Is social media measurement really meaningless?

I’ve been reading and re-reading this article over the past few days and trying to fully understand Amy Kean of the IAB’s point of view who argues the ‘Yes’ side of the debate that social media measurement is indeed meaningless. I can understand her point of view but I’m of the ilk that believe in a different kind of measurement and that adopting the traditional ideologies of past successes is akin to putting a square peg in a round hole. I’ve said before that although ROI will always have its place (everyone will always wants to get the most bang from their buck), ROA (Return on Attention) will grow in importance in social media. You’re still getting a return on investment but in a different way.

Back to the article, the busker analogy doesn’t really work for me when comparing thumbs up to positive buzz and great reviews for a company. They aren’t directly comparable. For someone to go out of their way to generate positive buzz on a brands behalf or give a product a great review, there is value in that. Time spent plus insights provided, that’s definite value. Research also states that their message often has more impact than paid for marketing and communications.

It may not be in the traditional marketing sense of what ‘value’ is but for me, social media requires new metrics and benchmarks than to what has been tried and tested in years previous. Success now looks different. Instead of looking purely from a numbers perspective and at additional sales, is there value in increased levels of brand perception and awareness, along with the conversations and connections made because of the company activity? It’s intangible yet it’s still valuable.

Amy says that most senior management simply don’t understand it. While this may be a sweeping generalization across the board, there is some truth in it. This for me is where the paradigm of business control is changing. This won’t be for everyone, only the ones who are open to change, evolution and welcome new blood taking their company forward and in a new direction. The MD’s, the board members, all the ladies and gents high up who have been used to knowing everything they need to in order to take their business forward, are now bringing in new talent to change the culture, operations and future of the company. The MD will still be the MD but he/she has realised that a new set of skills is required for the ever changing business environment.  Edit – I had previously mentioned about Jean Wyllie leaving PN but as Kerry notes in the comments below this was out of context, my apologies.

Back to the article again, social media isn’t about directly increasing sales over a finite period. It’s more longer term than that, investing in and developing relationships. Potentially fruitful relationships that are seen to have a direct effect maybe not in sales but in other benchmarks like buzz / word of mouth. Let’s take the recent collaboration between BitchBuzz and Magners UK.

If you hadn’t heard about it, Magners UK decided to give away a case of its pear cider every day for a week on BitchBuzz. The target audience and the product was a perfect fit. The competition was cleverly integrated with Facebook Connect and as a result of the week long campaign, delivered approx 100 new fans to the Magners UK Facebook page every day for the duration of the campaign. They achieved over 8 times the fan conversion they had when supporting the giveaways based on engagement on Twitter and Facebook alone. Their objectives were simple, to build the community. The competition accounted for almost 40% of total Facebook fans.

Can you put a traditional value on that? No. What was the ROI on that? I don’t know. Is it important? Yes.

Amy also says that part of the role of the IAB’s social media council is to educate the industry about the opportunities in this space. Yet she’s declaring measurement meaningless? Sounds more like discounting a discipline rather than educating about it.

Will, Robin, Stephen, David and Drew what do you think? Is social media measurement meaningless? They are all much more knowledgable and experienced in this world than I am, so would be great to get their take on it all. Oh and feel free to disagree entirely if you think otherwise, interested to hear from other perspectives.