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Matthew Yeomans is the founder of Custom Communications and has worked in journalism for the last fifteen years. He is currently Managing Director at social media agency Radar DDB.

I have been talking to Matthew about the difficulties involved in social media measurement, and social media in general...

Can you define what you mean by social media?

Sure, and a good opening question because increasingly it is becoming an irrelevant term, with 150m+ users on Facebook, the 120m YouTube viewings each day, and so on.

That said, from a marketing and communications point of view it is still important in defining the growing power of customer interaction and clout in what used to be a very brand and company-defined marketplace.

Which social media sites do you focus on?

The whole range of social media interaction, including Facebook, Twitter,  blogs, newsgroups , Amazon ratings and the comment areas of mainstream media. The reason for this wide spectrum is that Radar DDB is all about helping brands navigate this new media landscape,  through understanding customer conversations and then creating content and outreach with the communities that are discussing the brand and are interested in the brands.

If we listen and learn effectively to what customers really care about then we can better help companies and brands play a meaningful role in the conversational communities. Too often brands think social media is just another advertising or marketing channel and fail to realise how important and empowering social media is for the customers and communities that use it.

Hence if you don't listen and learn first then you risk alienating the communities you are trying to engage with. That may sound a little highbrow but respect is a key part of successful social media engagement.

Which sites produce the best results, or is it a case of choosing sites to suit the client / campaign?

It completely depends on the client and the communities that they fit into. Again it comes down to understanding the interests of the customers that the brand wants to connect with and coming up with a conversational campaign that meets those interests.

It could be a ‘where is the next gig being played?’ widget for last FM if the client is a music brand or mobile phone maker (music being huge for phone makers) or it could be a 'this is a behind the scenes look at our technology' if the client is a tech or hardware maker and want to win over a select group of technology enthusiasts.

I'm a firm believer in giving social media communities information and content they can use and add value to the discussions they are already having. It treats them seriously and shows the brand cares what they think.

Do you have a model for measuring ROI?

Yeah - it's pretty simple (with the caveat that social media monitoring/measuring can't be a hard and fast tool for measuring sales). Our measurement is based on:

a) How much more people are talking about a brand post campaign - i.e. reach across social media channels and increase in visits to a dedicated site.

b) Sentiment toward the brand during the duration of a campaign.

c) Competitive analysis - how the brand fared against the competition during the campaign.

Occasionally, if we are talking an e-commerce or consumer goods brand, it's possible to demonstrate the sales effect by looking at online ratings on Amazon and other consumer ratings site. But we don't place all our stock in this!

What metrics do you use?

Reach equals traffic to the dedicated site, blog trackbacks and mentions, improved search rankings as well as Twitter mentions and growth of other media such as Facebook groups, photos on Flickr and YouTube mashups; basically every way that that the brand campaign has been talked about on social media channels during the campaign.

We also look at the role of so-called key influencers who are important in shaping other people's perception of the brand during a campaign.

How do you identify the key influencers on social media sites?

Based on the quality of their conversation, the size of their own mini-community (blogroll, trackbacks, quotes on other sites), and sense that they can shape conversation rather than just make a noise.

What are the most common issues and challenges of measurement?

I think this thorny issue of sentiment is one of the biggest challenges. Understanding online sentiment is time-intensive and not very well suited to a software driven approach. We spend a lot of time manually reading online interaction to get a true representative sense of customer sentiment.

For us it’s crucial because this insight really informs how we help clients shape campaigns and learn from past campaigns. The other major mistake in measurement is over-promising the client what they can learn. Social media is messy and conflicting and not very well-suited to absolute metrics.

However, the insight it provides offers a real return on investment if a brand is willing to apply a slightly new criteria to evaluating a campaign's success or failure. Hopefully we can add value by helping them read the conversational tea leaves.

Which departments within a company benefit most from social media campaigns?

Most people would say PR, internal comms and marketing but I would add a few more into the mix. They include customer service (the new frontline of corporate PR), the R&D division of any company (what better way to refine products and services than listening to real customer feedback) and the sustainability/CSR divisions - they often have a hard time telling their story to the public as the traditional media only care about company green issues when something goes wrong. Giving corporate CSR the power to tell their own stories can help redress that balance.

What are the potential risks for companies engaging in social media?

That depends on the companies. If you are a consumer brand or service then at the very least you need to be listening and understanding what your customers are saying about you. For most brands not engaging is now more or a risk than standing back.

But, and this is a big but, there are some companies for who engaging with social communities poses considerable legal risks and sometimes personal risks to employees, especially if there is a great deal of hostility to the brand.

Ideally you'd like all companies to be open and transparent and with their customer base but that doesn't happen overnight and so how a company interacts with social communities has to be based on a comfort level from within the organisation and (yet again) by listening to the community.

Which brands / companies do you think are using social media effectively?

There are three main ways companies are using social media - to entertain, to inform and to add utility for customers.

Hence Burger King’s recent Facebook 'delete a friend and win a Whopper' campaign was inspired because it was amusing AND understood the DNA of Facebook. Wal-Mart's use of its employees to blog about products they like and dislike was smart because it gave the corporate giant a human face, while Nokia's Urbanista Diaries (a GPS travel blogging campaign for the N82) remains a personal fave.

Any number of companies are now using Twitter of course though none terribly creatively.

How do you think companies should be using Twitter?

By realising that it's not a gimmick but rather a powerful publishing tool. So, if you have something original to add to micro conversation - say if a bank had one of its economists tweet the upcoming budget to give instant smart analysis then that would be informative, useful and entertainment and would raise the profile of the bank

Do you see more companies turning to social media as a result of the recession?

