1. Be led by data at every stage: from planning and audience segmentation, to content strategy and community management.
  2. Measure what matters according to the business objectives.
  3. Data without insights is nothing.

What is clear from the talks I have held around Europe on this matter does indicate that there is still a great amount of confusion around what communications pros should be measuring, what constitutes ‘success’, and what tools are available to marketers.

I want to answer some of these questions in this post.

Interesting and yet illogical

Fans of the original Star Trek will be familiar with the Vulcan Mr Spock’s failure to grasp his human colleagues’ emotion-led decision making.

As he says in episode one, Mudd from 1967:

Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans. 

We all need to be a little bit more Vulcan. When we plan, we need to use data to understand our market and audience.

When we create content we need to use data to understand the search queries and terms audiences use when they research products and services, and what content types they prefer; When we run communities we need to use data to find the influencers in those communities and understand when the best time to talk to audiences is.

As Spock would expect, the common denominator in everything we do is data. Spock would not have made the best community manager in the world, but as an analyst he’d be kick-ass.

Beware vanity metrics

Social media comes with a whole deal of numbers such as fan or follower counts but, as Albert Einstein said:

Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted.

This goes for fan and follower counts, so called ‘vanity metrics’. There is no doubt that fans and followers are important.They have, after all, given brands permission to engage with them and should be seen as assets – but to focus on numbers is not the right metric.

Social media is, after all, just one of many potential touch points between the brand and its audience. Why over-focus on the 2,000 Facebook fans with whom your organic reach is shrinking and only 4% of whom will ever come back to your page anyway, when there are 20,000 visiting through search engines every month, for example?

The message: We need to see the full picture, not just some of it, and learn how our activities are meeting (or not meeting) our business objectives.

Build your measurement toolkit

It all starts with understanding what tools are available and, more importantly, how to use to them to find actionable insights.

Google in particular knows what people do, which is way more useful that the indicative data provided by what people say in surveys etc. and Google provides a whole suite of free tools to help us make sense of it all.

Here is a list of free and paid-for tools which every marketer should consider:

  • For website performance and visitor data, use Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.
  • For online conversation and influencer mapping use tools such as Sysomos, Radian6 or BrandWatch.
  • To understand what words people use when searching for products or services use Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends.
  • To analyse activities from online communities, use Facebook Insights, Iconosquare (formerly Statigram for Instagram), YouTube Analytics, and there are myriad options for Twitter, depending on what you want to learn.
  • For blogger research, look at Ebuzzing Labs and use other tools such as Alexa or Klout to help evaluate their reach and influence.
  • For media tracking, look at Gorkana or Factiva, or manage feeds and other information via Netvibes or Feed.ly

This list is by no means extensive – there is a great deal of choice out there – but I would welcome your thoughts on evaluation and some really useful tools that will help us be a little bit more Vulcan when we need to be.