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Congratulations: you have 50,000 Twitter followers! Respect: you have a million ‘likes’ on Facebook! Kudos: 5,000 professionals on LinkedIn have joined your group!

But scratch beneath the surface and ask yourself three big questions: 

  1. What does this really mean?
  2. What is this worth?
  3. Who owns the data?

I’m not a social media cynic by any stretch of the imagination. I know what it has done for our business, but that’s not to say there aren’t threats and challenges on the road ahead.

1. What does this really mean?

It means, quite simply, that you are good at engaging your audience. You’re doing the right things to attract likes, followers and group members. Your content is pushing your community’s buttons. 

You can measure the level of engagement by looking at how often the audience interacts. How often do they comment on your Wall, or ‘like’ a new piece of content? How often do they @reply or retweet your messages? 

You can measure the velocity of these interactions over time, to understand what kind of content works best, and when the best time to update your status might be.

But let’s be clear about this: what you’re doing is engaging people in an environment that you have little control over, and one that you certainly do not own. 

2. What is this worth?

This very much depends on a whole range of factors, such as your business goals, your brand, and the kind of products and services you sell. It also depends on the nature of interaction. Not all retweets are equal. Some ‘likes’ are worth more than others.

BRAND MATTERS

We should also consider hard vs soft metrics too. Measuring sales is easy, but what are all those followers worth to your brand? The biggest spenders on TV tend to be brand-focused, and measure the results of their TV campaigns by asking consumers about brand recall, brand favourability, propensity to buy, and other ‘soft’ brand metrics. These things matter. A rising tide of positive buzz across social channels will raise the key brand metrics, and since we live in a multichannel world I think this needs to be factored in when measuring brand metrics (following TV campaigns, or for any other reason).

ADVOCACY

It’s not always straightforward to make sense of things. Some fans might never buy your products. I once asked the head of web of a luxury car brand about his 1.5m Facebook fans, and pointed out that 99% of those fans were unlikely to ever be in a position to afford a high-end supercar. He pointed out that driving advocacy was a significant goal. This is one of the key reasons for using social media to engage a large audience: it’s not necessarily the fan on Facebook that will do the buying… but they may well recommend your (expensive) products (to people who can afford them).

CUSTOMER COMMUNICATIONS

There’s a real value in having people tuned into your messages on sites like Twitter, especially if – like us – you produce a consistent stream of made-to-measure content. Email is still a really powerful channel, but there are murmurings of concern about whether today’s teenagers will be tomorrow’s email users, which might render your newsletter ineffective. So it’s a good idea to allow consumers to stay informed through the channel of their choice, be that Twitter, or Facebook, or the next big thing in social. The more channels the better, in theory.

HOW WE CALCULATE VALUE

A few months ago I wrote a post that outlined how we measure the effect of Twitter on our business (it also explained what we’re not yet counting). One of the things I didn’t mention was the low conversion rate of Twitter followers / traffic to ‘bronze’ members. This is a free membership level, essentially our version of a registered user, but with extra benefits. We’re yet to properly optimise this process, so expect to see a few experiments in the months ahead, but certainly this is a big goal for us. And this brings me onto the next, crucial question…

3. Who owns the data?

This is the most concerning question of all. It is one that you need to consider carefully. The fact is that Twitter owns the data. Facebook owns the data. LinkedIn owns the data. 

If any of these sites fell over permanently then what will you be left with exactly? You’ll only be left with the data that you have managed to migrate. The rest – and it will probably be the lion’s share – will be lost to the ether. You will have to hope that the goodwill you’ll have built up will stay with your fans and followers, and that perhaps they’ll take the time to find you and to tune into you via some other channel. But the point is that you have little control over this data. 

We broker the relationship with our Twitter followers via its platform, which we’re essentially a tenant of. I’d say it was a rent-free tenancy, but when you think about it there is a definite trade off: we’re paying Twitter in data. And, as Gerd Leonard says: “Data is the new oil.” 

