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Blogs > MWD Advisors

Moving beyond social media vanity metrics
Helena Schwenk By: Helena Schwenk, Principal Analyst, MWD Advisors
Published: 3rd October 2013
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of spending a day in London at Social Data Week. It was an event formed out of a collaboration between Google Enterprise, Datasift and Tableau and was designed to provoke debate and provide different perspectives on the future of social media. The event ran during one week and was an international affair taking in conferences across major cities including San Francisco, New York, Oslo, and Melbourne, as well as London.

The best part of the day for me – as always – was the customer panel, this time made up of representatives from Nokia, Black Swan Data and Second Sync, all of whom were responsible for driving value out of social media data in one form or another. The ensuing conversation was very useful in helping shine an even brighter spotlight on the phenomenon of social media and how this revolution (as some call) is impacting not only our daily lives but also the way that companies, brands and departments function as well as interact and engage with their customer base.

My view about social is a fairly obvious one. As an industry analyst covering the customer analytics space I see social media networking platforms as a potential goldmine of data that, if harnessed correctly, can help organisations gain a better understanding of social communities, consumers, customers as well as help them gauge their business success. But it’s not always as easy as it sounds and this was something  also echoed at the conference.  A sample poll of the audience revealed that while many had social media initiatives under way, many were still in the early stages of development and had yet to fully understand the  true business impact of their efforts thus far.

As we know, business metrics can help with this challenge by enabling businesses to monitor, measure and track performance versus a target. So it was no real surprise when the panel debated use of vanity metrics. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s used to denote measures that lead you to believe you are doing the right things, whereas in fact they provide  little or no real indication of value or revenue to the business.

Social media analytics can be rife with vanity metrics. There is for example a tendency by some to place an undue emphasis on measures such as number of likes, followers, page views, shares, hits etc. While there’s nothing overtly wrong with this in itself, these metrics often fail to provide an insight into your real performance since they are not tied to anything meaningful.

As we briefly discussed in our report here (it’s free, follow the link to download it ~ editor), what’s needed is a more systematic approach to measuring the success of your social media efforts – one that ideally aims to cross correlate with other performance metrics and provides a fuller picture of social media’s impact and influence and ultimately revenue. There are a number of ways you can do this, for example, by using page tagging to attribute online sales and other success metrics to social media’s influence. But this approach isn’t fool proof. Interestingly, Nokia was one of the panellists able to talk about its ability to link social media activity to key performance indicators – but they weren’t able and/or willing to reveal how they accomplished it, a sign perhaps that it’s a sensitive competitive issue for them.

The bottom line here, I suppose, is that as part of any social media effort you need to think carefully about what you want to achieve from your social analytics effort; ask yourself: why are we using social analytics, and why does that matter? Is it to help generate sales opportunities, decrease call centre volume, create brand awareness, provide customer or community support, or something else? This is important, as each of these goals may translate into a different set of metrics by which you can measure success. Moreover, when you’ve established what metrics you want to use, make sure that they are not used in isolation or without connection to other business metrics like sales or retention, otherwise they’re not going to provide the value or visibility into performance you really need.

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