Admap recently published this article by our Global Research & Insight Director Jamie Robinson and our Chief Strategy Officer Mobbie Nazir, explaining what brands and agencies should be doing to measure the effectiveness of their social media strategies. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

There's no disputing the fact that investment in digital and social media is increasing; it's becoming a more and more significant part of a brand’s marketing mix. However, brands still have a tendency to measure success on social metrics such as likes and shares. If social is ever going to really complete with its traditional counterparts when it comes to ROI, marketers need to get smarter when it comes to social measurement - and quickly.

Why brands should hold social to a higher standard
Over 32 million. That's the number of search results in Google if you search for that infamous term, "social media ROI". And the reality is that a lot of what you find out there written about the topic is confused. We seem to be stuck in a cycle of wanting more accountability for social media, not knowing where to find this accountability, and mistrust of anyone who says they have any answers.

So why are we here?

Well, let’s face it, as an industry we're really not helping ourselves. First, we have the social media technology vendors promising one-stop-shop solutions. While many of these tools are extremely valuable to track activity, rarely do they go deep enough to measure the true impact of social activity.

Then we have the agencies that promise business-changing campaigns but yet don't have the expertise to measure beyond simple metrics. And finally, the brands. Yes, brands play a key role here too. It’s fine to ask for more accountability from social media but too few brands are able to clearly articulate clear goals and objectives for their social media activity.

Perhaps it’s time we collectively face up to our responsibilities. The reality is that understanding and leveraging social behaviour can have a huge impact on a brand’s success. Just look at campaigns such as Always “Like a Girl” or Coca-Cola “Share a Coke” for evidence of this.

Social has evolved from understanding and being the first to execute against platform insights to understanding people and their longer term social motivations and drivers. It’s through understanding these drivers and putting social insight at the heart of your campaigns that social thinking has the potential to drive the greatest impact. So the question now should be not how is my social media performing, but what impact has social insight had on my overall brand or campaign performance? Measurement methodologies need to evolve in line with this new approach to social.

Everything has to start with clear objectives. Without clear objectives you’ll not only have a suboptimal strategies and campaigns but lets be honest, it’s impossible to measure the effectiveness of something if the objectives have not been defined.

And by objectives, we don’t mean “drive engagement on Facebook”. At We Are Social, we believe that great ideas that come from social insight, that truly leverage social behaviours and social technology have the power to deliver real business results - we call this social thinking. And we always aim for one or more of a range of communication, behavioral, attitudinal or business effects. Simply put, we should be aiming to shift behaviour on or offline.

So, with clear business objectives in mind the next step is to identify the most appropriate measurement methodologies available. The key here is to not be limited by social and digital measurement.

The IPA recently published a very complete guide called the “Expert guide to measuring not counting” which details the wide range of marketing measurement approaches, ranging from measuring digital attribution to closed-loop ROI measurement. We’re not going to go into this level of detail in this article but we very much see eye to eye to the approaches laid out that document and recommend it to any measurement practitioner.

Our agency approach has been to identify the most robust measurement methodologies and categorise them into three areas; Social Analytics, Brand Health and Commercial Impact. Social Analytics includes measurement such as content reach and frequency, Brand Health includes methodologies such as campaign brand effect and Commercial Impact covers areas such as attribution modeling or closed-loop ROI analysis.

We’ve then linked different measurement methodologies with different objectives to help all our teams understand which measurement is most appropriate. So for example, content reach and frequency might be a proxy for a series of communication objectives whereas brand equity trackers might be best used to measure shifts in consumer attitudes.

It’s important to highlight that we’re not necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel. A large number of these measurement approaches are relatively well established effectiveness measurement tools adapted to the social or digital context. For example, a Facebook Campaign Brand Effect study that we might run in partnership with Nielsen is essentially the tried and tested test/control brand survey methodology.

Having said this there is still room for innovation in measurement approaches. For example, we’ve been running what we call Community Brand Effect measurement for a number of clients. This uses a test/control brand survey methodology targeting (via paid media) both followers and non-followers of a brand’s social media community, to measure and compare shifts in brand attitudinal statements and affinities. An early prototype of that methodology was shared in the August 2013 AdMap and was used to place a value of a fan of Bulmers on Facebook.

For another client, we developed a proprietary way of measuring social conversation associated with their brand objectives, incorporating both text and the use of specific emojis.

With clear objectives and having identified the most appropriate measurement approach we built this into a robust measurement framework – mapping out KPIs, Metrics, Targets, Reporting formats and feedback loops. This forms an integral part of the strategy we develop for our clients and isn’t simply a single line of “reporting” added to a client’s retainer budget.

A few examples:

We were tasked with driving meaningful interest in the new Jaguar XE from social. We needed to provide Jaguar with the details of those interested in the car, and crucially, we needed to ensure these people were in the market to buy one. Our objective was therefore volume of qualified leads and we set KPIs around cost per lead vs. historical email campaigns.

We set-up a Facebook ad campaign using Partner Category targeting to ensure quality. Facebook’s partners include Acxiom and Datalogic; they aggregate consumer data and allow us to target groups of people based on online and offline spending habits, household income and attitudes.

Working with Jaguar and Facebook we ensured that all ads were tagged and tracked correctly to measure volume of social referrals. This enabled us to compare this social campaign with previous campaigns run at Jaguar.

The results set a precedent for the industry and the campaign has been featured as one of Facebook’s ‘success stories’. Key highlights were a 2.1x uplift in lead volume during the campaign and over 70% lower cost per lead compared to email campaigns.

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While not necessarily groundbreaking measurement innovation, it shows the impact of having clear objectives and sound measurement. Reporting on 70% lower cost per lead vs. X or Y engagement rate certainly speaks more clearly to C-level executives.

For another client, we worked on more robust Instagram measurement. We had beta access to Instagram’s Analytics suite and we worked with a partner measurement agency to run Campaign Brand Effect studies.

For a set period of time in-app brand surveys were shown to matching panels of people that had and had not been exposed to the brand’s image ads. This enabled us to track shifts in brand recall and brand attributes – such as 14pp increase in ad recall and 2pp increase in purchase intent.

While those metrics alone helped us better measure the effectiveness of our activity we then compared each image’s brand metric results with data from Instagram Analytics. Top line findings showed that the standard engagement rate did not necessarily correlate with the brand objectives. Instead, dwell time (only available in Instagram Analytics) was a much better proxy for brand impact. Therefore, until new results come in we’ll be looking to optimise our content along these deeper metrics instead of Engagement rate.

And finally, for one of Barilla’s brands in Italy we’ve been measuring all major campaigns not only via Campaign Brand Effect studies but also via Nielsen’s shopper panel to measure trends in in-store purchase after being exposed to our social campaign.

When considering these more robust measurement methodologies there’s often the comment about cost. Yes, outside of a major media deal with a social media platform measurement products like Campaign Brand Effect, Closed Loop ROI or mix media modeling requires investment.

But then again, if we’re to hold social thinking to the same standards as other marketing approaches we mustn’t see this as a barrier. From what we’re seeing, applying social thinking to communications problems achieves tangible business results - and robust measurement frameworks help prove this.