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. :)

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.