Every day, it seems, a new tool appears claiming to solve the social media analytics problem. Just take a look at my growing list of social media analytics tools (and add your own personal favorites).
And, while these new social media analytics tools are great, is that what’s really needed to improve the ROI (return on investment) of social media?
A recent Sloan article shows that strategic questions revolving around value exist despite better tools and increasing amounts of data:
In every industry, in every part of the world, senior leaders wonder whether they are getting full value from the massive amounts of information they already have within their organizations. New technologies are collecting more data than ever before, yet many organizations are still looking for better ways to obtain value from their data and compete in the marketplace. Their questions about how best to achieve value persist.
Are competitors obtaining sharper, more timely insights? Are they able to regain market advantage, neglected while focusing on expenses during the past two years? Are they correctly interpreting new signals from the global economy — and adequately assessing the impact on their customers and partners? Knowing what happened and why it happened are no longer adequate. Organizations need to know what is happening now, what is likely to happen next and what actions should be taken to get the optimal results.
Findings from the joint study between MIT (Sloan) and IBM show organizations embedding social media analytics into their strategic and tactical (day-to-day) planning achieve results far superior to other organizations. But, importantly, it’s not just HAVING data that defines the difference between high and low performers, it’s processing that data and using it to guide decision-making. What we call “closing the loop“.
Organizational barriers to social media analytics
The study shows what many of us know — the biggest challenges to using social media analytics to improve ROI lie within the management of the organization, not having enough data or using the right tools. Why does management explain this disjoint? Well, several reasons actually.
Lack of appreciation
Maybe lack of appreciation for metrics traces its roots to traditional media where metrics were rather squishy and didn’t correlate with ROI. Metrics such as awareness, reach, recall, frequency, and others just didn’t make product flow off the shelves. Whatever the reason, managers just don’t use enough metrics when making decisions.
Mintz and Currim studied over 400 managers across nearly 1300 decisions and found organizational culture, rather than the manager’s organizational level, impacted whether they made data-driven decisions or not. Organizations rewarding data-driven decision-making and providing analytics training experience both a higher level of data-driven decision-making and higher rewards from these decisions.
These findings jive with findings by Sloan that managers don’t really understand how to use metrics to guide decisions. In my own agency, I find myself arguing with prospective clients about the importance of social media analytics as an integral part of any social media campaign. Many don’t get any kinds of metrics from their existing agency.
Lack of time
Managers say they just don’t have time to monitor social media performance. They’re overwhelmed with existing demands on their time, with nothing left to learn and use social media analytics.
Although there’s been progress, data still exists in functional silos with territorial disputes impeding progress toward data-driven decision-making; with over half of all organizations citing this as their biggest challenge to using data for real-time analytics and predictive decisions. Knocking down these silos to integrate data across various platforms, sources, and functional areas must happen to achieve improved ROI.
Solving the social media analytics problem
Actually, in social media marketing, getting data is the easy part. But, getting the right data and reducing noise caused by irrelevant data is the problem.
Giving equal weight to vanity metrics, such as Likes, Followers, etc, obscures decision-making by including variables having little relationship with ROI. By the same token, ignoring important metrics, such as sentiment and influencers, that drive ROI indirectly is also a major mistake.
Thus, before you start collecting data, you need to determine WHICH metrics to capture. Organizational goals and related KPIs should guide you.
Rand Fishkin, of MOZ, recommends tracking 4 types of social media KPIs:
- traffic data – (ie. Google Analytics) where did traffic come from, website performance by social media channel (ie. bounce rate, time on site, etc), and, ultimately, which traffic converted best.
- network data – not only trends of how many network connections you have, but demographics and location information about these connections, which is very useful for planning and targeting.
- social interaction data – not only trends of engagement (shares, comments, link likes), but who is engaging. A single influential follower creates much greater impact than your run of the mill follower. Also, tracking what times work best for creating engagement.
