But the answer has been elusive because it is a different answer than what people expected. Tweets can skyrocket. Visits from Facebook and Twitter and jump. Sales can stay flat. Sometimes there is a direct correlation with sales, but a lot of time there isn't. I don't think this is what many people expected. I know it is not what I expected.
But no one stopped there. If social doesn't drive sales, and we believe that it has values, then we just have to keep looking for what that value is.
The Social Media Situation
Jim Stern's book on Social Media Metrics is wonderful at working through this. For all us bean counters, he gives exhaustive lists of metrics that can be used to measure social media. But, to be honest, there are so many metrics it is almost like a sarcastic joke saying "You can apply almost any metric to this". There is just no guarantee the numbers will be what you want to see.
But there is a way to make more sense out of it. In talking through measuring outcomes, Sterne mentions that social can be used to see "storm clouds on the horizon" (p.115). In this way, tracking social sentiment is like weather forecasting. Although everyone knows how unreliable weather forecasting is, it is still useful as an early indicator of where things may be going in the (near) future. This is important because when that future becomes the present and you need to engage in actual revenue generating activities, your results may be better or worse than expected. If you can get some advanced warning of performance, then you can plan accordingly. This, of course, is very useful if there is negative sentiment to be overcome. New messaging can be created in the next campaign and hopefully the tide can be turned and that campaign will do better than expected. Sterne goes on at length about this in his book, several times.
How Branding Fits In
Branding seems to fall strongly in line with this approach. Brian Lesser wrote an interesting article on branding measurement and expectations that perplexed me at first. He writes:
A variety of branding campaign goals can be measured, including how a campaign reaches an audience beyond the advertiser's core customers, how it lifts brand awareness and recognition, and how it drives traffic to the website...
More importantly, the click-through and conversion metrics that are central to measuring direct response campaigns are almost irrelevant for most branding campaigns.I have to say it was a bit perplexing to me, because you can't pay the bills with good intentions. At the end of the day, revenue and profit keep the lights on. Avinash Kaushik recognizes this in "A clear line of sight to net income." Stern devotes more than one chapter to it.
If you own an apple orchard, it is great to know how the summer weather is going to help or hurt you, but at the end of the day, no matter what, you need to sell apples.
This last part seems to be not only left out of so many of the conversations on branding and social media, it is almost violently ejected from the conversation. This seems like a huge mistake to me.
Business intelligence needs a business to support. It cannot be an end unto itself. But the conversations are seeming so polarized to me, especially lately.
Why does Lesser disconnect brand from conversions? I'm not sure, but my guess is that he intends it to be seen only as a part of a bigger picture, and not be mistaken for a complete approach unto itself.
When I think about where to go with this and how to use it in a cohesive way, it seems that there are a couple takeaways:
- Don't ever forget that revenue is the goal. Conversion metrics matter. You gotta sell apples.
- People will not buy your product if they do not like your company (usually).
- Understanding what people think of your brand is like weather forecasting and there are new tools coming on the market almost everyday that can help you read the horizon.
- AFTER you have an idea of what is on the horizon--what the marketplace thinks of you--use branding to build on strengths and address weaknesses. Continually do this--monitor and message--as long as you need to and/or can afford to. Measurement is critical.
Measuring sentiment leads to brand messaging (and social outreach) which helps fertilize the ground for response marketing that drives sales.
When used in this way, brand and social activities fit nicely into the revenue generation process.