Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Engagement is a means to an end - measure the end, not just the means.

Many marketers, PR reps, pundits and analysts are seeking proof that social media has a demonstrable impact on business. A Google search of "how to measure engagement" yields over 12M results with claims of "how to REALLY measure engagement," and proposed formulas that are smart but insanely complex and still don't answer the question regarding business impact.

The truth is that companies are just beginning to tap into the possibilities of leveraging social behavior into the marketing mix and naturally, it's begun very tactically. After all, brand ambassadors are NOT comfortable with two-way conversations and if consumers weren't forcing it via non-branded social networking channels, we'd still only be talking about reach, frequency & CTR.

What I'm referring to as 'tactical' beginnings for social inside the enterprise include but are not limited to - support forums, e-commerce ratings & reviews, the corporate blog, a brand's Facebook page, a brand's twitter stream, etc.

Next-gen branded social initiatives are highly strategic (and thereby measurable). They engage consumers on their terms with strong value propositions that complement the brand. They do not broadcast a 30-second 'brand message' - they create an attentive audience for relevant information from the brand. In this strategic context, engagement is a means to an end, not the end itself.

And like most online marketing initiatives hosted by brands - the objectives are or should be consistent - to acquire new customers, maximize revenue, inspire loyalty, enlist advocates and retain customers. Strategic marketing initiatives are designed to influence these metrics and have associated measurement plans to benchmark and trend impact over time. These measurement plans must include both web analytics and primary research because the desired outcomes include brand perceptions.

As long as we are focused on the 'media' in social media - measurement will seem elusive at best and have lackluster impact at worst. It's like trying to measure the impact on my company's revenue because they bought me a phone.