Brands can benefit from advertising in social-media space. The approaches offer a means to engage consumers, enhance brand reputation and image, build positive brand attitudes, improve organic search rankings, and drive traffic to brand locations, both on- and off-line. The steps in any advertising campaign will begin with setting campaign objectives and end with assessing the effectiveness of the strategies and tactics to determine the degree of success in accomplishing the stated objectives and to inform the next campaign.
The challenge is to develop a set of measures to assess success and plan for future strategies and tactics.
At this stage of development, social-media advertising lacks the standard metrics that have served as a primary advantage for online advertising. Online advertising as a form of direct-response advertising has measurability built into its very existence. Advertisers can measure reach (the number of people exposed to the message) and frequency (the average number of times someone is exposed), and analyze site stickiness (the ability of a site to draw repeat visits and to keep people on a site) and the relative pull of creative presentations (a comparison of the ability for different creative executions to generate response).
They can also monitor clickthroughs (the number of people exposed who click on an online ad or link), sales conversions (the number of people who click- through who then purchase product), and viewthroughs (the number of people who are exposed and do not clickthrough but later visit the brand’s Web site). These metrics are applicable to the use of display advertising in social spaces. If L’Oreal buys display ads on Facebook, all of these metrics are available to gauge effectiveness.
However, for the more innovative approaches available, metrics like number of unique visitors, page views, frequency of visits, average visit length, and clickthrough rates are either totally inappropriate or irrelevant, or simply fail to capture information about the objectives of a social-media advertising campaign. Our tendency is to count — count impressions, visitors, friends, posts, players. There is a place for numbers.
For instance, knowing the number of community members involved in brand-related conversations can serve as an indicator of exposure, and the number of message threads and lines of text within a thread can serve as proxies of conversation depth. However, counting does not capture the essence of the interaction consumers had with the brand, the degree of engagement felt during and after the interaction, or the effects of the interaction, exposure to brand messages, and brand engagement on measures like brand likability, brand image, brand awareness, brand loyalty, brand affiliation, congruency, and purchase intent.
Jeep may have 8,500 MySpace friends, but the number does nothing to tell us how the friends feel about Jeep. An ARG may boast millions of players, but the sheer quantity of players does not reveal the success of the strategy. To measure outcomes of social advertising, organizations must balance quantitative metrics with qualitative insights.
The Measurement Process
The appropriate approaches to measurement will vary depending upon the campaign’s objectives and the social-media strategies and tactics used. However, these are the basic steps any measurement program should include:
Step 1: Review the objectives set for the campaign.
Step 2: Map the components of the social-media strategy used in the campaign.
Step 3: Determine the criteria that will be used to assess the achievement of objectives, and the tools necessary to measure the criteria.
Step 4: Establish a baseline or benchmark with which one can compare accomplishments.
Step 5: Analyze the effectiveness of the campaign components given the outcomes measured and propose changes appropriate for moving forward.
Step 6: Keep measuring.
Step 1, reviewing the campaign objectives, assumes that the objectives were set prior to pursuing advertising opportunities in social media. Not all brands set formal objectives. Some are simply experimenting with social media, and for them the experience of executing a campaign using emerging platforms is sufficient. For most brands, though, failing to set clear objectives is a mistake.
When it comes to assessing success, if there are no objectives, how do you know if where you ended up is where you wanted to be? The specific objectives identified can vary dramatically from brand to brand but usually encompass three overarching issues: (1) motivating some action like visits to a Web site or sales, (2) affecting brand knowledge and attitudes, and (3) accomplishing the first two with fewer resources than might be required with other advertising and promotional methods.
Mapping the Campaign
Step 2 calls for mapping all of the social-media aspects of the advertising campaign. This activity results in a visual representation of the tactics used and how they may interact. Mapping is a technique advocated by Chris Brogan on his blog (http://chrisbrogan.com). In a post entitled “Measuring Social Media Efforts,” he explains that maps can be crude, simple drawings but even a rough sketch can be valuable as brands seek to measure accomplishments in the social-media space.
A map would display the types of branded messages produced and distributed (e.g., written vehicles like blog posts and white papers, ads in the form of display ads or rich media video, and podcasts) and invitations for consumer engagement with the brand (e.g., games, consumer-generated advertising contests and promotions, and interactive brand experiences) as well as the online location for these materials. It should also include online locations where content relating to the brand may be distributed by others. For instance, are there viral videos on YouTube that highlight the brand? Are there product reviews on sites like Epinions.com?
Are there MySpace pages with brand icons and information posted? Are there bloggers writing about the brand? Are members of delicious tagging the brand’s Web site, and are Digg members voting for branded content?
Once all the sources of brand information are identified, the map should sketch out the chain of touch points possible. A touch point is simply a contact point between the brand and the consumer. Mini Cooper “touches” a consumer when someone visits the dealer showroom, visits the Mini Web site or one of its microsites, receives brochures and other promotional material from the company, or brings a car in for service.
These are all brand-controlled touch points, but many touch points that the brand does not control do exist, especially online. In addition to the consumer-generated content that relates to the brand, there may be conversational touch points going on. Are people reading the blog postings (or even responding to blog posts) that mention the brand? Are people watching videos posted on sites like YouTube? Are they voting for content on Digg?
