If you stopped a random colleague in the hall, and tried to convince them that your social strategy was working, which proof points would you use? More importantly, would they be convinced?
Indicators of social’s impact can be divided into two groups: proxy measurements and direct measurements.
Proxy measurements are used when we need insight into performance against something that’s difficult to measure directly. So, someone trying to measure brand awareness might look at network growth, because surveying everyone in their market isn’t possible. Or, someone trying to understand whether their content is hitting the mark might look at number of comments, or time on site.
Direct measurements are straight lines of sight into performance against a goal. Extrapolation isn’t needed, or it’s kept to a minimum. Direct measurements can also be described in non-social terms, and they make sense to people with little or no experience with social. Revenue generated per quarter from blog visitors, for example, would be a direct measurement of your blog’s impact on financials. It can get more granular than that, too. Depending what tools you’re using, it’s possible to track the impact of a single tweet or Facebook update on things like event registrations. But direct measurements get even more powerful when they’re tied to things most aren’t usually associated with social. What’s the dollar value of detecting a major product flaw mentioned in reviews early on—before it hurts sales? This analysis would be after the fact and anecdotal, but still important.
Proxy measures are often necessary. They fill in knowledge gaps, and they’re usually better than nothing. But as social programs and technology mature, the balance shifts from proxy measurements to direct measurements.
One of the reasons we don’t see direct measurements more often in blog posts, case studies, and guides is that they measure against specific, often unique, company goals. That makes them hard to generalize. They also involve more than a single data stream, and sometimes even different departments and experts. Setting them up may take days, weeks, or even a quarter or more. It turns out that measuring return on investment is an investment in and of itself. But it’s one worth making.
The end result isn’t just a better window into the success of your social efforts. Being able to communicate the value of social is essential, especially while the space is still so young. If you can’t do it well, you’re unlikely to get the support you need to scratch the surface of social’s potential for your company. But if you can consistently talk about social in terms anyone you work with can understand, you’ll earn their support. Mix in supporting proxies when needed, but focus on the direct measurements as often as possible.