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Here’s What’s Wrong With Social Media Metrics

By Garrett Moon on April 22, 2011 in News.

Social media metrics are something that I am constantly turning over in my mind. I continually ask myself, do they matter, or are they just distracting us from what matters? As of now I think it is some of both.

Not all charts are worth the javascript it took to make them.

The bit of marketer in me completely understands the need for qualitative data that draws a distinct conclusion on how a campaign performed for a certain audience. Monitoring a campaign, it’s demographic reach, and adjusting your message to fit is an important part of the marketing process.

Unlimited data is actually one of the most powerful things about online marketing. Sure, there are problems here and there, but compared to the traditional routes the data is unprecedented and above all instant. We can literally watch a campaign in real time using online metrics.

Social Media ROI

Return on Investment (ROI) is a term that has been used forever to describe the direct return of revenue on a particular investment. If I invest one dollar developing a product, and one dollar marketing it, I have then invested two dollars. If I make six dollars on that investment my ROI is four dollars. Simple enough, but does it work online?

Social Media ROI has been a hot topic on the blogosphere so far in 2011. I am seeing more and more discussion pop up all the time. The topic absolutely relevant. It matters, but it is already clear that measuring the ROI of social media is far more difficult than expected.

Can’t be done? Surely, but it just depends.

For today, all I can say is that we are currently looking to book a few key guests to talk about this subject on the Be Better at Marketing Podcast. Next week will be posting a show with Keith Privette where we discussed this topic amongst others. At the Todaymade offices we just picked up Olivier Blanchard’s book appropriately titled Social Media ROI. So, this is going to be a discussion and we want you to come along.

The Challenge

For today, I want to focus on the obsession with social media metrics and some of the problems that I see with them. For the most part, while they are interesting, I think we have taken them too far. They are easy to collect and track but some just aren’t worth the effort.

Some problems, in no particular order….

  1. They encourage the wrong type of activity. Follow counts and friend lists are common stats that we all watch. They are easy, and they are public, so they make for a simple data point. They, however, miss the point. We should really be concentrating on engagement, reach, and online influence. This is one of the many reasons I appreciate what the folks over at Klout are doing. Still not perfect, but they are on the right track.
  2. They are a distraction. For most businesses social marketing is both vitally important, and difficult to accomplish. Small businesses and marketing teams are required to wear a lot of hats, so making social media a part of their work day isn’t always easy. Stats can be a distraction from the time that needs to be spent engaging and being a part of the conversation.
  3. They aren’t goal oriented. Good measurement comes when there is a specific goal, and a specific metric to follow. Focused monitoring is absolutely vital to both useful data and useful conclusions. Many social metrics are completely without a tangible marketing goal. That doesn’t make them useless, I suppose, it just makes them for something other than marketing.
  4. They can make social media seem invaluable. In social tracking there are two dangerous mindsets that often get combined. One, it gets treated like a push marketing sales machine, and two, we get distracted by the immediate availability of statistics. This causes premature decision making, which devalues the long-term benefits of social media marketing and engagement.
  5. They are a false sense of reality. A great example of this is clicks and pageviews. Both of these stats are interesting and seem valuable, but in reality they fall very short of useful. The question that mattes is, who clicked and what did they buy? The other question that matters is, are the people clicking even in the target demographic? Without understanding these properly it is very difficult to make informed decisions.

Don't believe everything you pie.

The Road Ahead

Social media ROI and the world of social tracking are hot, but far from understood. This will be a topic that we will return to on the blog, especially as we consider how tracking and statistics get incorporated into Todaypulse. For now, you are probably better off focusing on creating great content and connecting with your audience. Be human first and a data-miner second – because honestly, it really only matters a little bit.

  • Alirio Pirela

    Great post again Garret!

    I’m also constantly asking the same question to myself, is this topic so relevant to social media?

    I’m agreed and what we should be concentrating is on engagement, and listening the audience and formulate a strategy to communicate with them in a long term. This monitoring is crucial to obtain useful conclusions to help to optimize brand awareness and strategy.

    Also you are right about the amount of information and data we get everyday is massive and distracting, creating impulsive decisions, which depreciate the long-term benefits of social media marketing and engagement.

    Also the time to be spent engaging, listening and being a part of the conversation I think is one of the downfalls of social media for small businesses.

    • Garrett Moon

      Thank for the comment Alirio! Listening is a big part of it for sure. I often tell businesses to close the analytics and stats completely for a few months and just focus on content and engagement. That is a big reason why there are not stats in Todaypulse too.

  • Susan

    Refreshing post, and yes, there are so, so many pitfalls. Perhaps the problems lies in the “value” perception. If I sell someone an advertising spot for the Super Bowl (which was 111+ mil viewers in 2011), no one would think twice about investing big $$, staff, and thought into that ad spot. They wouldn’t get bogged down in questions of ROI. Why? Because championship sporting events have proven themselves to be money makers for certain target markets & products. That didn’t happen overnight, that perception had to build up and ingrain itself in our collective marketing psyche over time (years, decades even). Why then do we allow ourselves to get so caught up in social media numbers, chasing after the holy grail that we perceive to be some number (what would it be) that would show an acceptable return on investment?

    Social Media needs to graduate from diapers before we start treating it like an adult.