As more companies increase their spending on social media in 2011, it is becoming more important to track the performance of these key marketing initiatives. Depending on the social media platform and specific activity being tracked, you might have the option to take one or two approaches: monitor or measure. You may feel that the words “monitor” and “measure” are synonyms, but I’d like to clarify how the two approaches are different in important ways when it comes to tracking social media efforts.

To help explain the differences between monitoring (listening) and measuring (tagging) social media initiatives, I’d like to share a simple analogy based on listening to music. Monitoring is like tuning into a radio station on your car stereo. Sure, you can choose your favorite type of radio station (i.e., pop, jazz, country, etc.), but you’re at the mercy of the radio station to actually play the music you want to hear. For example, you may really like alternative music, but you’re not so fond of particular artists such as Nine Inch Nails or REM. You passively listen to the radio station hoping to hear songs that you like. If the station decides to change its music programming or genre, you really don’t have a say in it other than to change the channel.

On the other hand, measuring is like creating a custom playlist from your personal music collection for an MP3 player. Every song is a favorite because it’s from your music library, and the playlist fits the particular activity or mood you’re in. If you want to adjust your playlist afterwards, you have that flexibility. The songs that you listen to on the road via your MP3 player are the same versions that you listen to on your home computer.

3M’s of Social Media Optimization

In terms of tracking and optimizing social media initiatives, I feel as though there are three main areas: monitoring, measurement, and management. All three of these areas are different but complementary. Sometimes you only have one option such as monitoring and in other cases all three options come together to complement each other. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on monitoring and measurement. However, as a brief overview management focuses on managing the various creative elements of your social media efforts (e.g., images, text, links, campaign grouping, etc.). For example, Adobe’s SearchCenter+ tool features a Facebook ad integration, which centralizes the process of creating, importing, and managing ads for Facebook and paid search within in the same tool.

Monitoring (radio)

Most social media tracking is currently done with monitoring solutions, which leverage the APIs of each platform (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) to pull predefined metrics and dimensions into web analytics reporting. In most cases, we’re happy to get any data at all – kind of like picking up a clear radio station on a lonely country road in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes we’re even surprised by the type of data that we can get from the APIs (e.g., valuable demographic data).

Two of the biggest drawbacks to the monitoring/listening approach are that companies can’t tie any of the social data to actual visitors on their other web properties, and they also can’t obtain any additional custom metrics beyond what’s already provided by the social media platforms. Like a radio station, it’s a “take it or leave it” scenario. Because we can’t actually tag a Facebook fan page or Twitter profile page, most companies just leverage the data that these social networks provide. While we can’t tie monitoring data directly to website activity, we can use predictive modeling to understand the correlation between various types of social activity and the website’s KPIs.

In talking to customers, I know there is a great deal of information that companies would love to have if their corporate pages within social networks could actually be tagged in a more robust manner. For example, organizations would like more in-depth data on how people are interacting with individual Facebook fan page tabs as opposed to just having aggregate fan page data. If a particular tab isn’t being used, it would be nice to know that so that a company could take steps to streamline and improve the fan page experience.

Measurement (playlist)

In some limited situations, social media activities can actually be measured, meaning that companies can tag them just like they would any normal website, application, or campaign. In essence, companies can instrument or tag certain social media activities in any manner they like – choosing the level of reporting, dimensions, and metrics they need rather than having them prescribed to them by the various social media platforms.

For example, a marketing team might want to know how visitors are specifically interacting with a particular social application on their Facebook fan page. Armed with pathing and conversion funnel reports, they can better understand the user experience and fix potential fall-out points in the application. In addition, another advantage of the measurement approach is that the social media initiatives can be viewed in the context of a company’s larger online presence (i.e., treating social media initiatives as an extension of your company’s online world), and organizations can gain deeper insights into cross-domain pathing behaviors and conversion.

Currently, there are four main social media activities/areas that can be measured, not just monitored, across the leading social media platforms:

  1. Social media campaigns: Any URL or shortened URL (bit.ly) can have a tracking code appended to it so that traditional campaign tracking can occur.
  2. Facebook apps: Unlike Facebook fan pages (monitoring only), the applications and custom tabs can actually be measured and optimized.
  3. YouTube branded channels: In some cases, companies are given control over a widget area at the top of their brand channel, which can be customized to include a custom player, other content, and SiteCatalyst tags.
  4. Facebook Connect/social plugins: Any embedded Facebook features on an external website can be measured in SiteCatalyst to understand their effectiveness and overall impact.

Although the measurement options are fairly limited right now, I am hopeful that the social networks will allow more tagging opportunities in the future. As we’ve found over the past couple of years, the social media platforms are constantly evolving. It has been challenging for small and large organizations to keep pace with all of the changes happening in the social media space – let alone understand how their social media initiatives are performing. Fortunately, Adobe has strong relationships with the leading social networks and will continue to explore ways in which our partnerships can help companies to more effectively optimize their social media investments. If you would like to learn more about our current social media solutions for Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, please reach out to your account manager or account executive. In the spirit of social media, you can follow me on Twitter @ pptninja. :)

3 comments
joe palkim
joe palkim

"Like a radio station, it’s a “take it or leave it” scenario. Because we can’t actually tag a Facebook fan page or Twitter profile page, most companies just leverage the data that these social networks provide" Isn't it a shame that this can't be done? It would have been nice to target data in a more modular way rather than make do with the take it all or forget it approach.

Peter Chang
Peter Chang

Thanks for the explanation of Monitoring vs. Measurement. I feel that especially because true measurement is more limited currently for social media activities, it is important to take advantage of monitoring as much as possible. In many cases, when you are familiar enough with the radio and what the radio station plays, you are able to anticipate very well what the radio would play at different times, and these correlations can help guide social media campaigns even if you cannot set your own playlist.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Absolutely. I prefer my own playlist, but I'll take what I can get (especially when the alternative is silence). Sometimes that may mean having only a few stations on the social "radio", but at least I have something to listen to. If the reception isn't that good or I don't like the music selection, I can always turn it off or change stations. When you can't pick the music (metrics) then I would still encourage people to be selective about what they listen to (what metrics are monitored). Just because you can monitor something, doesn't mean you should. The data has to be useful and as actionable as possible.