Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
November 10, 2009

Social Media Measurement: Establishing ROI

Billed as a PRSA Master Class, the Social Media Measurement: Establishing ROI presentation did not disappoint. This presentation was absolutely bursting at the seams with nuggets and valuable insights, if you can type or write quickly enough to get them all down. This stands in stark contrast to many introductory-level social media talks that often claim to offer more than the most obvious of observations, yet fail to deliver. If guilty of anything, Ms. Paine was guilty of fire hosery — sharing so much good information that the time alotted simply wasn’t enough to take it all in. (And I mean that in the nicest possible way.)

Ms. Paine opened her talk with a slide containing nearly 15 bulleted proof points demonstrating the shift away from advertising and toward social media, yet the sophistication of measurement and proof hasn’t caught up in the marketplace. She cited data from several studies and sources, each building a more persuasive argument that measurement of ROI as we know it must change.

Here are what I consider the top four nuggets from the presentation.

Nugget #1: It’s about engagement, not number of eyeballs.
In building her argument, Ms. Paine came right out and stated that the days of public relations agencies using AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent) to prove ROI are dead. While this has likely been true for a long time, the advertising platforms of yesterday are ceasing to exist and are no longer reaching the intended audiences, rendering them ineffective.

I’d take the argument a step further to say that AVE was never relevant to public relations, but rather the use of AVE by public relations professionals was an attempt to relate value of completely unrelated activities — to somehow borrow legitimacy bestowed upon advertising and apply it to public relations in an effort to argue for more comparable budgets.

Nugget #2: So how do you measure engagement?
So here’s where Ms. Paine dug down into the really meaty content of her presentation. She made the point that, as in all ROI measurement scenarios, you must first agree on a definition of your intended outcomes. Many people today are looking at online activities and measuring the wrong things. Counting the number of Facebook Fans or number of Twitter followers is more of the same: counting eyeballs. These numbers give you no indication of your impact upon your audience. Are they commenting? Are they sharing your content on your behalf? Are they endorsing or recommending? Are they contributing their own content to your online properties?

To measure impact, you should be measuring the indicators that your message is getting through to your audience. And when Ms. Paine says measuring these things, she means actually counting them. It’s not that complex, but it takes time. If you want to measure the quality of a relationship over time, take a baseline measurement of level/quality of interaction before you begin your efforts (many ways to measure relationships accurately) and compare results afterward. That’s measurement. Not a guess. Not an observation. A measurement.

Nugget # 3: How to actually measure ROI for social media.
What’s your “R”? What return — or response — are you wanting to impact? Increase in Web visits? Encourage coupon pass-alongs? Elicit product endorsements? Increase in online sales? In each case, the metric must be relevant to the intended return/response.

What’s your “I”? What investment have you made or will you make? These should include personnel, agency compensation, senior staff time and opportunity cost, among others.

Once you’ve defined your measurables, it’s simple. Measure those things and do the math.

Nugget #4: How do you increase engagement?
Since engagement is an important part of what is being measured in social media, consider how you encourage interaction. Ms. Paine defined a comprehensive set of 27 different types of conversations that can take place online, yet the research she shared showed that a very small subset of those 27 actually elicit responses and engagement. This small subset that elicited the most responses and engagement included: asking a question, sharing research, offering an opinion, expressing dissatisfaction and sharing personal information.

Lesson: Online engagement can be easily impacted by shifting how you present the information you share to include these types of conversation-starters more often.

Overall, the presentation offered in-depth insights into the structure of the argument for redefining what to measure, and how to measure success within social media. There’s a reason more people aren’t doing it correctly — it takes a shift in paradigms from what we have been conditioned to measure in marketing and public relations. New media requires new thinking. And new thinking requires enlightenment.

Her slides will be posted on and her company’s Web site is:

Sara Meaney, partner and left brain, Comet Branding + PR, held several marketing and communications leadership positions before partnering up with Al Krueger at Comet in early 2009, including as vice president of a communications agency, firm-wide head of marketing for a leading national accounting firm, managing director of marketing and communications for a private equity and turnaround investment company, and marketing director for a startup biotech company, among others. She led national and international teams on both sides of the client/agency fence to launch and grow a myriad of business-to-business and consumer brands across diverse industries. Sara holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and has completed executive education programs at both Harvard Business School and Kellogg School of Management. Sara is co-founder of Social Media Club Milwaukee and co-chair of the Social Media Committee for the PRSA Milwaukee Chapter.

For coverage of the PRSA 2009 International Conference: Delivering Value, visit our Conference blog or follow the conversation on Twitter at hashtag #prsa09.

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