How are you measuring influence?

Last week I spoke at the European Corporate Communications Social Media Summit on tracking influence and the non-financial ROI. The topic has been a key issue for our 233industry in 2011 as offerings such as Klout, Peer Index and the Social Business Index have garnered plenty of attention — both good and bad. I’ve written on this blog before about ROI (Return on Influence) as has Aaron Pearson (Dare we measure ROI?) and I’ve also written about the Social Business Index. The subject warrants discussion as B2B companies are devoting more resources to social media and in particular working to discover and measure what matters — the people, messages and sources.

For my presentation I was asked to address what we are doing and to help the audience target two questions:  Where should your business be spending its time and how much time should you allocate to the social channels?

I will admit, this is nearly an impossible topic to talk about and discuss in any great detail in under 60 minutes.

When I look at measuring the effectiveness of what we are doing I like to break down our metrics into two categories. By doing so, it helps me to focus on both the quantitative and qualitative items that can help us see what’s working and who/what matters. The two sets of metrics I like to reference are Attention Metrics and Influence Metrics.

Attention metrics tend to have a bad reputation. But don’t discount them. While they are hardly scientific and lack context, they can help validate over time topics and issues that matter to your audience and who you are trying to reach. Keep in mind that these are a helpful guide — but treat them as a guide since they are easily and readily accessible, but lack the depth you need to act on any strategic decision making.

The second set of metrics I prefer for better analysis are what I call the Influence Metrics. These will take more time from you and your team to assess, but certainly can give you a better indication of the content and people that matter to you. For instance, location metrics can better help you understand if you need to translate content or even add more content to focus on other regions, but you need to get an understanding from the business if that’s really ideal to sales and revenue generation. In our case, seeing the growing traffic from China helped make our decision to join Weibo. Another metric that matters is trying to know the people who talk about your company and products, but it’s not as simple as seeing if they’ve retweeted you or posted something on your Facebook page (more than likely they have not). You will need to find the tools and resources needed to locate and engage with them both online and in person. Take a read at what Vann Morris wrote about the value of B2B relationships in social media if you want to learn more.

The conclusion of my discussion was more of a reminder than anything else. It’s key for any program — social or traditional — to focus on what you are trying to achieve and how you will get there. I like to use a three step process that I’ve used for many other forms of communication — new product launches, events and white papers. First, decide what it is you want to accomplish with your program. In the case of social media this could be to increase the number of positive conversations (or decrease the negative) and build relationships with the people online whose opinions matter most (customers, bloggers, journalists); understand the metrics you will want to use; and, finally, analyze the content and then repeat. You may find that you need to change what you want to accomplish or perhaps you were measuring the wrong item. Some programs we use require more detail and more steps, but these three should provide a good foundation.

Even as the existing tools get better and more tools are introduced (like Awe.sm — and I suggest you try this one), the key to remember is that you need to always focus on what you are trying to achieve. You may need to adjust your tactics, but use your metrics to better understand if you reaching your goal — and don’t lose sight of your goal.

So what’s Next for ROI? I pointed to four key trends that we are all going to need to pay attention to in the coming year.

  • We are awash with data. At times it seems like we are drowning. But don’t despair as the technology to analyze this will continue to get better. Will it be perfect? More than likely not, but it will continue to evolve and help us better evaluate what we are doing. My suggestion is that you not enter into any long-term vendor agreements and make a concentrated effort to use the tools. The more you can engage with your metrics the better you will be able to tell a story about what’s happening with your brand.
  • CRM will matter even more, which means communications and sales have a tremendous opportunity to gather social data and apply it toward sales relationships. Salesforce.com continues to integrate social capabilities and will provide more insight on your customers. While I’m a bit sceptical for the early results, it’s a step in the right direction and needs to be watched closely.
  • There’s not a silver bullet and never will be. There are some great resources and tools that help you move in the right direction, but one solution will not work for everything. If that’s what you’re looking for and expecting you will be disappointed. If you focus on using the tools to make you more efficient and better utilize your resources you will certainly move in the right direction.
  • Everything will move in real time. Are you ready for a real-time B2B world? Not only is the data growing exponentially, but it’s moving faster and faster every day. For example, StockTwits helps investor relations professionals now monitor real-time conversation, and those discussions are growing (we monitor nearly 45,000 posts each month about our products). Are you ready to monitor, report on and respond to this new era of public communication? In 2012 more B2B companies will look at who staffs and responds to these issues and the centralized v decentralized model debate will continue.

What are you thoughts on measuring and influence? Is this a case of too much information to make it matter or can we cut through the noise and build business solutions?

And while I like to delve into our metrics I continue to learn more from reading what some of the true thought leaders on this subject have to say. Here are some resources on this topic that you should read:

Social Media Measurement 2011: Five things to forget and five things to learn – Metrics Man

The Digitization of Research and Measurement – Metrics Man

Social Media Impact Takes Awhile to Gauge – KD Paine

Real Time is Wrong Time in Measurement — KD Paine

Making Business Decisions Through Data — Logic & Emotion

Why Online Relationships Matter — B2B Ideas@Work

12 Tools to Measure Social Media Influence (Maybe) – Social Media Today

Social influence matters! No, it doesn’t! — B2B Voices

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