Takeaways From the Seattle WAA Spring Event: Measuring Social Media

by on April 05, 2011

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Photo: Expert Panel - Measuring Social Media WAA Seattle Spring Event

Last week several of us attended the first ever Spring Event organized by the Seattle Chapter of the Web Analytics Association (@WAAorg). Titled “Measuring Social Media”, the event presented a unique opportunity to learn from experts in the field and promised answers to questions any self-admitted analytics geek would go wild over, including:

•   What metrics are important to track?

•   What are the tools used?

•   What are examples of utilizing integrated metrics with other marketing channels?

Tracking the impact of social media to understand that elusive Return-on-Influence (a.k.a. “the new ROI”) is a topic of great interest to digital marketers. So even though the event was held on a workday afternoon at Microsoft forcing Seattle-side participants to brave the SR 520 Bridge during rush hour (oh, horror!), it was quite well attended.

The panel was made up of experienced social media analysts, men and (one) woman who really know this stuff:

•   Mike Rich, Senior Director at comScore (@comscore)

•   Warren Sukernek, Senior Director at Social Media Services and President of the Seattle Social Media Breakfast (@warrenss)

•   Cory Toedebusch, Group Marketing Manager in the Windows Consumer Digital Marketing team at Microsoft (@deadshrub)

•   Ben Straley, CEO of Meteor Solutions (@bstraley)

•   Shauna Causey, Manager, Social Media at Nordstrom (@ShaunaCausey)

I expected that at the end of the session I’d walk away if not with an actual playbook on measuring social media, then with some concrete “how-to’s” or a short list of best practices I could immediately start testing with our own and our clients’ social media programs. Well, that didn’t happen. And yet the event was informative as well as quite revealing, just not in the way I expected.

Blake Cahill keynote

The session began with a tone-setting keynote by Blake Cahill (@bcahill) of Banyan Branch. He pointed out that the social media space was still in its nascency, very much like the Wild West, full of promise but lacking definition, and compared it to the Internet circa 1995.

Image: Twitter Comment - Blake Cahill on Measuring Social Media

Panel discussion and Q&A

This introduction was followed by a panel discussion and a general Q&A session led by Anil Batra (@anilbatra), Vice President of Search & Analytics at POP.

As it turns out, Blake was spot on in his initial observation. The panelists addressed all the questions, provided useful pointers and shared many great examples and relevant case studies, and yet the stimulating discussion generated few definite answers. In other words, there were no “first do this, then do that, and hey presto!” answers. It seems that when we talk about social media we are all still developing solutions on a case-by-case basis in the laboratory of our day-to-day practice.

I found it interesting that nobody had an answer to the question about what tools were being used to integrate the data streams from various social media and other digital channels into a single dashboard. In fact, it seems we all still rely of some version of the “mother of all spreadsheets” and similar manual, handmade data management solutions (I see an opportunity here).

Key takeaways

I jotted down three takeaways that can be added to that list of “best practices” we’re putting together:

1 – First, identify your goal.

Before you start counting or measuring anything, you need to determine the goal for your social media effort and how it ties into your larger business strategy. In other words, figure out what you will be counting and why before addressing the how.

Image: Twitter Comment Screenshot about Measuring Social Media

2 – Then, develop a strategy to support your goal.

There is no point in spreading yourself thin practicing “spaghetti social media” throwing every tactic up on the wall to see what “sticks” for you. Depending on your brand, your audience and your goal, you may not need (or want) to be on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Flickr. And if you do, you need to have a good reason why. Social media content production, monitoring and measurement is not free. It takes resources. Only then figure out how best to capture the data that will let you know if you’re getting there.

3 – Finally, measure. But don’t go inventing new metrics.

Just because you are using a different channel (social media), there’s not need to invent new metrics. Capture data that drives the metrics that matter to your organization right now. In other words, look to your key performance indicators (KPIs). What you measure in social media should drive your KPIs and the rest does not matter.

Image: Twitter Comment about Metrics for Measuring Social Media

Stay tuned for some elaboration on those three points in our blog in the coming days. We’ll link them to this original post, so if you bookmark it, you’ll find them.

Writing the playbook on social media measurement

In the end, the biggest takeaway from the event was that there is no playbook for social media measurement, at least not yet. We are all still collectively writing it, coming up with best practices as we help our clients achieve business goals via social media and other channels. I see this as a great opportunity for all of us to shape this space and to learn from each other.

As a side note, Seattle’s is the first local chapter of the WAA, so this first Spring Event represented at least two “firsts” for the organization.  If another event about measuring social media were to be held, instead of a panel discussion I would suggest we set up several tables and tackle a question at each table. Maybe we can use a “hive mind” approach, share our case studies and experiences to tame the social media Wild West together.

Photo Credit: @JessEstrada

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