Measuring social media marketing

There was an interesting article in Marketing Week this month which neatly exercised most of the usual arguments around social media marketing. The article cited a survey suggesting social media had “little or no value when acquiring new customers“, adding it was “difficult to justify investment“, and that any measure of return usually went no further than “fluffy metrics“.

The comments posted in response covered the usual counter arguments: it provides “support to other channels” and helps “drive customer engagement” through a “two-way dialogue“. The themes of “we believe!” vs “we need proof!” begin to give the whole debate a strong whiff of faith vs reason.

While this was a general article not specific to academic publishing, the same points apply equally well to social media marketing in our industry. There are some strong advocates, and the topic certainly gets a good share of air-time at industry conferences and probably at internal marketing meetings too, while hard evidence about the financial benefits does remain understandably hard to pin down.

So in what ways can social media marketing be measured? We’ve taken a brief look at the “big two” channels of Twitter and Facebook, and suggest some basic metrics which publishers engaged in social media activities can easily track and assess:

Output: As a crude measure of how much ‘effort’ you’re putting into social media, keep count of how many Twitter tweets and Facebook posts you’re creating. Many publishers run separate accounts for different subjects, brands and titles, so those different routes should all be counted up. Quality is more important than quantity of course, but if you’re paying staff or agencies to maintain your social media presence, it makes sense to keep tabs on how many messages are being posted each week.

Readership: You can see a total count of ‘Followers’ on Twitter and ‘Likes’ on company/brand Facebook pages, providing a rough indication of readership. It’s useful to compare that figure to known contacts from non-social-media activities such as online signups, subscription sales, and author submissions – if you have 1 million ‘traditional’ email contacts and 5,000 combined Twitter and Facebook readers, it probably makes sense to consider those proportions when allocating your marketing resources.

Impact: Here we get to the heart of the real value of social media, and things get a little trickier to pin down. Blasting out news about your new journals and article highlights is one thing, but are you getting the desired “customer engagement” and “two-way dialogue”? A one-way conversation does not make the best use of social media, so low engagement might require a re-think of the type and/or frequency of messages posted.

  • Facebook helpfully provides a headline figure for “People talking about” your content in the last 7 days, counting a range of interactions such as ‘likes’, comments, sharing, etc. This serves as a reasonably good headline score for your Facebook impact.
  • On Twitter, ‘impact’ could include replies, retweets, favourites and mentions. Twitter itself doesn’t offer a single overall score for all of those, but it does enable you to tally them up yourself (via the @Connect section) and there are also various third-party services which claim to do that for you. It’s also useful to count your own direct replies to individuals: another indication of how “two-way” your interactions currently are.

To conclude: using some simple numeric metrics for social media marketing, you can track:

  • if your ‘Output’ is appropriate to your social media spend;
  • how your ‘Readership’ compares to other marketing channels; and
  • if your ‘Impact’ demonstrates two-way customer engagement.

There is clearly much more you could measure, but basic scores like these can provide a good starting point for publishers seeking to quantify the value of their social media activities.