Definitely. Social media has the ability to ‘earn’ audience and brand loyalty at the fraction of the price of a traditional TV or print campaign. And while social media does cost money in terms of research, content and outreach, its highly targeted approach takes a lot of the guesswork out of digital marketing while also (if done properly) giving customers content they care about.

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Matthew is speaking at Social Media Influence 09, on 3 March in London.

Graham Charlton

Published 24 February, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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Robin Grant

Robin Grant, Global Managing Director at We Are Social

Graham - I think you let Matthew off the hook a little too easily.

He completely dodged your question about ROI (none of the things he talks about would allow a measurement of return on investment), and gave a pretty weak answer in terms of identifying influencers.

We expect better from Econsultancy!

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Robin,

I take your point, though these questions were asked. I've invited Matthew to respond to your points here.

over 7 years ago

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Rachel Burkot

You raise some important points about the future of social media and how we should be looking at it now. I'm especially intrigued by your focus on customer service - most people don't think of social media as being ruled over by someone who cares about their experience on the site; they see these websites more as free space where no one is watching. How can this way of thinking be changed to enhance users' experiences on social media sites? Will users appreciate concerns about their actions online or feel instead like their space is being invaded?

over 7 years ago

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matthew yeomans

hardly "dodging" the question. All I was saying was that ROI can be measured in conversational terms as that is the currency of social media. Hence increased volume and change in sentiment of conversation around a brand has real value as a metric in my opinion. Likewise if you can demonstrate that social media marketing helps increase traffic to a site then that's a metric as well.

Sorry if my answer on influencers didn't pass Robin's social media muster.

over 7 years ago

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Richard Stacy

Hmmm.  Seems to me a semantic argument on the difference between ROI and matrics.  Often gets confused but I think in terms of the way the question was phrased (and the fact that the term ROI is often used as a substitute for metrics when people talk about social media) - I would have to say I thought Matthew's response qualified as a perfectly satisfactory answer.

However, I am someone who tells clients that "if what you are doing is so big requires an ROI - its probably the wrong thing". 

Robin - if you have a sound (and cost effective) methodology for determining ROI it would be good to know about it.  #weareroi on twitter maybe

over 7 years ago

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Stuart Bruce

@Richard I think it's more than a question of semantics and I'm with @Robin on his defnition of ROI. I'm constantly infuriated by PR/advertising/marketing people who claim to be able to measure ROI. In reality most do nothing of the sort. We prefer to make claims to clients and prospects that we can evidence and substantiate, even if it sometimes makes us seem less impressive than what other agencies are claiming. Honesty is always the best policy. Social media is easy to measure, but much harder to evaluate. The public relations industry has struggled with the same concept for many years in that other communications disciplines claim to offer 'better' metrics, but frequently when you drill down into these you find they are intellectually flawed.

over 7 years ago

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matthew yeomans

Robin's right in his differentiation between ROI and key performance indicators/metrics. When I said that we include "the caveat that social media monitoring/measuring can't be a hard and fast tool for measuring sales," I should have been more explicit. All we promise is that we will measure conversations and sentiment around the conversations, not the ratio of money gained or lost on a campaign. @Stuart, I completely agree that honesty is the best policy.

over 7 years ago

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Rob Benson

ROI is a pretty lazy shorthand amongst, I'd agree. The metrics approach is interesting, in this field, but is the lack of hard and fast measures more a statement about the misalignment of those metrics with business success? It would be interesting to see how social media campaign success is gauged in a business that embraces more pertinent performance measures, such as balanced scorecard. Blogs and the 'show me the money' approach are chalk and cheese. But that's not to say that blogs do not have a positive effect.

over 7 years ago

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Rich Mochor

Just to add this in to the mix but there is an analytics company that has developed a 'Marketing Impression Tag' for all the 2.0 channels covered above. As a retailer you can add this, then you will be able to track your 'Social ROI' and web exposure more closely, evaluating it against KPI's and helping to plan budgets accordingly...;)

over 7 years ago

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matthew yeomans

@Angela, I'd say the value of social media isn't about size of the network but rather quality of the network in terms of its value to its users/community. Hence niche online communities are of tremendous value as long as they are meeting the needs of the people participating. Of course one of the challenges in niche communities is keeping the scale right so that discussions stay relevant. The other challenge comes when people feel the need to be part of multiple niche social networks - I've started and been involved in a number of Ning networks and it can really eat up time.

over 7 years ago

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Richard Stacy

I am still of the view that a focus on ROI can kill-off many social media initiatives.  Social media is about experimentation, small scale initiatives and the permission to fail.  Measurement, metrics and understanding what's going on in your space - definitely.  ROI can wait until you have worked out what things are worth investing in.  I know that BT have made the decision not to do ROI on their social media initiatives.  Their philosophy (as expressed by Richard Dennison at last years Social Media Influence conference I believe), is "just do it".  To be applauded.

Anyway - perhaps that's another issue.  Would still be interested in Staurt and Robin's views on how (and perhaps when) you do ROI, as distinct from metrics, in social media.

over 7 years ago

Terry Golesworthy

Terry Golesworthy, President at The Customer Respect Group

Just what is the best way to measure the quantity and quality of social media activity? Rich mentioned the 'Marketing Impression Tag' which would seem a good step but most organizations I have spoken so far are not really engaged in social media to date and really do not have a process to monitor their situation. It is often stuck between the PR dept/Ad company, you seem to think you control the message in the same way as they have done with press, and the web groups that understand the issue better but have no defined role. I would think measurement is now the vital stage so that the extent and trend of the problem can be established but just the sheer extent of the measurement issue seems to be daunting, so what is the easy answer?

about 7 years ago

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