nothing wrong with counting Twitter retweets or Facebook Likes as a benchmark for social success, as long as the objective here was about reach and awareness--both of which are quantity-driven.

The trouble, however, starts when brands use the same benchmarks as reflective of quality-based engagement, Knorpp told ZDNet Asia. These benchmarks become less effective measures because they have nothing to do with user sentiment or motivation, he explained.

"[If your social media] objective was to have meaningful relationships with customers, then you would need more personal measures of the quality of the relationship being formed," he said. A company must conduct qualitative surveys and analysis that specifically asked users for reasons behind their actions or whether they felt engaged. Results from such probing would reveal how successful--or not--the company's relationship building efforts were, he added.

Hence, Knorpp observed, the crux of the issue was not about brands and marketers using the wrong benchmarks but about them misinterpreting data generated from the benchmarks, which could be inappropriate depending on the objective of their social media initiatives.

In fact, the most common mistake companies make is asking what the ROI for social media should be, noted Robb Begg, senior director of product marketing for Radian6, a Canada-based social media monitoring solutions provider.

What they should instead be asking is what is the ROI for a specific social media campaign, tool or initiative, Begg said in an e-mail.

"It's about finding what metrics work for your objectives and your business," he said, noting that there are several ways to measure social media efforts, results and impact on revenue. For instance, they can look at user activity and engagement figures, as well as the level of user loyalty and positive sentiment, speed of sales cycles, and generation of new leads, he suggested.

ROI metrics never standalone
Kelvin Quee, head of partnerships for Singapore-based social media monitoring company, JamiQ, also warned that using just one social ROI metric--even if it correctly addressed the campaign's objectives--was "far more dangerous" than using a set of unsuitable metrics.

All marketing avenues including social media channels are multi-dimensional, so relying on a single metric may indicate, single-dimensionally, false success or failure, Quee explained. He added that there also may not be any referential and re-verifying measures.

On the other hand, using a few unsuitable metrics will eventually contradict each other and expose the fallacy of the original assumption, he noted.

Because they are dependent on the social media marketing strategy, ROI parameters mean brands need to take a more holistic view and consider other critical factors, including the volume of "eyeball", type of social channel used and nature of the targeted audience, Quee said.

This is where the main difficulty lies because metrics that are useful and accurate measurements for one campaign can be completely unsuitable or irrelevant for another, he said.

Quantitative versus qualitative
Knorpp last month wrote in an Ad Age posting that most widely-used social metrics often favored measurement of mass numbers of customers, rather than the quality of relationships with these consumers--which was what social media marketing was about.

Elaborating, he reiterated his stance that there were no wrong benchmarks but added: "When you use an interest benchmark like a retweet or Like, and call it an engagement benchmark, you are not truly measuring influence--which is user engagement--or ROI, which is conversion. That is applying a qualitative judgment on quantitative results.

"Just because someone follows or retweets doesn't necessarily always mean that person is being influenced by your brand or campaign," he explained.

Social monitoring vendors, nonetheless, argued it was possible as well as necessary to apply metrics or analysis to track and mine interactions and sentiments, in order to gauge the success of the company's social media marketing strategies.

Quee said: "In social network analysis, for instance, the number of interactions within the network is an even more telling measure of the effectiveness of the brand relationship."

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