How can Indian PR professionals measure social media better?

The idea of measuring social engagement can make most of us break out into a cold sweat. In 2010, over 200 participants from the PR measurement industry across 30 countries agreed to follow the Barcelona Principles at a conference organised by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC). These seven principles included: measuring media with quantity and quality metrics, not AVEs; understanding how people and business results change as a result of PR; understanding that social media is another channel and the same measurement ideas apply; and making sure all measurement is transparent.

When the Barcelona Principles placed emphasis on quality metrics which are not based on the old AVEs formula, this was reflective of the growing importance of social media and the insights that can be provided by measuring engagement on social media.

Aseem Sood, CEO at Impact Research and Measurement and Director at AMEC, says that social media measurement needs to be done at two broad levels. First at the level of what is being directly said to you, for example, via your Twitter handle or on your Facebook page, and secondly at the level of what is being said about you or your brand, but is not directly addressed to you.

Having said that, Aseem adds that rather than focusing on the type of tools, it’s more important to define your social media engagement goals. “More important than the tools is the clarity and understanding of what needs to be done. This is dependent on the objective of the campaign which at times is not defined well. You may be surprised; there are times when your objectives are such that you do not need any external tools to measure your social media engagement. But, rather than focusing on objectives, people get lost in tools and streams of data churned out by those tools. Without clear objectives any measurement programme will die”.

Aseem adds that the other issues that social media engagement and measurement brings to the surface is that, “Social media engagement requires co-operation (between communications, operations, marketing). While everyone may say that they co-operate, do they really take ownership is the real question. Lack of ownership leads to challenges in social media goal settings and engagement.”

Mark Westaby, founder and director of SpectrumInsight, says that it is possible to make sense of the streams of data from social media and put it into perspective: "The best way to keep on top of brand sentiment and engagement is to ensure you thoroughly -- and I mean thoroughly -- understand the advantages and disadvantages of whatever it is you're using to track them.  Too many PR people quote figures without understanding what they mean and many of them are meaningless.  Far better to do less but do it right than to offer lots and get it wrong -- inaccurate insight is worse than no insight at all.   “

Mark adds that, “The most important point to remember is that social media are generated by consumers, which means that if you can understand how a brand is perceived through social media you are gaining direct insight into consumers' views and opinions about it.  As a result social media can provide a very effective way of evaluating PR activities such as news announcements, launches or events.”

In order to take advantage of social media, Aseem says that, “One needs to change the mind-set. (A) You will never have 100 per cent data and you will need to work with what’s available/ visible. You will need to take smart calls by working with samples to test your hypothesis. (B) Do not focus on everything; rather focus on what’s important and relevant for your campaign objectives."

A senior PR professional from a PR agency in India concurs that, “We do take brand and social media sentiment into account while planning PR engagement goals, especially with the B2C companies. Even with B2B companies we ask independent research firms to track sentiment as B2B firms do a lot of hiring and we need to know the sentiment around the company. We need to know what the word of mouth buzz is.”

Says Joel York, executive director, marketing and product, Meltwater, “The more active your company’s social network, the more value you will find in social media. Are your customers on Twitter and Facebook?  Are your prospective employees on LinkedIn?  Do your industry influencers blog?  If the answer is yes, then you will find value in social media measurement and engagement.  If the answer is no, then you should be asking yourself if you can help increase the adoption rate within your sector.”

But the senior PR professional source from India says that there are challenges in convincing clients to take up social media measurement and looking at sentiment around a brand. “Part of the challenge is the fact that we are a slightly more cautious community and are not very good at dealing with negative feedback. This is why many B2C and B2B companies are just exploring social media as they feel that they cannot control and drive the conversation there.”

The senior PR insider from India adds: “Finally it’s the client that makes a decision on whether to spend on measuring social media engagement. A lot of clients don’t want to pay for tracking sentiment, when they absolutely should be measuring sentiment. At the moment many companies are still only putting up Facebook and Twitter updates and not really looking at measuring social media sentiment. A lot of the sentiment tracking is coming from the research firms they hire and many companies do feel that they have their finger on the pulse anyway.”

The question, therefore, that confronts many Indian companies is how to define the goals of social engagement and find the right tools to measure them. While many tools both free and commercial are available, Joel offers this advice for picking the right one: “First and foremost, good measurement tools must have broad social media coverage, including Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums, comments, etc., because “buzz” and “influencers” can vary dramatically by channel. The influence of a community member with lots of followers on Twitter is very different from the influence a well-respected industry blogger. In addition to broad channel coverage, influence can also vary by the topic of conversation, the nature of the community, and so forth. Good measurement tools should let you drill deeper into the conversation buzz and influencer impact to understand where, how, when and why specific community influencers drive specific conversations.”

At the end of the day social media experts feels that Indian companies and PR professionals should not be scared of social media and measuring it, but rather apply a common sense approach to measuring marketing communication online. Defining your goals is one of the best ways to settle the rest of the process of engaging and measuring into place.

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