Companies and businesses want to be able to accurately and consistently track specific metrics that can point to their success or failure in social media. They want to be able to justify continued investment in listening and engagement efforts. They want to be able to show the leadership that they’re getting back something of value for the effort and resources they’re putting in.
All of those things are absolutely valid, as they are with any other area of business.
But the challenge that’s emerged in regard to social media measurement specifically has everything to do with our sense of urgency.
The speed of the social web is forcing us to stand up and take note. We know we need to respond quickly. We know that a crisis can boil over in minutes and hours, not days or weeks. We know that expectations are for more, faster, now.
But measurement, collection of data, development of proof points; all of those take time. Sometimes a great deal of time. Gathering enough bits of information in order to draw conclusions, derive insights, spot trends over time that can inform decisions and process about future investment? That requires the patience to collect. To put the processes and platforms in place to capture that information, tie it together. To allocate human resources that can not just aggregate the data, but spend time evaluating it, asking questions, extract not just insights but recommendations.
The very nature of quality analysis runs counter to the immediacy of interaction on the web. We can collect information quickly, but making sense of it takes time, and adjusting our processes and plans to react to what we learn takes longer still.
It’s always been that way. Once upon a time we had to launch an email campaign before we knew if it would work. We build websites before we were sure that they’d pay off in the long run. We wrote sales strategies based on the information we had available, we tracked the ensuing sales, and we adjusted accordingly.
In short, we need make the investment in the efforts first – based on the best information we have and a well-thought hypothesis – knowing that proving out our hypothesis is going to take consistent execution over time in order to have any usable or informative data upon which to assess our efforts.
The real trouble is that we don’t have precedent. What we’re struggling with is not the measurement and analysis, nor even the gathering of the data. (In fact, we could argue that we’ve almost got too much information and knowing which are the valuable bits is the trick, but that for another post).
We’re struggling with creating our hypotheses in the first place, and creating a plan that we have confidence in because it’s based on what we know might be working for others. Hence, our hunger for case studies and examples, as imperfect as they may be today. For all of us, it’s some reassurance that we’re not the only ones taking these risks, and that there are some glimmers of at least superficial success that we can draw from in order to design our own plans and approach.
We’ve shortened that cycle in other areas because we can build our plans and strategies based on whatever we’d like to call “best practices”. We’ve invested the years, the trials and errors, and the fits and starts of nascent measurement there, too, while we were getting our footing. Only now can we look back and say we “know” how to measure success in these areas (though that in itself I’d debate, too).
But regardless, the realization we have to come to is that valuable measurement and accountability analysis for social media takes time and investment in proportion to the value we’re hoping to extract from it. The social web is fluid, rapid, and real-time. Sound measurement and analysis of what we find there is not. And if we’re to succeed in this evolution toward more social business, we have to find a way to reconcile both.