Is this a mutually beneficial relationship? Is it one that we are happy with? Yes. But as Twitter grows, and as our follower numbers increase, it is increasingly apparent that we need to do more to transform registered Twitter users into registered Econsultancy users / subscribers

I believe that this, over the long-term, is going to be a key goal for many organisations. 

What do you think? Should brands have strategies for migrating data? What are the best tactics to employ in order to do this?

Chris Lake

Published 26 May, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (17)

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Chris Norton

Chris this article is so timely for me. I work with a number of clients some are consumer brands and others are B2B. The consumer well known brands are usually quite adept at tracking sales and conversions but the B2B clients are always asking about sales and it is so difficult to quantify. Yes your site visitors have gone up by 400% but what that means for sales can be tough to highlight.

Great post thanks.

over 5 years ago

Ally Manock

Ally Manock, Head of Digital Strategy, Planning & Insight at Brass Agency

1) We're seeing more and more noise about "it's not just the number of fans/followers, it's what they do/think that matters" - I blogged about it too:

http://www.brassagency.com/blog/social-media-marketing-brand-truths-social-currency-advocacy-not-buzz-gimmicks/

2) ...but I haven't seen quite as much noise for the very good point of "you don't own the data".

The up-sides of platforms like Facebook are that you are taking your brand to where people already are...but the down-sides are that you don't own the data. This is a big down-side to those clients that are used to having a good CRM strategy. Suddenly the consumer database that was so valuable is in someone else's hands. The brands that are working cleverly to make sure their databases now include mutiple profiles (e.g. email, Facebook, Twitter) for a person will reap the rewards.

over 5 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

The data point is one I've been going on about for ages. I keep meaning to find out for sure who gets what data, and what permissions, if you use the Facebook Registration plug in (see http://developers.facebook.com/docs/plugins/registration/). It talks about the tech there but it doesn't make it clear who can write the data to whose database and it's not clear to the user what they are 'signing up for' - do you as the site owner get the FB data 'for keeps'? If you ask your users for custom fields do FB also get the data? Is the user opting into things they don't realise? It's not at all clear to me.

over 5 years ago

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Ken Cooper

Great post. At some point I assume you just role with the punches and get what you can out of social media no matter who owns what. Good thoughts, however for us smaller folks it is best to do what you can and leave all of this to the people grounded in the industry.

about 5 years ago

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Stuart

Great write-up! A lot of important points raised..

I guess that backing up all of your brands online data, wherever it may be held, is the only way to overcome the issues that could lay ahead due to the ownership of such data by SM sites.

about 5 years ago

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Mark Richardson

Facebook follower's data is becoming increasingly difficult to get out of Facebook. This could be deliberate, and I wouldn't be shocked to see Facebook begin to sell their follower's data back to the brands.

about 5 years ago

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Paul Anderson

If ever there was a case to be made for encouraging your 'social media' followers (be it Twitter, facebook and so on) to join your own email lists, this is it.

We forget that social media networks are beyond our control and this timely article highlights this risk.

Encouraging friends, followers, linkedin group members to join you email list not only provides you with another way to communicate to them, but given that email has the highest ROI of any marketing channel, it makes commercial sense too.

about 5 years ago

Laurent Feral-Pierssens

Laurent Feral-Pierssens, CEO at Silentale

@stuart you're absolutely right that backing up all the brand's online data is a first step. We've been doing it with SocialReplay (disclaimer: it's a product of my company). What's interesting is that most of this data now either feeds CRM profiles, for those with a strategy in place, or is used to perform deeper data analysis.

@mark Indeed, Facebook has been resisting (unable?) to give a full access to the Page "likers" through the API. On behalf of our clients, we would definitely prefer having a stable access to the dataset even if there's a cost attached to it.

about 5 years ago

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Eddie Prentice, Marketer & Publisher at Eddie Prentice

What's the business model of sites like Facebook, LinkedIn etc. It seems it's mostly about advertising, now or in some indeterminate future. In all advertising media (TV, magazines, outdoor etc) we are only ever occupying a piece of real estate for a period of time. The only data we will ever "own" is that provided directly by our potential customers. That's hardly news.

