Where Measurement Falls Short

There are so many discussions swirling around social media measurement these days, and the discussions I’ve had recently at conferences have reinforced the fact that as a whole, measurement of communication is incomplete at best. We’re not satisfied with what’s available to us in terms of proving the value of what we’re doing.

CAN we measure elements of social media impact, reach, and yield? You bet. There are lots of metrics, new and old, that contribute to building cases for attribution of purchase influence, customer and transaction values, and the like.

But the challenge of doing a good job measuring our communication, customer outreach, and marketing initiatives has always been a sticky one, for one specific set of reasons.

Influence Isn’t Cause.

Communication and relationship development have always – and will always – reside in the gray area of actions that influence and impact purchase and buying behaviors, but are not always the direct and only cause for same. We want desperately to have said that our advertising or our press release or that game of golf was solely responsible for a customer’s decision to buy from us.

But more than likely, the combination of several experience touchpoints directly with the company combined with external influences (opinions of friends and family, for instance) and things like context and timing (my purchase of a new dishwasher is driven by need, but my impression of a company based on other experiences might steer me their way) are what make up the bigger and complete picture of a sale.

Even in the world of direct marketing, where you can track the path from touchpoint to purchase with codes or links or whatever, you cannot say with absolute certainty that that marketing effort was the singular cause for the purchase. It might have been the catalyst or the impetus for the purchase at that time, but it’s likely not the only thing that guided someone’s decision to buy, yet we measure it as such.

Measurement has always been imperfect. It’s not just social media measurement.

Frankly, we as communicators and marketers and PR people have relied on a flawed set of measurements for a long time, and we’ve always been lousy at demonstrating the impact of our work. There’s a reason why CMO tenure is ridiculously short. And I’m not so much alarmed at the figures that say we’re bad at measuring social media because, honestly, we’re bad at measuring lots of things. We’ve just told ourselves otherwise, content to settle into the metrics we do have, even if they’re not really telling us anything of substance.

The gray area in measurement is in the combination of:

  • Correlation: Sales go up while our marketing reach does, so the two must be related

  • Attribution: Our press release was part of the overall promotion strategy, so must have had some impact on the whole

  • Influence: Awareness of our company is reinforced by a recommendation or endorsement from a Trust Agent

All of these things matter. They all impact the likelihood of sales. But none of them is alone the cause, and that’s why folks flip out over ROI equations. Just how much of that revenue can you attribute directly to social media, or traditional marketing, or public relations, or the skills of your sales guy? Unless you’re only employing a single strategy, it’s more likely that your ROI equation is related to the whole.

How to improve it?

What we need to keep exploring in social media is conversation pathing. Online gives us the best shot at refining measurement that we’ve had, really. The notion that we can trace all of the digital breadcrumbs – conversation points, recommendations and commentary, discussions including a brand within a larger conversation, content marketing, reviews, capturing of offline experiences – and create a weaving, meandering path through the social space in order to move the needle from separate influence points to an overall sense of how the profile of the aggregate conversation drove the customer to the finish line.

It’s a headful, alright. And I love that I’m working with a company that’s pushing boundaries on this to try and connect the dots so much better. But we have got to get out of the mindset that all of the old metrics still apply, that new metrics don’t have a place because they don’t have precedent.

Our communication is evolving. Our business foundations are changing. Our measurement practices and the work we put into quantifying the value of what we do needs to change, too. It’s going to take work and elbow grease and lots of methodical, meticulous trial and tracking and refinement.

But if justification and proof is what we want, we’d better be willing to do the work it takes to get there.

So, I want to hear from you. Is correlation and impact enough? Can we ever really prove and demonstrate cause, or do we need to? And above all, where is the balance between granular measurement that distorts focus, and measurement that highlights the business insights we so desperately need?

The comments belong to you.

Where Measurement Falls Short

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