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.

————————————————————————————————————-

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