Networking sites offer the same campaign performance measures as all other media: Soft metrics such as likes/followers (similar to readership, circulation, viewers, listeners in "old" media) and hard metrics like data capture and sales.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!

about 5 years ago

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Nigel Sarbutts

Chris,
I interviewed the IP and media lawyer Steve Kuncewicz (who wrote the book on legal issues in social media about) about some of the issues of data privacy arising from storing user data culled from social channels.
Some of his answers shocked me, especially his opinion that a brand @messaging someone who doesn't follow them is spamming them and violating data protetion legislation. If he's right then most companies' social media strategies are unlawful.
It's all here:
http://www.brandalert.co.uk/blog/2011/05/legal-constraints-on-social-engagement/

about 5 years ago

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Tom Huxtable, CRO at EngageSciences

@Ashley if you ask your fans on Facebook to fill in some form data using a system like http://engagesciences.com/ then Facebook does not get a copy of that data, nor does it own that data.

Facebook terms of service make it impossible for brands to take much of the social graph data off of Facebook, although you can use it (such as who a persons friends and followers are) to help you drive interactive social promotions and campaigns from person to person.

It is then essential for brands to add in data capture forms into their promotions to help build out data they need for a Social CRM strategy. If you don't ask, you don't get and you don't own. That's the reality of social media marketing.

about 5 years ago

Peter McCormack

Peter McCormack, Founder at McCormack Morrison

I wrote about this exact same in New Media Age nearly 18 months ago, http://www.nma.co.uk/opinion/industry-opinion/brands-need-to-be-careful-about-joining-the-social-media-bandwagon/3008948.article.

Whilst there are ways of migrating users and extracting data most companies are not even good at managing and segmenting their email data, getting to a point where all social data is integrated is very unlikely.

Also what is the value of social data?

about 5 years ago

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Simon Newsam

I agree with the consensus ... but here's a different take on it from a client of mine - one of the UK's top employment lawyers - who covered this topic recently from an "employer .v. employee" perspective in a newspaper column.

She concluded that the employer effectively owns the data on social networking sites, such as LinkedIn IF the employee had gathered the data using "work time" or resources.

Her point was that when an employee leaves a company they could be asked to hand over the data on their social networking sites to the business they're leaving.

And she cited the case in UK law of Hays Specialist Recruitment v Ions in which the High Court told Ions to hand over his LinkedIn contacts.

My observations on this: The law isn't quite "joined up" on these matters yet. But as we increasingly recognise the value of data, more such cases will arise, forcing clarification of the law and ensuring SM sites are better geared up to provide data - if only when required to by law.

And this latter point should prompt us to be more mindful of where we leave our data. To me the old mantra of "use your website" still rings true for any important content including contact data collection.

about 5 years ago

Peter McCormack

Peter McCormack, Founder at McCormack Morrison

@simon that sounds ridiculously impractical

about 5 years ago

Joris Peucheret

Joris Peucheret, Head of International Marketing at ACHICA

Great article.
WildTangent Games App is fully integrated with Facebook Connect for example and received 1000s of comments every week from our users/players globally- nevertheless it remains difficult to have full visibility on data from Facebook- to measure qualitative and quantitative information. While things are slowly being improved it maybe a good time for social network sites to think about sharing "ownership" of necessary data with the marketer community.

about 5 years ago

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Delfin Vassallo, Social Media Analyst at Financial Services Industry

You don't own the data because you don't want to...
By using the adequate resources, both technical and human, brands can go beyond CRM and build an advocate relationships program where you store and manage your customer's social data, to get to know more about their preferences, passions and thoughts about your brand, and even more important it may allow you to identify key influencers.

In the apocalyptic case that Facebook disappears tomorrow you have your followers/fans identified not only on FB but across all platforms they use.

about 5 years ago

mark wilson-pierce

mark wilson-pierce, proprietor at the Phoenix Effect Consultancy

It's the same story with turn-key website providers - it's all on a plate for the domain owner with e-commerce (inc PayPal) thrown in but all the data rests with the service provider

about 5 years ago

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