Sysomos Audience Moves Towards Measuring Social Media ROI

Social media ROI is a hot topic right now, as social media begins to (slowly) mature. The purists who insisted that the conversation alone was and end, rather than a means, are diminishing in volume and a more rational, approach is emerging balancing the revolutionary aspects of social media with those that are simply evolutionary from existing business practices.

One area in particular which is fast-evolving is social media monitoring (my ex-colleague Michael O’Connor Clarke quipped last week that there’s probably a micro-industry dedicated to watching it).

After several weeks of back and forth, and rescheduled meetings, I finally managed to get a demo of Sysomos Audience last week. I came away impressed.

Placing a Value on your Visitors

Sysomos Audience is an addition to the Heartbeat monitoring and engagement tool. At first glance it seems similar to Google Analytics in nature – in fact, I previously under the incorrect impression it simply connected social media traffic to web analytics. However, Audience really focuses in a different direction, providing tools that should pique the interest of your sales, marketing and community management folks alike.

Audience tracks visitors to your site alongside their previous web activity, and helps to determine whether each person is a real lead or is just browsing. It does so by examining peoples’ previous web activity, including competitors’ websites, blogs, social networks and so on. In doing so, it determines whether your visitors are qualified leads or just browsing. For example, people are much more likely to be serious sales leads if they’ve been researching other competitive products first than if they’ve just clicked through from a random site.

Critically, Audience also lets you assign a dollar value to visitors based on their visits to competitor sites, to help determine the ROI of your social media activities. It does so by letting you assign values for visits to different areas of your site (those key to your sales funnel might have a higher value, for example) and other factors. In doing so, you gain a relative value for each visitor to your site. This might seem familiar to web analytics (Google Analytics lets you assign goal values, for example) but this goes above and beyond by incorporating activities outside your own site, and by aggregating values per user.

This has implications for several functions within companies:

  1. Sales
  2. Community management
  3. Public relations

Sales

Sales folks – wouldn’t you like to know who your most valuable leads are right at the beginning of the process, so you can prioritize them accordingly? While Audience generally only provides generic tracking information for most people, if you hook the system into any web forms you have, it can link their name and information into their activities (note: you’ll likely need to amend your privacy policy in order to do this). Right now, the system doesn’t hook into Salesforce but according to Sysomos co-founder Nilesh Bansal, that functionality is on the way.

Community Management

Just as Audience lets you track your most valuable visitors, it also lets you identify the sites that are the source of the most valuable traffic to your website. In the demonstration I saw, for example, I saw that while TechCrunch drove a lot of traffic to Sysomos, the traffic from other sites on a per-user basis was actually worth more to them. For community managers, pulled in a thousand directions, this can be valuable information to help them prioritize their focus.

Public Relations

The idea of being able to place a value on the traffic from a piece of coverage is mouth-watering to me. For one, it gives a great answer to the “what’s the ROI of this pitch” question (which even traditional media relations hasn’t solved yet) but also it helps you to figure out who you need to build relationships with and on whom you should focus your pitching. Of course, it doesn’t remove the hands-on targeting and tailoring work that goes into each project, but this kind of data would still be immensely valuable.

Privacy Concerns?

The only question that worried me during the demo I received revolved around online privacy. How does Audience determine which sites people have visited recently? Every site I’ve seen reviewing Audience – from TechCrunch to ReadWriteWeb to Web Metrics Guru – have wondered but no answers are forthcoming. While Sysomos doesn’t currently pull user profiles in, it’s only a small step from there to linking a Twitter or Blogger profile into things and having a complete record of your visitors’ browsing habits. That’s hypothetical but a little concerning as I’m sure they’ll experience pressure to add that feature.

Sysomos’ Nilesh Bansal wouldn’t shed any light on the question when I spoke with him. He told me they don’t look at cookies, but that Audience uses a piece of JavaScript code which you embed on your site and correlates that with their social media monitoring database. So, how do they know people have been on a competitor’s site? It sounds a little dubious to me. As long as they don’t shed any insight into this, people will continue to wonder what’s going on.

Exciting Potential

Setting aside the privacy concerns for a moment, Audience really does have a lot of potential, especially if you’re already a Sysomos client. The product is still in closed beta testing for now and Sysomos hasn’t announced pricing but, like Radian6’s engagement console, this looks to be a differentiating addition to Sysomos’ portfolio of services. I do think they need to answer the privacy questions, though.

What’s your take?