Manfred Mareck

Social media listening is attracting advertisers, but how do we measure success?

“Social media is like teenage sex. Everyone wants to do it. No one actually knows how. When finally done, there is surprise its not better” according to Avinash Kaushik, digital marketing evangelist for Google and author of Web Analytics 2.0.

There’s no doubt social media is popular: in 2011 there were some 1.2 billion social media users, with Facebook alone accounting for 900 million (they will almost certainly reach the one billion mark this year). Earlier in 2012, Twitter announced it has 140 million users posting around 340 million tweets a day. According to Burson-Marsteller’s 2011 report, three quarters of Fortune Global 100 companies have a Twitter account, over 60% run a Facebook page, 57% are on YouTube, and over a third maintain corporate blogs.

What’s more, according to Steven van Belleghem, managing partner of InSites Consulting and author of The Conversation Company, “the development of mobile internet applications is set to further double the intensity of social media use.” A recent Ipsos MORI survey in the UK confirms the power of mobile – over half of Facebook and two thirds of Twitter users access these sites via mobile. For many, social networking has become habitual: “It is human nature to want to be connected to other people . . . so you connect to Facebook or Twitter,” said one of their focus group members earlier this year.

On the face of it, social media offers an attractive solution for advertisers to extend their reach. According to Stephen Haines, commercial director at Facebook UK, Starbucks’ Facebook page generated 21.1 million likes, compared to 1.8 million monthly site visitors in 2011; for Coca-Cola, the scores were 20.5 million and 270,000 respectively. In terms of numbers, the ratio is in favour of Facebook and against corporate websites, at least for consumer advertisers. It is therefore not surprising that many companies and organisations are investing heavily in social media marketing.

Listening, engaging, inspiring
One such company is the global food giant Nestlé. Last year, it hired Pete Blackshaw, previously chief marketing officer at NM Incite, a joint venture of Nielsen and McKinsey, as its new global head of digital marketing and social media. He is now leading a digital acceleration team, a high performance group of digital leaders from across the globe who work for eight months at the company’s headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland.

According to Blackshaw, Nestlé’s digital strategies share a symbiotic relationship with general brand-building concepts such as knowing your customers, creating engaging brand experiences, and being innovative, which should never be relegated to a separate organisational silo. “These principles apply equally to digital channels, which often put a new light on these areas,” he noted in an address to this year’s IAB Europe Interact conference.

“Take ‘know your consumers’: the internet opens up lots of opportunities to drive greater intimacy with consumers, listen to their unmet or unarticulated needs, and to bring a lot of efficiencies in the process.” Of the three pillars that define Nestlé’s digital approach – listening, engaging and inspiring – the focus is on listening to real-time conversations in the digital world. Audience size and analysing how people are searching or clicking are not the only important measures.

“We also need to understand what people are saying, the sentiments they express, what is driving the talk, and to identify the key influencers, because one of your key aims is to encourage brand advocacy. Our belief is that propensity to recommend a brand really matters, and in order to achieve this we need to find engaging ways to communicate with our consumers.” The third pillar, inspiring, is about “transforming the organisation itself, how we work, how we bring different departments and disciplines closer together, and how we can spread ideas quickly across the organisation. We often forget about this element when we talk about the ROI (return of investment) of digital. One of the tools we are using to achieve this is an internal version of YouTube.”

Traditional and digital media channels don’t necessarily compete. They often complement each other. Blackshaw mentions the Contrex campaign in France, which started as a TV commercial and was given extra life as an online video which now has over 30 million views. “Here television was really the primer to create a digital ecosystem of dialogue, conversation and sharing,” he explains.

Reach and involvement
Dutch airline KLM reached one million Facebook fans this year and has almost 300,000 Twitter followers. Achieving this was not a fluke but a clear business strategy. Lonneke Verbiezen, the carrier’s social commerce manager, won the mandate to build a specialist team, and KLM now has 16 people dedicated to social media.

