Social media, monitoring, and measuring

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As the in-house metrics ‘expert’, I’ve been asked to write about why measuring and monitoring social media is not only simple but essential.

So the point of this post is plain:

Find a tool to consistently measure and monitor social media – and online media in general – BEFORE you start your communications action (online or offline), DURING your communications action, and AFTER your communications action.

Use this tool to tell who is discussing what where with what tone and why. Determine how this will impact what you want to communicate.

Okay, if you’ve limited time, you can stop reading now. If you want more specifics, scan for the section in this post that interests you most or be old-fashioned and actually read the whole thing.

Measuring and monitoring social media – overview

Two major advantages of social media over traditional media are that you can:

  • assess the state of play when it comes to your target audience and target topic online (i.e. identify where, with whom, why, and via what content your topic is discussed)
  • gauge quickly and in-depth how your story has been received from the moment of its release up to the months and even years following its distribution.

Tools available

I’ve reviewed and tested over 50 different paid social media monitoring tools, not to mention the numerous free tools that are out there, and I still haven’t tried even a third of what’s available.  Suffice to say, there is no lack for choice when it comes to tools you can use to first map online discussion and then measure your impact on that discussion.

As I said, there are many measurement tools available, both for a price and for free. I like to think of them as belonging to three general categories of tools (and some tools belong to more than one category):

1. Free tools provided by the social media platforms themselves. No platform online today is built without offering metrics. Some common examples include:

  • Google alerts come straight to your email (if you have Gmail or Yahoo.)
  • Facebook Insights are free if you have a Facebook fan or group page.
  • YouTube Insights are free for those seeking to optimise and then measure the success of a video for searches on YouTube or Google (YouTube’s owner). If you’re seeding a video, don’t forget to consider free tools like TubeMogul, which help you target video content for particular audiences (and offer their own free metrics).
  • Twitter analytics are not widely available yet, but the micro-blogging service has promised to offer free analytics for users. This will vastly improve how effectively we can use Twitter. Till then, try other free tools like Commun.it or ManageFlitter.
  • Bit.ly analytics are offered by the free link-shortening service.

2. Tools built using the free ‘APIs’ or application interfaces provided by many of these platforms (e.g. Klout, Tweetreach, the Archivist, etc.) Many software-as-a-service tools (e.g. Engagor, also found below in the third category) aggregate free APIs to create a dashboard where you can compare analytics across several platforms in a central location. This saves you time in coordinating and analysing your web communications, gives you great graphs that let you see how you’re doing at a glance, and ensure you’re consistent in what you compare.

3. Software-as-a-service (SAAS) tools that often have their own ‘web crawlers’ or specialised data-mining software that collects and catalogues online content to create charts and graphs about what kind of content and which particular topic is popular where and with which demographic via which social media platform. SAAS tools include Engagor, Radian6, Attensity, Heartbeat, Synthesio, Sprout Social, Integrasco etc. – like I said, I have reviewed 50+ of these, indicating it’s a growing business….

Manage your expectations when it comes to any of these. No tool is comprehensive – the web is just too big (and growing) – but all tools are good indicators – as long as you use them consistently.

Some notes on social media analytics available through online SAAS tools (Radian6, Engagor, Alterian, etc.)

As noted above, there are a myriad of paid tools (Engagor, Radian6, Attensity, Heartbeat, Synthesio, Sprout Social, Integrasco etc.) that offer the ability to combine all the analytics you have into a central ‘dashboard.’ Using keywords defined by you, this dashboard provides graphs that display up-to-date metrics measuring current online conversation and content produced that relates to your topic, institution, or issue. These metrics catalogue all relevant content according to:

  • Type of online media (blog, online news, social network, video, photo, etc.)
  • Language.
  • Country of origin (This is found through scanning the public profiles of users who identify themselves as from a particular country, through looking at languages used, and through locating users’ servers.)
  • Trending topics (keywords and phrases that are frequently associated online with your topics of interest.)
  • Date of posting (when the content was posted, shared, re-tweeted, etc.)

SAAS tools also usually offer services such as:

  • The ability to ‘drill down’ within the data, accessing original content (e.g. specific Tweets, blogs, public Facebook posts, etc.). In addition to examining the content via the dashboard, you should be able to export this content into Excel sheets or CSV files if you want.
  • To create customised visualisations of data for specific time periods, languages, countries, type of media, etc.
  • To identify influencers within specific topics, social networks, or online communities.
  • To engage directly with individuals or organisations via the dashboard,
  • To email, flag, or isolate posts of interest to you or others in your social media team,
  • To integrate other analytics into your project, such as your website analytics, your Facebook analytics, your RSS feeds, etc.

Back to the overview on social media monitoring tools in general

For those with access, we provide more information about different tools for monitoring and measuring social media in the DG COMM’s social media wiki. For everyone else, you can see here, here, and here for lists and reviews of social media monitoring tools.

