This is going to be a fun one, as this post has given me the opportunity to write down and organize all of the various thoughts that have been running through my head around social media and its overall impact on business and marketing, in my own experience. Geoff Livingston tagged me with his new meme, The Measurement Meme.
This is a very timely topic, and one that I am going to write about truly subjectively. Meaning rather than generalizing my thoughts on the topic, I will discuss my own experience with social media, and the measurement around the various social “nodes” I engage with online.
My Social Nodes:
There are several different “nodes” or services that I participate in with regards to the social web. I call them “nodes” because they make up the network that is my social web. Each of them include, in some form or another, a mixture of seven core building blocks of the social web, and the software that powers our experiences in it. Gene Smith from nForm does an excellent job explaining the key building blocks of these services in this post. In short these building blocks are:
Identity – Everyone has an identity within the social web, whether it be personal or business.
Presence – This is summed up with one word, awareness. You are aware of others, and make others aware of you within the service.
Conversations - There is dialog taking place in every node of the social web. This is very much a two-way medium.
Sharing – Participants can share things with each other. Links, posts, audio, video, photos, etc..
Groups – Within these social nodes, sub-communities or groups can form to link up with other like minded individuals.
Relationships – In some cases relationships between people are defined and have statuses, ie. family, friends, colleagues, etc
Reputation – With most services, there are ways to tell if you are being perceived in a positive light, or a negative one.
For me, my current social web is a combination of the following “nodes” in no particular order or importance:
My blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, CollectiveX, del.icio.us, Instant Messenger (AIM, Yahoo, MSN), You Tube, Blip.tv, Flickr. And of course, most importantly, my Email inbox and my RSS Reader.
As you can imagine, I use all of these services for a variety of purposes. Networking and meeting new people, promoting new content that was just published (blog posts, audio and video podcasts, etc), promoting events and places I will be, sharing photos, branding myself and my company, sharing thoughts, insights, opinions and perceptions, to name just a few, the list goes on and on. I use all of the services listed above on a regular and in some cases daily basis.
The real question then becomes:
What have I been able to measure from my participation in social media?
And a very good question it is, as Geoff says, as marketers we need to be having this conversation and discussing the ROI and measurement around participation in social media. This is such a different animal from traditional and even your base online marketing mediums. So, how do I measure the impact my participation in social media has on me and my business? How do you justify the time and effort spent developing and producing content, engaging in conversation, networking, etc?
Let me tell you what I have experienced in regards to what I will call as a “return on engagement” or as someone I met recently called it “R.O.WE.” (sorry I forgot who it was).
The Expanding Network
The sheer number of people that I have met through engaging in the various social mediums that I list above is nothing short of incredible. Lets do basic statistics, the more people you know and that know you, the more opportunity in general there is for you. When something comes across your network that could or does apply to you, more often that not the people that know you, think of you first. This has been an incredible experience for me with my business. There are so many people that I have met over the social web that not only are great friends and colleagues, but also referrers of some incredible opportunities. This is networking 101, the more people you know the better. Be friendly and engaging, and things happen. I have tracked many new opportunities in both my personal and professional worlds back to my participation in social media.
Branding and Awareness
This involves both personal and business / corporate branding. Through regular participation in an active, healthy social web, you are increasingly expanding your personal, and professional / corporate brand. I blog and comment regularly on topics that are timely and relevant to the industry that I am involved in. Just like the meme I am responding to right now that is part of a bigger conversation, there is a continuous dialog taking place in the social web. And with each post, comment, podcast, etc that you publish, you are building mind share and brand exposure to those who are reading, watching, listening, and ideally subscribed. It’s great to meet people at events who have been reading or listening to your content, and connecting with them for the first time. The people who know you are the ambassadors of your own brand (assuming you are not a jackass).
Subscribers & Audience
One of the biggest compliments you can get online is a new “follower,” i.e. a RSS or email subscriber, a Twitter follower, a Facebook friend, etc. When someone takes the time to subscribe, they are saying, “I want to hear what you have to say, I am interested” from that point on you have another set of eyeballs and or ears that are engaged in the content you are producing, and the dialog that stems from it. To me, this is an ever important metric. Its not about sheer numbers, but you should look for consistent growth. As you would imagine, there is a direct correlation between the amount of participation and content publishing (both on a frequency and a quality basis), and the number of subscribers and traffic that you are generating.
Leads and Business Development
Where the rubber meets the road for most marketers is on true “Return On Investment.” While I am a businessman and a marketer, and I do carefully measure the metrics on ROI, this has never been a leading or driving force for me with social media. What I have found in my own experience is that it is simply a by-product of participation. I can’t tell you how many times I have been introduced to a prospect from a member of my network, signed on new clients who are in my network, have other members of my network write about my company, our products and services, etc. Business development is a by-product of participation in social media. At Blue Sky Factory, we track very carefully where every lead and new client comes from. Most of our business comes from our online marketing efforts and referrals, and believe me we break out the referrals into different groups. My social media participation delivers some of the best referrals in the bunch. The point again, is not to lead with this goal in mind, ever. This is a by-product of participation, if you are a genuine, trustworthy individual who understands the laws of giving, receiving, ie. participating, then this will happen for you as well no matter what industry, or product, or service you are involved in.
As the landscape continues to evolve I am sure there will be many ways to break down the above a bit further, but for now those are some of the key areas of measurement that organizations can consider for a return on their participation in social media.
I am really interested in what others have to say on this topic. Since this is a new meme on what I believe is an interesting and important topic, I tag the following people with adding to the conversation:
Giovanni Gallucci – The Agency Blog / Dexterity Media
Frank Gruber, Somewhat Frank
Jim Long, “New Media Jim” – Verge New Media
Ryan Irelan, Mijingo, LCC, PFA, Airbag Industries.
Jeff Pulver, Jeff Pulver dot com
Looking forward to reading the responses! Thanks Geoff for starting this, and if you haven’t yet, you should pick up a copy of Geoff’s new book, “Now is Gone” which is available starting today! Congrats Geoff!