Thought Leadership

Eight Great Myths of Social Media Measurement

Once upon a time there was a shiny new object called the telephone, and the first person to manage the telephone in an organization was probably the CEO. Then, sales and customer service and marketing and everyone else started clamoring for this shiny new object, and management was very scared. They worried about who would control communications management, or if the function would become too fragmented. Eventually, they looked around and realized that companies with telephones were growing faster and making more money than their unconnected counterparts.

And there is no longer any discussion about why we need to measure the effectiveness of a telephone.

A few decades later, there was another shiny new object called the computer. Originally, the computer sciences managed all things computer. Then sales and marketing and customer service and all the different divisions who needed business intelligence started clamoring for computers. And Management was very scared.

They worried about who would control the proliferation of all these new objects and who would decide who would or would not have access to these newfangled computer things. A few years later, CEOs and CFOs realized that departments with computers were more efficient and more profitable than ones without them, and soon everyone in the company was online, using computers to facilitate work flow, manufacturing, customer service, sales, HR and marketing.

What Was All the Fuss About?

Another decade or so later, there was a shiny object called social media. And management was even more afraid. Who would control this uncontrolled conversation? Who and how would we manage our messages? Lawyers and IT departments  fretted. Hundreds of books were written, manifestos and policies were issued, and the gnashing of teeth was heard from Seattle to South Beach.

So, when I recently addressed the PRSA Miami and Gulfstream Chapters, the topic of measurement was the hottest discussion in town. The old rules of measurement no longer work in this space. There are simply too many questions about too many numbers.

My advice: You have to ask, “So what.” So what if your company got 1,000 new Facebook ‘Likes’ or 1,000 views on YouTube. You can count to your heart’s content, but unless you examine what made your fan count go up and what happened to your sales funnel as a result, you’re only adding to the confusion.

You have to ask what impact you are having on your organization.

The Eight Great Myths of Social Media Measurement

1. Someone Needs to Own Social Media

Good companies see social media as part of their core DNA. Everyone is involved — customer service, HR, sales and marketing share information and metrics as part of a companywide committee.

2. Social Media ≠ Facebook

Social media is much more than just Facebook, even though far too many CEOs seem to think that is not the case. What social media tool you use should depend on where your customers are. If you are a B-to-B company, you may want to think about joining LinkedIn groups. If you are a restaurant or bar, think Foursquare to help balance weather-related dips in sales. Got a problem to solve? Think crowdsourcing on a variety of platforms.

3. Eyeballs ≠ Awareness

Eyeballs and impressions (also known as Opportunities to See [OTS]) are so 1999. The overreliance on impressions is a holdover from traditional print marketing, when magazines were evaluated based on regular audits of paid subscribers. No such solid data exists any more.

Compete, ComScore and Nielsen all arrive at estimates based on large panels of people whose online behavior is tracked continuously. The problem is that if you are interested in a small, obscure blog that no one on the panel reads, you won’t be able to find any impression data for that outlet.

It’s much more effective to look at behavior in terms of click-throughs and actions than to rely on a hypothetical connection between eyeballs and awareness.

4. Followers ≠ Influence

Oprah Winfrey and Justin Beber may have a lot of followers, but that doesn’t mean they have any influence on your business, particularly if you’re not in a consumer market. The danger of services like Klout is that their rankings are based on Twitter activity, and if your customers or influencers aren’t on Twitter, it really doesn’t matter how high the Klout score; that person won’t have any influence.

5. Likes ≠ Engagement

Just because someone clicks on a +1 button or a Facebook ‘Like’ button on your company’s website does not guarantee that that person wants to have a long-term relationships with your brand. All it says is that at that moment, he or she agrees with something you said. You can bombard them with all the information you want, but if you aren’t relevant, they’ll never engage with you again.

6. Engagement ≠ROI

More importantly, engagement may not be the right metric to measure. Engagement is a good way to judge progress along a sales cycle, but if that’s not your objective, you need to change what you measure. It may be that you are trying to change your organization’s positioning, or teach or explain a specific message. Messaging and positioning have long-term impacts on company profitability by shortening the sales cycle, lowering legal costs, reducing churn or lowering  recruitment costs.

7. What Matters May Not Be Sales

See above. If you’re goals are more reputation or education focused, you need to be measuring perceptions, not activities.

8. Sentiment May Not Matter

There is very little data that shows that sentiment makes a difference to the bottom line. If you are promoting a movie, book or an event, there is some data that shows a direct correlation between sentiment and sales. But sentiment analysis requires the existence of sentiment, and there are a great number of products that people just don’t get that passionate about.

9. It’s Not About You

Finally, it isn’t about PR. It’s about communications, which is something PR does very well, but any good PR person knows that it is a collaborative effort. PR can’t improve a reputation without the cooperation of good products, good practices, good management, good IR and HR. So you should view social media as a gigantic conversation taking place outside your door; some of the snippets of that communications would be useful to customer support, R&D, product management, recruitment, etc.

Katie Delahaye Paine (@KDPaine) is CEO and founder of KDPaine & Partners LLC and author of “Measuring Public Relationships,” the data-driven communicators guide to measuring success. She writes about public relations and social media measurement at KDPaine’s PR Measurement Blog.

About the author

Katie Paine


  • I recently took over the stagnant social media sites of a state-based credit union.  Both sites they are using already have over 400 followers/likes, but almost NONE are engaged.  It is more important to me to relight the fire in those who’ve already made the decision to be part of our social media world, but despite sharing relevant links, asking questions, and posting photos, I can’t seem to engage.

    • Not an unusual problem, is it? I have found that people do access the content but simply are reluctant (for some reason or another) to hit the like or share buttons or leave comments.  I’ve had more success getting interactions by going off-topic, using a “cute dog photo” or otherwise tapping into universally appealing kinds of content, e.g. tying to a news story. But the feedback I get when I talk to followers in person is that they DO read and value the content! So don’t get discouraged; you aren’t alone.  I think it’s important to tie in email communications w/social media that have stronger calls to action and maybe you can relax about whether people are engaging or not (particularly on FB where PageRank is going to kill you anyway) — just keep telling your story (don’t want anyone else doing that for you) and owning the space and trying different things. I also look at what the big brands are doing (the ones that are getting lots of engagement) and emulate their style of posts.

      • Thank you for the advice. For me, going off topic occasionally has yielded some results as you mentioned. That and trying to be a continuous, but not overpowering, presence as I am trying now. Although there doesn’t seem to really be a “one size fits all” sort of solution for businesses on social media does there?

  • The challenge for me personally here is that I primarily have experience working with the government (as a contractor) and nonprofits (as an artist). Both of these types of organizations have a MUCH harder time defining their goals/conversions. I guess I should work on helping them shape those as I also work to communicate and measure for them.

  • “Another decade or so later, there was a shiny object called social media.” – Social Media by the definition of both words and from what we know from anthropology and history is not new nor is it shiny. Mashable best illustrated this by a cartoon that I’ve seen in dozens of offices.

    Humans by nature were always social and from the very moment the first caveman drew on the cave wall and showed it to another caveman they were engaging in social media and sharing.

    Both scenarios involved human beings, both scenarios involved a medium for which to write and share ideas. One is physically tangible the other is virtually intangible.

    No.1 for me in this article could have been:

    1. Social media is not new – then you could have gone on to build a strong point around what we know of social media through our ancestors can shape a valued perception of how we can perceive, benefit and better use social media in a virtual space.

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