- social content performance – which posts do best (in garnering conversions, but also in creating engagement) and which keywords perform best (SEO, engagement, conversion).
Understanding your social media analytics is much harder. Some metrics are relatively easy to understand. When a particular channel, such as Facebook converts 3X more than Twitter, it doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to use this data to the decision to focus on Facebook for future social media campaigns.
A key to understanding social media data is integration across platforms, which is sometimes difficult. Using a product providing a dashboard helps, but there’s a lot of intuition going into making sense of all this social media data.
In the old paradigm of market research, data was collected and analyzed, then reports recommending actions based on the data were prepared and disseminated to decision makers.
That’s the old world
Today, where organizations often rely on real-time social media analytics to guide day-to-day decisions, this old paradigm needs to die for the sake of organizational effectiveness and ROI.
Today, everyone must be a data scientist, capable of massaging captured data to answer specific questions relevant to that particular manager. Hence, the community manager needs information about the performance of prior posts in planning the content marketing calendar while the CMO needs higher level data on the overall performance of various social media campaigns — possibly filtered by marketing group.
That’s why so many colleges and organizations like Microsoft offer certificates in business intelligence. Business intelligence programs not only offer training in specific tools, but how to answer strategic questions with them.
Social media analytics is fluid
Just because you learned something to optimize your ROI from social media analytics doesn’t mean you’re done. Social networks are fluid; with platform and user changes happening all the time. For instance, Facebook recently evolved into a video sharing platform where it once focused on sharing links and pictures. Sure, those links and pics are still there, but are being pushed out by video sharing.
Thus, you must constantly assess what’s working in your social media campaigns. Tracking trends using visualization is a great tool for ongoing monitoring of your social media ecosystem.
A strategy for social media analytics
Recommendations based on the Sloan article include:
- Focus on your biggest opportunities first. Don’t feel you have to measure everything — grab the low hanging fruit first. Now, that doesn’t mean you focus on what’s easy to measure, but you focus on what gives you the biggest bang for your buck. That might be setting up a conversion funnel in Google Analytics and filtering for various social channels. Or even better, set up a custom dashboard on Google Analytics providing your most important metrics in a single space rather than shuffling through various segments of the tool.
- Define your questions first, before you gather data. This seems intuitive, but most organizations start with the data rather than the problem. That’s like starting dinner preparations by inventoring supplies on hand — you end up with what you can do rather than what you should do. Instead, define what your problems are: too little website traffic versus too few conversions (low %) are two entirely different questions with entirely different solutions.
- Make data interpretation easy with visualizations, process algorithms, and stories. Don’t force users to weed through endless columns on a spreadsheet hoping to glean insights.
- Make social media analytics part of your daily routine. For instance, every day I view my analytics reports as soon as I get to the office — before other distractions and priorities overwhelm my reasoning ability. I find routine helps so I have a specific pattern guiding which reports I view first, second, … I have a list of several metrics I track over time, then add or delete from this list based on new priorities. By spending a half hour or so with my analytics first thing in the day, I can also put insights into immediate action. So, if a particular post did particularly well yesterday, I’ll modify today’s content marketing calendar to reflect these findings. On a bi-monthly basis, I delve more deeply into my analytics looking for more strategic changes necessary to reach my goals.
- Involve decision makers in developing and monitoring analytics. Every project means starting a conversation about goals, objectives, KPIs, and opportunities with clients. During these early conversations, we map out priorities and define questions we need to answer about our performance. Every week clients get updated reports on their social media performance, as well as recommendations for tweaks or more long-term changes needed to achieve marketing goals. I sit down with most clients (either in person or via Google Hangouts) to ensure they understand what changes will have the greatest impact on reaching their goals.
Whether you need a complete content marketing strategy or a complete metrics-driven social media strategy, we can fill your digital marketing funnel. We can help you do your own social media marketing better or do it for you with our community managers, strategists, and account executives. You can request a FREE introductory meeting or sign up for my email newsletter to learn more about social media marketing.