How Do You Define “Impact” in B2B?

This week Paul Gillin and I discussed on the latest episode of FIR B2B the “impact” of social media. As Paul pointed out, a new survey finds that CMOs expect social media spend to grow from 7.4% of budgets to 10.1% in the next 12 months. That’s a trend we have seen in recent years as organizations dive more into digital. That number will continue to increase; however, the challenge according to the study results is that firms are finding it difficult to measure. I think it’s safe to assume we are all in that camp. Why is that? Is it a lack of resources? A lack of direction?

As Jay Baer pointed out back in 2012, not measuring ROI is your fault. This remains a great read for all of us as we think about metrics.

In my opinion, measuring “impact” will vary from firm to firm and even within firms from division to division. We each have different ideas of what success looks like and how it will matter to our organizations. To measure impact or ROI in B2B you always need to understand what you are trying to achieve first. I have always leaned toward breaking down what to measure into three categories: awareness, education or sales. Hootsuite outlines three steps to achieve ROI. Just always remember, no social media ROI measurement is perfect or comprehensive, which is why narrowing your focus and knowing what you are trying to achieve ahead of time is so important.

To measure impact, B2B firms should focus on what they want to achieve ahead of time.
To measure impact, B2B firms should focus on what they want to achieve ahead of time.

I like to think that metrics come into two categories: Attention or Influence. These are broad categories but I try to break down how they can help you can do. If you’re still looking for way to measure impact, Glenn O’Neill has an excellent post listing five resources on communicating evaluation results. I particularity liked the toolkit from the Pell Institute and the evaluation guide from the CDC. Altimeter also offers a great ROI Cookbook that’s worth reviewing. Personally, I think when it comes to metrics and measurement you need to always think about asking the right questions.

What do you think makes is most difficult to measure ROI? A lack of resources? A lack of direction from the business? Too much data? Let us know in the comments.

Do We Need a Social Index for Businesses?

Last month, the Dachis Group launched a public version of its Social Business Index as a way to measure and analyze the social influence of brands in real-time. Less than a month into its launch the company has gathered a lot of attention from the likes of Tech Crunch, AdWeek and Edelman Digital. There certainly are a lot of questions. For one, do we need this? And second, is it legitimate?

In terms of the need for it, yes, it’s an interesting way to benchmark brands and its early days for the index. Before the index existed taking a look across multiple platforms was time-consuming and, frankly, quite biased if you were doing this for your own interest. The index looks to create a “neutral” view of brands based on the back office technology it is using. This can be helpful, but it also needs to be accurate and fair. As time goes on I’ll be following what the Dachis Group is doing to improve and expand the service.

So is this a legitimate tool for you to use? That’s hard to tell since companies that do this type of analysis keep their formula mostly secret. The most well known indicator of online influence these days is Klout. The service is focused on individuals for the moment, but brands can take advantage of Klout as well. Klout has its detractors, but people can opt out of Klout. An advantage — or disadvantage depending on your point of view — of the Social Business Index is that if you’re a brand you have no choice — you will be measured against your competitors. In order to build on the influence of this tool I’m hoping the Dachis Group continues to reveal more about its metrics and analysis.

From what I’ve seen so far I like the index (One reason is that we rank quite well as a brand against our competition). Yes, there are a lot of questions that remain but surely Dachis will continue to improve what they have created. It’s not perfect. None of the metric and measurement tools that exist are perfect, so don’t think of this as a way to solve any content or competitive issues. It’s simply a tool to give you a view of your industry.

So what can you do?

First, if you’re company is not listed you should register it. Once you do so you can gain access to a handful of ways to compare your company against the competition. My hope is that Dachis Group will build out the metrics portion of the index, and even offer for purchase more detailed information on their scores.

Second, you should discuss the index with your team. Keep in mind that this is a view into the social side of your business only. I have always held the point of view that social media needs to play a part of your overall brand strategy — it’s not a silver bullet. If you are falling behind the competition in social media, yet, track far ahead of them in other marketing measures you will need to assess how important it is. On the other hand, if you are far ahead of your competition in social media, yet are behind in other areas you should decide how to integrate everything better. But these are decisions for you to make. The advantage is that you now have a new tool to help in your discussion and decision process.

Measuring Outcomes in B2B Social Media – Part II: A Model

A few days ago, I blogged about the B2B roundtable we had here at Weber Shandwick Minneapolis, “Social Media and ROI: Dare We Talk About It?” And we did!

In that post, I summarized the first half of our message to attendees, which was that it was not a big deal to ignore ROI in our trial social media efforts of the past year because a small Investment required only a small Return. Now that we want to get serious and scale this, you better believe we need to talk about measuring real business outcomes.

