Five ways to improve your social media measurement

We’re past the point  where a “get me one of those” approach to the latest social shiny object is a viable approach. As business use of social media continues to slowly mature, measurement is becoming more and more important to justify the investment in social activities.

Last week I spoke on a roundtable on Practical Social Media Goal Setting, Measurement and ROI, along with Janet Fouts, Steve Farnsworth and Brian Rice. One of the most interesting questions asked related to the mistakes that organizations make around measuring social media. Rather than focus on those mistakes, here are five ways to avoid them – five ways to improve your social media measurement and reporting.

1. Focus on outcomes over outputs

The number of Tweets you post, or replies you generate, may be interesting, but what value do they drive? Instead, focus on the outcomes of those activities – how many leads did you generate? How much money did you save? How many event registrations did you drive?

It can sometimes be hard to accomplish this – especially from the agency side – as you often need to work with many business functions to determine this (sales, IT, marketing etc). The more you can push in this direction, though, the better off you’ll be.

2. Set measurable objectives

Measurement factors into SMART goals in several ways.

Firstly, considering insights from previous activities (previous reporting periods or previous campaigns) to set appropriate expectations for the time-period set.

Secondly, ensuring that the objectives that are set are measurable so you can measure the ultimate success or failure of your program at the end.

3. Determine the purpose of your report

I’ve seen way too many reports that lay out the objectives of a program, then report on measurements that have nothing to do with those objectives.

If you’re looking to get ten thousand sign-ups to a new service, why would you report on the number of retweets of your content? Or the sentiment of coverage? Those numbers have value when you’re looking for ways to optimize your activities, but when it comes to measuring against your objectives, the connection there is weak at best.

Before you begin working on a measurement report, determine what the purpose of that report is. Is it to optimize content? Provide insights to fuel products, services, messaging, etc? Or to determine the success of a program? Determine the purpose of your measurement and tailor your approach to it.

The audience of your report is often tied closely to its purpose. Who are you writing for? The answer to that question – whether it’s community managers or senior executives – should determine the kind of insights you provide.

Check out Jeremiah Owyang’s great post on the social media ROI  pyramid for a great way of thinking about this.

4. Focus on driving action

Number soup doesn’t help anyone. To make your reporting valuable, make sure you seek to drive insights and action with what you report. To quote Rob Clark, look not just at the “what”, but the “so what” and the “now what”.

5. Measure before, during and after

The measurement process doesn’t start at the end of a project; it starts at the beginning, with setting your objectives, and continues throughout the work. Measurement, done right, fuels your objectives, sets a baseline against which you can measure, enables course adjustments during the activities and measures against your objectives at the end.

Doing these things won’t make measuring your activities any easier, but it will make your measurement and reporting more effective, and will help you to improve your social media activities over the long run. That may not be shiny and glamorous, but it’s effective and valuable.

(Image credit: Jeremiah Owyang)