Measuring the value of conversations in social media engagement

by Dina on November 10, 2008 · 23 comments

in Brand 2.0,Enterprise 2.0,Social Media

I recently read that shopper marketing strategies are being affected by how customers behave online. From this article, Connect the Dots at the Hub:

Our conversation with consumers and shoppers today is one way; we send them our advertisements and promotions. But we now live in a conversational culture because of the internet and what it’s allowed people to do. If you want to get to know anybody, you have to have a conversation with them. Shoppers and consumers want to have conversations with brands that are relevant to them. Much of this conversation is happening online. That’s where engagement starts. We’ve got to be able to bring that conversation back into the brand experience and back into the brand idea to refine it in a continuous feedback loop.

So, we are now not only witnessing conversations between brands and customers online, but the transference of behaviour from the online medium to the offline.

Jason Falls asks:

When you ask businesses why they are participating in social media, what do they say? If they say, “to make money,” then they will fail because currency in the social web is found in both relationships and content. If they say, “to grow our business,” they’re just saying, “to make money,” in a nicer way. If they say, “to participate in the conversation,” which is the more appropriate reason to be involved in the social web, then why on earth would they not measure success by the value of the conversations they have?

The ROI for social media engagement conversation is an old one that continues. It remains unresolved, as Clients who are accustomed to traditional quantitative measures as “proof” are still questioning the effect of social media efforts. It’s the classic case for Marketing 1.0 – let the statistics rule you! In my 20 years as a qualitative researcher, I’ve often been challenged about how “representative” is the story, insight and recommendation, especially in the early days. That’s now changing thankfully, with Clients often relying on the stories that emerge and anecdotal evidence that allows them to make more incisive decisions around brand strategy.

I see a parallel in how Clients approach social media – they are expecting adaptations of the same old marketing metrics (TRPs, GRPs, RFM, LTV, etc). We’re at the beginning of the curve today with social media. When I meet more traditional marketers, they tell me they are really Web 2.0 savvy and transferred their attention to metrics like clickthrough, cost per lead, customer acquisition cost, lead generation, opt-in, churn rate etc. While these fulfill one need, I do not believe they really aid either an evaluative or predictive model for success.

This is why. The social media space is different, and in understanding this, I’m hoping Clients will value the stories and conversations more. Folks launch products and services in alpha and beta – and often they remain in beta. Products, services and brands come and go and we see a huge plethora of new launches. Even for more traditional brands, there are new options available to explore in the social media space every day. It’s a particularly tricky area, especially when organizations are using free social media tools which do not provide detailed analytics to them – perhaps there is a business model in this 🙂

The pace of change is really rapid, both in the behaviour of brands on the web and in terms of customer behaviour. At the intersection of these, are dynamic social media tools which enable forming of a relationship between marketers and target audience; sellers and buyers; producers and customers. And this relationship is expressed as a conversation enabled by social media tools, which themselves are so many, quite complex and confusing and change rapidly (eg. we are seeing a lot of the conversation among a certain group of early adopters moving to Twitter today).

Of course, statistics have their place, and we need to build some common standards and new parameters (eg. is “friend” a metric today?). I’d like to change the discourse to exploring measures for the value of conversations. The challenge is that with the pace of change in all aspects of the relationship, can a “measure” of today’s performance help us predict what’s coming tomorrow? How can we quantify human interaction, imagination and energy? How do we track the feedback loop? How do we measure the value of conversations, that builds this relationship, in such a manner that it delivers not merely evaluative but also predictive insights for marketers?

Wish I had the answers :). Some of the tools I use some of the time to track conversations include Google Blog Search, Compete, Google Analytics, Twitter and apps developed around it, Technorati (although it’s not as responsive and accurate as it used to be), searches at Social Networking Sites, Alexa, Digg, Stumbleupon. Trendpedia is cool and allows a comparison with your ‘competition’. There’s quite a lot of discussion in the PR blogworld around metrics and tools of measurements, but I don’t see as much around brand marketing. I can only throw out some suggestions around what needs measuring, based on my experience of more conventional marketing and research, my own explorations into social media, and on assimilating blog posts around the topic I have been reading for a while now:

where are the conversations around your brand happening? who’s participating? what are people reading, sharing, discussing, critiquing? are you/is your brand situated in these conversations? are you present? are you accessible?
have the number of conversations around your brand increased? how are you assessing the quality of these conversations? are people negotiating shared meaning? what elements of your brand or offering are being discussed – are they core or peripheral? what stories are emerging that suggest empathy and relevance of your offering to your target audience? how strongly is your brand anchored or situated in these conversations? would they exist without your brand? are you listening and engaging in these conversations wherever they exist on the web, across different social media tools? are you aggregating them? are you acting upon suggestions and helping solve problems?
you represent the human face of the brand – what social interactions are you able to influence around your brand or area of expertise? does this enhance your stature in the industry today? are you being talked about more? are you/is your brand or organization being seen as a thought leader? are you being invited into industry conversations? are you or your brand/company just popular or do you have influence with the target audience you most care about? [see these posts on measuring influence and popularity by Shel Israel and Gavin Heaton]
has your brand captured the imagination of people? are people riffing on it, playing with it, creating avatars of it that you never imagined possible? what’s the emotional quotient? are they being able to bring their own life positions into building possibilities for your brand? what’s the ‘delight’ quotient that you derive from these conversations? what creative stories are you hearing/seeing/watching about it? what stimulus are you providing them to inspire their imagination? how open are you in these efforts?
on the one hand, are you able to harness all of the above – participation, engagement, influence and imagination in a manner that keeps your brand alive and vital? what are the conversations around the value your brand is creating in their lives? is your brand able to keep up with the energy of its users or audiences, which shift and morph ever so frequently? what senses – visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, kinesthetic are the more dominant in the conversations – are you aware of what elements of your brand are anchored in these expressions? are you learning something new to help you drive your business forward? are you following/talking to passionate users who are breathing every moment of the direction your brand is taking and helping you evangelize?
Loyalty and stickiness
are your engagements in conversations with your TG a fad or do they sustain and build over time? what is the personal investment your users display in their discussions around your brand? do they enjoy ‘hanging out’ with your brand or you?

Represented as a diagram:

Much has been written and discussed around engagement, influence, participation and loyalty. These measures seem to be evolving – web analytics and cool companies like Radian 6 are doing some of it. However I haven’t seen much discussion around brand conversations that inspire imagination and energy – a little ironic when they form a large portion of conventional marketing wisdom around brand health! These I believe would make for differentiators and unique propositions for your brand. And they are best expressed anecdotally and through stories and perhaps more difficult to quantify.

Organizations need to develop their own benchmarks along parameters that are important to them and against a set of goals so that they are able to track effectiveness of their social media ‘campaigns’ over time.

How would you add to/edit/modify this list? I’d also love to hear about tools or frameworks folks in this space are exploring, using and developing!

Bonus Links:

Rohit Bhargava shares some cool examples on the Softer Side of Measuring Social Media

Measurement Camp is an “open source movement measuring social media” – a nice collection of measurement resources and case studies there.

Manuscrypts has a good analysis of the Obama brand in his post Change 2.0:

But social media, after all is a tool. Yes, a tool which can take the brand to great heights, but only if it has a strong product/brand at its foundation. And there lies the brilliance of brand Obama. Adage has a great article by Al Ries on the attributes that made Obama’s campaign a colossal hit – Simplicity (of the keyword – change), Consistency (create and maintain the positioning of ‘change’ agent, so that the word is associated with him more than others), Relevance (forcing the competitors to fight on your comfort ground). I was also very impressed with this article on afaqs by Vijay Sankaran, which gave 10 lessons that marketers could learn from Obama. Excellent lessons all, i especially liked the one about relinquishing control.


{ 7 trackbacks }

Build the Echo » Blog Archive » links for 2008-11-11
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manu prasad » Figuring Social Media?
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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Valeria Maltoni November 10, 2008 at 7:19 am

I have since written many more posts on ROI and measurement. We had a great discussion on the topic this past weekend at BarCamp Philadelphia, for example, and I just wrote a post on ROI and Focus this past week (with links to other posts on ROI). My big thought at BarCamp was to propose ROI and community – what is the correlation between engagement and brand awareness, customer happiness, Web stickiness, repeat business? My conversation has progressed as it has with the group you cite.

2 Dina November 10, 2008 at 9:02 am

Thanks for the heads up Valeria! I have added a link to your newer post on ROI needs Focus. Best, Dina

3 kirsti November 10, 2008 at 11:53 am

Really nice post – as a communication scholar and a qualitative researcher, I agree wholeheartedly about the need for metrics around the value of conversation. We too, at extanz, have had those frustrating conversations around ROI and what counts and how, with clients so I really like what you have laid out here == well done!

4 Dean Westervelt November 10, 2008 at 12:27 pm

Hi Dina,

Comprehensive post and interesting for those of us tracking (pun intended) along with the ROI discussion. I work for Collective Intellect who, along with the good folks at Radian6, conduct social media analysis and brand monitoring. My own recent post ( grapples with some of the issues you raise above and, as a quantitative researcher, I believe that striving for some form of ROI, even if it is correlative, provides value to client partners!