But how do we do this?  A survey of our attendees showed most simply didn’t know where to start. Interestingly, Jim Estell blogs here that you can’t measure ROI for marketing at all, much less for social media, because it’s too complex. I’ll be the first to admit the proof of impact isn’t always definitive but if you’ve done the research to know your audience well, then this is certainly a do-able task in B2B because there is typically a defined purchase process where our efforts can have a clearer impact.

We have a measurement model for communications in general and it works for social media too.  (In other words, if you can measure business outcomes impact for any sort of marketing communications effort, you can certainly do it for social media. ) It’s called ARROW (see our little graphic).

ARROW Model for Communications Measurement
ARROW Model for Communications Measurement

A = Activities. These are the things we generate. In social media land, that includes blog posts, tweets, YouTube videos or simply the number of web properties we are maintaining.  They get at a measurement of effort. On their own, however, they are meaningless.

R1 = Reach. Essentially number of eyeballs of our target audience we are reaching. We may measure this by Twitter followers or Facebook “friends” or blog page views. Important, but are we changing how our target audiences thinks or behaves?

R2 = Relevance. We sometimes use the word Resonance too. We want to measure that a message got through to our audience and that it connected with them. Relevance measurements can include key messages in third-party blog posts or tweets, number of retweets, blog comments, increases in site traffic or click throughs on a corporate blog to resources on your web site. Still not a business outcome.

O = Outcomes. Ideally, this is when our audience enters the sales pipeline in some way by requesting information or registering on your web site (i.e. becomes a lead) or when you sell more stuff, or when the quality of your leads improve or when your sales cycle shortens.

W = Any of the measures above divided by cost.

Ultimately, the goal is to find a corrolation between reach/relevance measurements and business outcome measurements. We are looking at evidence that the reach and relevance measures are in fact creating a better environment in which to sell. Don’t stop at measuring ARR!

If, despite a significant investment in marketing communications or social media efforts, no corrolation can be found, then you are right to question whether your dollars are being put to good use. What we’re looking for in choosing our reach and relevance measurements is whether or not they are precursors to ROI. How do you know?  Well, you can take the trial and error route to see if there are any corrolations, or better, you can conduct some good audience research before launching a major social media campaign to define what I’m calling the Awareness-to-Advocate Process Path, the average compositive path a prospect takes from awareness of the product category or your brand to being an advocate for your brand. That research significantly helps mitigate your risk of making a big investment in a program that delivers no return.  You still must measure the result to determine the strength of the impact.  More on that in another post!

Measuring Outcomes in B2B Social Media – It’s Time to Start

About quarterly, we host a group of about 15 marketing and communications professionals at our Weber Shandwick Minneapolis office to discuss issues related to B2B digital and social media issues. We held our most recent one a couple weeks ago, “Social Media and ROI: Dare We Talk About It.” Yes, I’m just getting around to blogging about it now, but it’s worth highlighting.

Prior to the roundtable discussion, we asked them all to fill out a short, rather unscientific online survey just to give a sense of where they were at collectively regarding measurement – especially the ROI kind – and social media. Most of them participated.

For the record, the group represented a variety of industries – high-tech, executive education, advertising, healthcare, manufacturing, etc. Most of them are now employing social media of one kind or another – often with blogs or LinkedIn, with Twitter emerging. And the number one challenge they’re having with measurement? Where to start.

Nobody should feel bad about this. For most B2B companies – especially those who don’t use the Web as their primary sales channel (i.e. e-commerce) – the last year or so has been a period of experimentation and cultural adaptation to social media mores. It’s been very much about reassuring senior executives, corporate counsel, IT executives and many others that this transparent, two-way, personal and highly responsive way of communicating with stakeholders need not put brand equity at risk, threaten the company with lawsuits, destroy productivity or endanger intellectual property. Whew, with all that to worry about, it’s tough to focus on what social media CAN do!

So our message to our attendees, and to you, is this:  When you are in test and trial mode, you are generally investing few resources – whether people or hard costs. If there’s insignificant Investment, we don’t need to work very hard to justify Return. But that party is over. The saying goes that you should “measure what you treasure,” and realizing significant results from adding sophisticated digital and social media programs to the communications mix will cost money. It’s not fair to expect the company to just hand it over.

And I wouldn’t be satisfied with the “You don’t ask for ROI on the phone system, do you?” argument. That might fly in boom years, but it’s an invitation to get your budget slashed in a tough one. How many of you were installing sophisticated new phone systems in the last recession? Not many. And we know how damaging it can be to stop a social media program once we start one.

Up Next From Me:  “Getting Started.”  (hint: social media measurement isn’t fundamentally different than measuring outcomes for any other communications program)

The slides from our discussion are posted here.