Rachel Hawkes: Are social media measurement tools really worth their salt?

There are more cost-effective ways of measuring the impact of social media, says our online columnist

Rachel Hawkes
Rachel Hawkes

I have had many, many conversations over the years with colleagues and clients about social media measurement tools. Back in 2006, when the first tools started to make more of an appearance, they were not only exorbitantly expensive - they also couldn’t do everything they said on the tin and required a huge amount of manual work (number crunching, sourcing sites and determining sentiment).

The brands that were bold enough to invest in social media in those days paid (heavily) for the development of better, more intelligent measurement software. To give you an example, in 2006 one such tool charged a €230,000 set-up fee, with a monthly maintenance and management fee of €80,000 per month. It even didn’t work properly, with vast exaggeration about what the service could actually do.

Measurement tools today are much slicker, more cost-effective and can offer real and valuable insight. Playing the devil’s advocate, though, they really don’t deliver anything that, given enough time (lots of it) and resources, a savvy marketer could source and analyse themselves. I have to stress, though, I am not suggesting for a minute that budgets are pulled from measurement tools or avoided altogether. A good tool can enable you to engage more effectively in real time with customers, supporters and influencers, and can be worth its weight in gold, particularly during crisis communications.

However, marketers can be quite blinkered when it comes to measuring return on investment and campaign performances. There’s a lot of hype about social media measurement tools. When every penny spent has to be justified to the board of trustees, members and donors, learning how to measure your digital activity in-house can not only save on the cost of a third party tool, but also help demonstrate the value in digital marketing and social media.

When you look at simple measurements and begin to drill down you can learn huge amounts, just by some crude number crunching and savvy searching. As an example, we have been monitoring The X Factor live shows from a social media perspective, which are published over at The Wall. This is an example of the kind of data you can mine yourself, without the use of a social media measurement tool.

Facebook has its own Insights, which you can learn a lot from, and they have just this week introduced even more features for richer insights, which I’ll touch on below. But for Twitter, you can measure three main elements easily; Twitter followers, number of @mentions and retweets (RTs). By determining the average number of followers your followers have, you can also get a crude estimate of how many directly engaged with the charity (on Twitter only of course) during the campaign and how many people were potentially reached through the organic word-of-mouth nature of social media.

A few weeks ago, Facebook rather quietly started publishing something called, ‘talking about this’ on pages. Visible to everyone, ‘talking about this’ is basically the direct interaction and engagement level on a page -  the number of comments, likes on a post, responses to an event, shares of a post and so on.  It’s not updated in real-time as yet (it seems to be a 24-hour update), but is so far proving to be a really interesting feature from a marketer’s perspective.

Formerly, the way of establishing the potential reach of a Facebook campaign would have been by applying the same metrics as described above for Twitter. However, Facebook has now unveiled new features for Insights that allow you to gather even richer, deeper data on how this channel is performing. As well as seeing the ‘people talking about this’, you can now see the total number of friends your fans have, as well as your total reach over a week at a time. These two metrics are now graphed alongside the number of posts you do, so you can see how this correlates with the engagement and virality of your efforts.

You can drill down on a post-by-post basis, or even just look at certain types of posts (for example, when you post a photo or a link) to determine which type of content your Facebook community interact most with. Under the ‘Likes’ section of Insights, the demographics and location of your Facebook fans, as well as where the Likes originate from (such as directly on the page, or via the new ticker feed, or through an app). The Reach tab shows you which elements of your Facebook page people are viewing in addition to where your Facebook traffic is referred from (such as click-throughs from an email, or another website).

Get familiar with Facebook Insights. Learn what type of content your fans engage best with, what type of content they share the most (they aren’t necessarily the same), what they ignore and when they unlike the page. Measuring that against what you learn from Twitter can help you understand which channel works most effectively for different campaigns, types of content, times of the day and so on. 

By doing this regularly (even on a daily basis during a campaign period) and correlating against activities and communications around the highest and lowest days will allow you to determine what worked well and not so well. Over a longer period of time, you can also begin to map trends, identify peaks in activity against media coverage or topical news, seasonal times and so on. How did this compare with donations received, or newsletter subscribers over that same period of time?

Consider other (free and cost effective) tools such as analytics, news alerts and URL shortening resources, which can provide insights on click-throughs, referral traffic and so on. As for measurement tools, Google has been busy with social plug-ins and more recently Google Analytics Real-Time. It may be inevitable that real-time social analytics become more available to the masses in time.

So, in summary, measurement tools have a valuable place in the social media space, but don’t by shy about getting out the calculator, it’s not just for accountants and nerds.


Rachel Hawkes is an account director at communications consultancy Elemental

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