My 6-year old son is learning to play basketball. His love for the game might come from the Xbox "Streetball" or watching NBA all-stars make fantastic spins, passes and dunks.
"Yo dude," he alerts me before attempting a behind-the-back-pass. I spend as much time teaching him fundamentals of the game as I do reminding him he's not ready for spin moves and "no look" passes. Instructing him on the basics of a bounce pass, I say, "Ok buddy, let's keep it real," reminding him he's gone too far and too fast for his own good.
For marketers, social media is like watching an all-star game, inspiring forward-thinking marketers with new ideas for marketing strategies and measures. As in basketball, it's exciting to invent new web analytic "spin moves." But like most things, that comes with an opportunity cost.
With all we know of what is technically possible, it's easy to get ahead of ourselves by executing new social media measures and strategies beyond rational return on investment.
I've been involved in web analytics for years, previously managing the Dell.com consumer site and serving as chairman for the board of advisors of the Web Analytics Association. That is to say, I understand that companies still have huge revenue opportunities for getting web analysis fundamentals right, typically with a fixed set of resources. Companies struggle to get the right team, launch the right tools, capture the right measures, come to the right conclusions and respond with the right strategies.
But there's too much opportunity and too few resources to optimize, operationalize and automate current strategies, let alone all the new ones we're dreaming up to measure social media.
As excited as you and I are about the social media opportunities, this is a friendly reminder to "keep it real" by prioritizing analytical efforts based on business impact. How much time and effort you spend on new social media analytics depends on the answer to a simple question: How much is social media impacting your business now and in the future?
A way to answer the first question is to visit the largest sources of social media and search for your brand or product. Of course, you can start with Google to see what you can find and then search blog conversations (blogpulse.com), YouTube, Flickr, Yahoo Answers, MySpace and Wikipedia.
Grab snapshots to track the intensity (the number of posts, views, et cetera) and the sentiment (positive or negative). Compare that sentiment trend to advertising effectiveness. Certain sites and particular user segments may have higher engagement than others and therefore could be good places to advertise. Trend the sources and levels of social engagement for your brand against sources of traffic and advertising effectiveness. As this ratio of social media impact increases, resources to advance your capabilities in this area should follow.
You can also trend and measure the new sources of referring traffic to your site. The absolute referral numbers may not be accurate, but the trending of new referral sources tells you the effect social media has on your business.
Where's a good place to start with social media analytics? Start tagging or identifying sources of traffic from social media and then look for relationships to advertising effectiveness. Does the last ad a user clicked on deserve full attribution for a qualified lead into a website? Frequency and reach are still relevant principles in marketing except today, the frequency of a message is increasingly carried by social media and word of mouth. Furthermore, the salience of that message is significantly higher coming from another customer.
If you can code and track other interactions with your brand and tie that relationship to ad campaigns, you can weigh the advertising's impact on click-through versus the social clicks that precede the ad click. Think of this much like multi-source marketing attribution where you have to allocate "credit" for a conversion to multiple media exposures and actions, not just the most recent exposure or click-through.
There are plenty of exciting new social marketing and measurement strategies for marketers to invent. There's a lot to learn, new ways of thinking and opportunities to participate in the evolution. The approaches above can help get you started with social media measurement. You decide how much to invest in new analytical "moves."
As for my son, he's getting pretty good at dribbling. Maybe I'll teach him how to do a spin move next week!
Sam Decker is vice president of marketing and products for Bazaarvoice, Inc. .