Heck (as we polite Anglophones say), just type ‘social media monitoring’ or ‘social media measurement’ into any search engine and you’ll get plenty of reviews, descriptions, and videos about tools and how to use them.

In sum:

  1. Measuring and monitoring tools exist.
  2. You should take a clear decision about which tools you want to use to measure what and why.
  3. You should be measuring and monitoring using those tools.

The proper understanding and use of these tools helps in first planning and then evaluating the success of your communications – and in learning lessons for the future.

Reporting and monitoring social media

Reporting should be an important element of your social media activity. Not only does reporting help you to improve your activities, but it shows your management the value and impact of social media.

Depending on the length of your social media communication action, you may want consider a weekly or a monthly reporting exercise, with quantitative and qualitative metrics.

Quantitative metrics include things everyone can agree on – like number of followers, overall language or origin of followers, percentage of tweets vs. retweets, ratio of men to women or of Germans to Romanians commenting on a post. Qualitative metrics are those measurements you and your monitoring team should try to agree on before you start and may have to modify as you go along – stuff like tone of audience, perception of your content, and sentiment (this is a tricky one as sarcasm and humour can easily fool people and machines).

Before you start communicating online, discuss the format of your report as a part of your overall strategy. Some things to consider in building your report:

  1. As always, know who your audience is and which online tools they already use and where and build this into your monitoring report. In social media, it is usually a waste of time to build a platform and then try to build an online community around that platform. Communities already exist – find them and go to them with the tools and the information that they want.  Decide which social media tools will be the most effective for which audience, why you think this, and then determine how you will prove this in your monitoring report.
  2. What quantitative and qualitative indicators per social media tool are important in determining whether or not you are achieving your communication objectives?
  3. List the indicators according to the tool used.
  4. Identify dates that are important to the social media strategy proposed.
  5. Propose benchmarks, or ask that your service providers provide benchmarks, that you aim to achieve by specific dates.
  6. Verify these benchmarks using similar strategies, applications, and communication actions implemented. Most service providers can help in this. For example, if a viral video is released through specified social media channels, a service provider that regularly releases viral videos should be able to predict a minimum number of clickthroughs (number of times the video is clicked on by a user) overall. Most service providers build their business around being able to make these sorts of guarantees.
  7. Figure out how to monitor your online communication efforts to see if you are reaching, not reaching, or exceeding your benchmarks. Reallocate resources accordingly to ensure that you achieve maximum impact from your social media communications (e.g. If a lot of your content is being circulated by several different users on Twitter, you may want to spend more time and effort on distributing content via your Facebook Page or blog in order to increase interest via these platforms.)
  8. Determine when and how you will report on your results to your communications team. Social media and online communications can point to opportunities in offline communications and vice-versa. To ensure that you and your team are communicating as best as you can, share information and coordinate activities. Propose influencers within a topic that you have discovered via your online monitoring and identify trends and upcoming events that may benefit offline communications.
  9. Ensure that your report cites ‘lessons learned.’ Learn from your work. Identify where you could improve in a future communications effort. Cite under and over-represented linguistic and geographic target audiences and figure out which issues related to your topic are important to them. Use your work as feedback into your team’s overall communication efforts.

Social media and your website analytics

First, make sure that you have set up the analytics for your home website. See what search terms are leading people there, what individual items are most popular and how long people stay. Get an idea of what your audience is interested in and with that the issues are that are most likely to resonate with your target audience in social media. Measure your site’s “referrers” to find out where site traffic comes from.

While important, site traffic is not necessarily indicative of you’re the success of, for example, a social media campaign, provided that increasing site traffic was not a specific goal of the campaign. Often, members of your target audience get the information that they want from your social media action, so they may not necessarily feel compelled to check out your home page. This does not mean the home page is unimportant – it is often the central and the official point of reference for content used in the campaign.

However, the beauty of social media is that it brings the content to the community rather than forcing the community to go in search of the content. That said, a good way to measure the impact of a social media page is to compare, for example, the Facebook Insights of your Facebook page with your website analytics. Determine which attracts the most traffic, from which sources, at which times, and which content per page is most popular with visitors, etc.

A note on web analysis and offline communications

Remember, the online world often mirrors the offline world, so don’t forget to use at least some online analysis when you plan offline events and communications. With online metrics, you can discover the names of influential speakers about a topic even if the speaker him or herself never posts anything to the web. People blog, tweet, and talk about influencers on forums. Online metrics will also let you track the birth of a new trend and the top buzz words online so you know how people are talking about a particular idea or concept.

Conclusion

You can measure the potential, the current, and the long-term impact of any social media communications campaign. Because you can, you should. So choose some tools, if you haven’t already, and get to it.

@Linda_Margaret

@EC_MatildaBlog

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