Thanks for the thoughts,


5 Dina November 10, 2008 at 12:49 pm

Thanks for jumping in to the conversation Kirsti! Am glad it helps and its neat discovering your blog/website. In many of the discussions around engagement and ROI etc – people aren’t really talking of the wow and emotional bonds – whereas often that’s where the real value in the conversations reside.

Dean – pun taken and filed :):). I like your articulation in your post that you linked to – “Social media data can be integrated with alternative marketing data to help understand more fully the relationship between marketing action and downstream success metrics.”! Would love to see some quant measures being built in to measure imagination and energy too. Thanks for dropping by and sharing.

6 Robert Paterson November 10, 2008 at 4:51 pm

Dina – we at Alaska Public Radio and KETC in St Louis are settling on a short mantra – Inform – Connect – Act

With us doing the convening for the Inform and Connect and the Community doing the Act

7 David Alston November 10, 2008 at 7:55 pm

Hey there Dina,

When I discovered your post earlier today I needed to save it until tonight because you have a lot in there to digest. And I’m glad I waited because you’ve done a great job in summing up what I consider the true essence of what marketing needs to become to be successful. Perhaps this was always the successful approach but with the mechanization of the various delivery and measurement approaches of mass media we’ve forgotten that indeed it has always been about relationships between customers and providers (brands). I think you are right that the discussion about this needs to heat up a lot in all communications circles. Your point about the need to express these as stories – which would explain why the industry is desperate to see more case studies.

In many ways we need to almost rewrite the marketing and PR textbooks – get back to the essence of what relationships mean in life and how they serve to benefit the parties involved. Once we all can ground on this only then can we talk about the tactical “to dos” that can be built upon this foundation.

Keep these posts a coming because you are helping all of us who believe in this approach to gradually chip away at the task at hand – to get back to basics in terms of marketing and PR.

PS. And thanks for the Radian6 shout out as well.

8 Beth Kanter November 10, 2008 at 9:09 pm

Hi Dina,

This is an excellent post! Here’s another resource that you might find useful:

9 Beth Kanter November 10, 2008 at 9:11 pm

whoops I’m tired – the correct url is

10 Dina November 11, 2008 at 7:18 am

David – thanks for this thoughtful share and reinforcement that we’re on the right track. I do feel we need to encourage more strategic thought in this area – tactical approaches work in the short-term and they’re easier to adopt by newer entrants! Check out Rob’s (who’s also commented here) seminal post called Going Home – Our Reformation – it captures so well the basic essence of relationships and community.

Thanks Rob as always for your adds and Beth for sharing the link to your wikispace.

11 David Alston November 11, 2008 at 8:53 am

Thanks for the message back Dina. And I’ll check out Rob’s post. It looks like he lives close to me here in Canada as well 🙂 A small world. Cheers. David

12 Rajesh lalwani November 13, 2008 at 11:26 pm

Dina – this is a muaaaah piece. The value of distilled learning.

I am forwarding this to clients.



13 Dina November 13, 2008 at 11:53 pm

muaaah Rajesh!!! I knew you would ‘get’ it 🙂

14 Toby November 14, 2008 at 12:25 am

Dina – Excellent. Thanks for the great resources and the framework.

15 Anjana December 5, 2008 at 4:04 am

Hey Dina,

THis made a good read. Tough times make customers all the more wiser and cautious in selecting a solution, more so, today in financial services. The rapport built and the continuous engagement is what may eventually pay off – not the snazzy presentation our sales folks put together. And if tools from the social media mix don’t aid in building engaging conversations, we’ve wasted a lot of money and time, for nothing. I believe as marketers, we are all searching for that elusive mix – of a good blend of web 2.0 and traditional marketing. It works in some instances but i’m not sure if there are organizations that have cracked this code. To a great extent, i can say that i am floating in bubble2.0 at the moment.

Good analytical tools are a must, and a Website strategy that ties in with social media have shown tangible results in some of my efforts in the past. Mapping customers’ technographic profile to the marketing efforts is not an easy task. If one has the budgets, one can choose to be present everywhere and see which one works best, but if you are looking for very very cost-effective ways to tap into social media and make it work, it requires constant experimenting and research.

And then comes the all-important factor of credibility. Both in the form of your product and the success stories you market. This involves working across the product strategy and dev teams and getting them to buy into marketing. 🙂 i’ve found this a tough call…

16 Paul Anson September 23, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Good post, I think that when you are creating a business you need to build a strong relationship, customers need to trust you. Social Medias a quiet important if you want to build a relationship because you can share information’s with them about your company.

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