In other words, is the media (whether brand-generated or consumer-generated) being consumed by those it reaches and is it being “fortified” (as in CFM)? Ultimately, the map should show four levels of contact: (1) brand-generated content, (2) consumer-generated content, (3) consumer-fortified content, and (4) exposures to content consumers.
Choosing Criteria and Tools of Measurement
In step 3, the criteria for assessing effectiveness are determined, and the tools necessary for measurement are selected. The objectives and the map should direct the identification of criteria, as well as the best tools. For example, imagine that Secret deodorant seeks to develop brand awareness for two new products, Secret Clinical Strength deodorant and Secret Scent Expressions body spray. It also wants to drive traffic to the product Web sites and increase sales of these products. Lastly, it wants to reinforce Secret’s image of celebrating women, their strength and their secrets.
The brand enters the social-media space with an advertising campaign, which also includes traditional media components, called Because You’re Hot.
The campaign, by Leo Burnett Chicago, plays on the definition of “hot” to connect to the efficacy of the Secret brand benefit while recognizing characteristics that make a woman hot (being strong). The Secret Web site and two microsites, http://www.becauseyourehot.com and http://www.sparklebodyspray.com, would be sketched on a social-media map, along with other tactics like the Rihanna’s Secret MySpace profile (which features Secret Body Spray as a sponsor).
Visitors to the Scent Expressions microsite are encouraged to participate in a quiz to identify their ideal scent, and those visiting the Because You’re Hot site can vote on what’s hottest using Secret’s Hot-o-Meter.
Secret also runs a promotion in MTV’s Virtual Laguna Beach, encouraging women to “share their secrets.” Secret could expand the social-media aspects of the campaign by frosting a blog with contributions from a slate of strong female celebrities, having a virtual dance party with a Jennifer Lopez avatar (to tie in to the dance contest featured in the traditional media component of the campaign) in Second Life, and inviting women to develop videos that capture the essence of the slogan, Because You’re Hot. These videos could then be hosted on a Secret channel on YouTube.
These are some of the brand-generated messages and invitations for participation in the campaign. Consumers are generating content about Secret. Technorati lists blogs, posts, and videos that mention both products. YouTube also includes videos tagged with Secret deodorant and Secret Scent Expressions. Internet users have opportunities for exposure and can fortify the messages with comments and product reviews.
What criteria and tools then should Secret use to evaluate success of these techniques? Secret’s objectives emphasized a desire to (1) build awareness of its new products, (2) drive visits to its Web sites, (3) drive sales, and (4) strengthen the Secret brand image. Objective 2 is easily addressed with traditional Web site metrics and measurement tools. The Secret sites can track hits, page views, and unique visitors; the sites enable registration, which can also be tracked.
Organic search engine rankings can also be assessed for the brand name and its slogans. Secret is not performing well on organic search. The word secret generates a third-place spot for the Secret brand; the word deodorant places Secret in sixth place. Searches with the slogans “Because You’re Hot” and “Share Your Secret” result in third-place listings.
Awareness can be suggested with the Web site traffic and traffic to other branded components.
For instance, Rihanna’s Secret MySpace profile boasts over 24,000 friends, some of whom have fortified the profile with comments. It can also be suggested with brand mentions in other online space. Secret might ask, “Is the brand being talked about? If so, how much, and where?” The criteria for answering these questions are straightforward.
One simply needs to identify evidence of the brand in online conversations and publications, get a count of those occurrences, and note the source of the material.
The tools necessary for this could include a virtual version of a clipping service to determine what is being said about the brand and the brand’s competition online. This can be an in-house project, or outsourced to companies like CyberAlert, which can then monitor specific publications or the entire Internet for brand mentions. Collecting brand mentions in house can be accomplished with tools like Google Alerts.
These tools can provide a count of mentions, and the sources, but they should be combined with other tools to determine whether the communication was positive, negative, or neutral for the brand.
Next Secret might ask, “How many people are exposed to these third-party messages?” To assess the impact of these brand mentions across the Web, one can turn to companies that measure the size of a site’s audience. Media Metrix, Nielsen Net/Ratings, and comscore offer measurement services that include hits, unique visitors, and page views for sites. It will need to consider all the locations of postings mentioning the brand and the audiences for each location.
Secret, in our example, also set out to strengthen its image. Its image can be influenced by what the target audience thinks and feels about the branding for the campaign.
Are young women engaged with quick games like the Hot-o-Meter?
Is the association strategy using Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez as celebrity endorsers effective? Do they feel that the Scent Expressions quiz and scent recommendations enable Secret as a brand to symbolize their own self images? The campaign itself will influence the brand’s image. Secret may use primary research in the form of surveys and focus groups to answer these questions.
A key to social media is that the consumer-generated content and consumer-fortified content can also influence image. The viral nature of brand-relevant communication is why social media is both an opportunity and a threat for advertisers.
To determine the relative influence and nature of that influence on a brand, one must consider the source of content, the relative authority of that source, and the content itself. Katie Delahaye Paine advocates a list of criteria for assessing the influence of blog postings about a brand.
It is easily applicable to all forms of social publicity, including mentions in news media (on- and off-line), online comments — whether a blog posting, responses to blog postings, or comments about videos — profiles, photos, message board postings, and online product reviews.