Executives Still Unsure
If you've spent any time at a social media conference recently, you know how important measurement is to this group. There seems to be a-growing percentage of sessions focused on social media impact and ROI. While there is research about how investment in social media marketing will continue to increase, that same research suggests executives are still unsure what impact it has on their bottom line. These themes have been consistent over the past decade and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
There are two contributing factors for marketers’ inability to prove social media's impact:
- Attribution is difficult. We don't have to look past our own lives to understand the difficulty of attribution with respect to social media marketing. We may notice a product on Facebook and then decide to buy it at the grocery store and perhaps not surprisingly, it’s difficult for marketers to credit that purchase to Facebook. Research companies and technology platforms are starting to provide better picture into the omni-channel purchase path, but attribution is likely to remain the largest issue within social media measurement for years to come.
- There has been a lack of standardization. Brands often rely on agencies and other partners to implement and report on the success (and shortcomings) of their social media strategies. With no standardization in place, it was very difficult to compare the performance of two campaigns unless they were run on the same platform (and, therefore, shared the same methodology), which hinders optimization.
Media Ratings Council Working to Solve Standardization Issue
Recognizing the need for measurement standards, in late 2015 the Media Ratings Council (MRC) with the help of other leading marketing organizations (4A's, IAB and WOMMA) released the first set of Social Media Measurement Guidelines. In the words of the MRC, the Guidelines have the following goal:
This document establishes a detailed set of methods and common practices for entities that measure Social Media activity. Guidelines are intended to establish and document good practices of measurement; improve practices and disclosures used by
practitioners; and also provide education to users of Social Media data from all segments of the Industry.
The Guidelines represent a huge first step for the industry to develop benchmarks that practitioners can reference to determine the quality of their measurement and partners. For anyone with a stake in social media measurement, reviewing these guidelines is essential to ensuring your company is operating according to industry best practices.
Room to Grow
As the VP of Research at House Party and a member of the WOMMA Research & Measurement Council, I have reviewed the Guidelines extensively. They are a much-needed step in the right direction of establishing best practices for social media measurement and they will go a long way towards making industry measurement collectively more mature. For example, by clearly defining nebulous or generic concepts such as “interaction” and its mutually agreed upon measurement components in the MRC Social Media Measurement Guidelines, both brands and agencies will begin to apply rigor and accountability to the social media marketing practice. With such maturation, the industry as a whole will develop not simply an empirically sound reporting framework, but in turn attract additional investment of marketing budgets and overall market growth.
That being said, ongoing research and new platforms will continually create new measurement challenges and opportunities .. As the industry continues to grow, the Guidelines will continue to evolve. For example, while the Guidelines currently allow for social media practitioners to report Potential Reach (counting all friends/followers), as research and technology continue to provide more accurate media consumption information the industry should work towards measuring and reporting on Actual Reach (counting only friends/followers who saw the content) - the best companies are already doing so (hint: House Party).