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How to Measure Social Media Advertising September 27, 2010

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Recent stories about social networking companies and third-party data suppliers highlight a key challenge currently facing social media: advertising measurement. Facebook cut some beta features out of its measurement tools for advertisers; Twitter said it would offer an analytics dashboard for the first time. Meanwhile, traffic tracker comScore introduced a new social media monitoring service and news leaked about a new metric from Nielsen.

Companies that best address the social advertising measurement challenge will be the ones to get more of what eMarketer says will be $2.1 billion in U.S. spending next year. How? Opportunistic suppliers will thrive by better measuring the unique characteristics of this new advertising medium and translating those metrics into ones that complement traditional media-buying.

What Social Media Adds to Advertising Analysis

In traditional media, day-to-day brand advertising measurement is about tracking efficiency in buying ad space. Advertisers usually measure brand objectives like increased preference or loyalty after the fact. And they tend to do marketing mix modeling — comparing the effect of different media on sales as well as brand objectives — rarely, due to cost and complexity.

Social media experiences, on the other hand, lend themselves to brand advertising rather than direct marketing techniques. Most advertisers use ads on social networks to raise awareness and consideration, rather than for direct conversion to sales.

And while most traditional advertising measurement concepts are applicable to social media — demographics, reach, frequency, duration, brand “halo effects,” etc. — there are three things truly unique to social media advertising:

  • Explicit preference. Whether it’s Facebook Likes or Twitter followers, social media properties offer marketers the chance to observe users’ self-professed preferences rather than relying on implied or survey-determined preference, or on actual purchase behavior.
  • Advocacy and pass-along. Beyond preference, social media enables consumers to post reviews and recommendations and act as influencers for advertisers. Of course, viral word-of-mouth exists offline, but social media greases the wheels and accelerates it.
  • Real-time feedback. Social media enables marketers and brands to take the pulse of their customers and prospects in real-time, where traditional media has to rely on slower market research techniques.

Social media marketers waste a lot of time debating “engagement.” Some studies hint that marketing messages experienced on social networks engender better recall or brand affinity than those in other forms of media. But that idea doesn’t differ much from what happens in traditional media, where advertisers choose which magazine or TV show runs their spot for context as well as audience type.

Where’s the Opportunity?

Marketers can get some of those traditional and social metrics mentioned above from the social media companies where they happen, e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, etc. But agencies and third-party tools like Google Analytics, Nielsen Buzzmetrics, WPP’s Cymfony, Radian6 and others do a better job at aggregation and comparison. Social media properties that support and integrate those third-party tools will get more than their fair share of ad dollars, particularly if they can help agencies demonstrate those three aforementioned social attributes for campaigns and long-term marketing programs.

What’s lacking that social media players and measurement companies need to provide?

  • Benchmarks. Companies can track their own progress in achieving effective advertising. But advertisers would loosen their purse-strings faster if there were standard measures for things like how often a social user should see an ad before it becomes ineffective or the value of a follower versus that of a casual visitor. Case studies will have to suffice for the moment.
  • Currency. Likewise, there’s no single ratings currency online — let alone in social media — to fill the role of Nielsen ratings for television or ABC circulation data for magazines. Fragmentation remains across Nielsen, comScore, Hitwise and others.
  • Cross-media comparisons. In theory, Nielsen is best positioned to deliver something like a gross ratings point that would be comparable across TV and online, enabling media planners and buyers to compare the efficiency of different properties. But industry inertia, expense, panel inconsistencies and new TV data from set-top boxes have distracted or slowed Nielsen so far.

Related Research: Multiple Models for Social Media Businesses

Question of the week

What’s missing in social media measurement?
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