Measuring time from Flickr user aussiegallAn article in Inc. today, Toss Out Your Social Media Metrics, is based on social media philosophies from Peter Shankman, founder of Help a Reporter Out (HARO). The title, while attention-grabbing, is a tad misleading because at first glance, it sounds like an opinion that social media metrics don’t matter. However, instead, Peter makes a point I’ve always wholeheartedly agreed with, which is that you can absolutely measure social media results, but you should do so in a way that directly ties to your business objectives, instead of choosing arbitrary numbers to track.

In my opinion, the argument over whether there is ROI to social media comes down to the argument of whether there is ROI to public relations. If you can say that there is ROI to landing an article in a hard-copy trade magazine, then you can certainly argue that there is a ROI to tweets or YouTube videos that reach tens of thousands of people in your business’ target audience. In fact, I would argue that web analytics and public, detailed information on the profiles of whoever interacts with you online makes it even easier to measure success of online-only efforts than success of traditional public relations.

In order to be as effective as possible in justifying time and money spent on social media, I recommend you always operate with the following considerations in mind:

1. Tie your social media strategy and measurement to something other than social media.
Why are you ultimately using social media? Recruitment? Sales? Getting a piece of legislation passed? You cannot justify the return on investment of social media without first establishing what the return looks like. If someone says we are using it to “raise awareness,” why are we raising awareness? If you can’t get this information out of whoever you are reporting to, then establish it yourself by observing what sort of activities and audiences top management have consistently made a priority.

2. Always start with the strategy, not the end technology.
If someone goes to you asking for you for advice on social media measurement tools, ask them what they are trying to measure. There are a lot of great tools out there, but they all excel at measuring different things. You therefore need to know what you’re measuring before you pick a tool.

3. Measure how much time and money goes into social media, if you don’t already.
A great point that came up at the Seattle Interactive Conference this past November was, “Can you really complain about lack of ROI when you didn’t put any I in?” Show the relationship of return to investment, and compare it to ROI on activities that the company is already doing outside of social media. Did you reach 40,000 people with one tweet that took 10 seconds to write and 40,000 people with a magazine article that took 10 hours to write? Tie results to amount of time or money spent in a compelling way.

4. Provide context to your measurement.
Reporting out on your success or areas for improvement for social media is not necessarily helpful to your colleagues or clients unless they have an idea of what you were trying to accomplish from the beginning. If you say, “We got 10 great job applicants for one position as a direct result of strategically using LinkedIn,” make sure people know that you set out to use social media to help with recruiting.

[image courtesy of Flickr user aussiegall]