Much of KLM’s digital strategy takes place in two dimensions: audience reach and structural collaboration (ie, the involvement of customers with the brand and its management). In The Conversation Company, van Belleghem describes how the airline developed four different strategies by combining these two dimensions into four quadrants (low and high levels for each dimension). Much of this started when a volcanic eruption in Iceland led to the cancelation of hundreds of flights in Europe and across the North Atlantic. The resulting KLM Webcare service allowed passengers to ask questions, which executives at the company answered on a one-to-one basis. Hence, it had a low level of reach. The collaboration was loose and had a very specific short-term purpose. As a result, it can be classified as low on the structural collaboration scale as well.

In last year’s ‘Tile & Inspire’ campaign, people were invited to design a Delft Blue tile. It too had relatively low levels of structural collaboration (a low conversation level) but huge audience reach. There were over 120,000 design entries, from which over 4,000 were selected to be incorporated onto the fuselage of a real Boing 747. The objective was to strengthen KLM’s brand positioning as “reliable, inspirational, Dutch and open,” according to Frank Houben, director of communications and corporate identity.

The ‘In-touch community,’ on the other hand, is a low reach/high structural involvement project. It was set up in 2009 as a behind-the-scenes, closed community of selected customers who “give non-stop feedback about everything that KLM does and are encouraged to take part in the development of new products and services,” said Charles Hageman, the carrier’s research manager.

Lastly, to develop better structural collaboration with a larger audience, the company uses Facebook, where it runs a ‘bright ideas’ page to ask customers for feedback and encourage new initiatives.

“Social Media facilitates direct and personal contact with our customers and other people that like to engage with KLM,” according to Verbiezen, but the company isn’t planning to put too many eggs into this basket, at least not without lot of testing. “Social Media are indeed a reason for a shift in marketing budget. However, their innovative character means we also spend a bit more to experiment. Per project we set up a communication plan in which we define the most relevant media based on the objective and target group.”

Key roles for research providers, she says, are to “measure sentiment through Radian 6 (primarily a tool that helps monitor brand mentions across the social landscape and an end-to-end presence management tool – ed.) and conversion (click through and sales) of our posts/tweets and social tools.” Still, Verbiezen is looking for a more holistic view. “What is still missing is more information about our fan and follower base: who are they and how could we be more relevant to them. It would be useful to combine several existing databases to have a 360 customer view (big data).”

Functionality and multiple metrics
Jonathan Tyzak, communications and social media manager at London’s Natural History Museum, uses a range of digital channels to connect with the museum’s diverse target audiences. “Social media is important as an advertising channel, but we tend to use it to promote smaller, specialist events that wouldn’t always get much advertising support in general media.”

He is more critical when it comes to data support. He is happy with Google Analytics, which he uses to monitor activities on the museum’s own website, YouTube, or Facebook Insight. “Their data is useful, and it is easy to export what you need and incorporate results into our internal systems. When it comes to functionality, Twitter’s service is rather poor. We get lots of data, such as number of followers, number of tweets and re-tweets, but extracting relevant information is cumbersome, time consuming or requires specialist third-party software,” he says.

Marketers have frequently expressed frustration about missing metrics. A staple data set for brand advertisers has always been a reliable estimate of audience size (reach) and ad exposure frequency. This may well be what the digital world needs as well if it wants to attract a larger share of brand and image advertising. But social media is clearly about more than reach and frequency. For van Belleghem, the purpose of social (and digital) media marketing is “to improve customer service and increase sales and lead generation, and achieve both at lower costs and with less marketing budget.”

He suggests three levels of measurement to better understand social media’s potential marketing ROI. On the corporate level, companies should measure the impact of social media on the corporate KPIs that they already measure, such as financial returns, savings on other marketing investments, customer and employee satisfaction, etc.  On the social media level, he suggests companies must measure the volume of conversations, the sentiments expressed, and the impact of conversations (ie, are they changing the opinions of others or not). It is also important to measure the degree of knowledge about digital media in an organisation.

Just after Facebook’s IPO in May of this year, General Motors announced that, whilst it will continue with its free Facebook pages, it planned to pull its US $10 million advertising investment, claiming that paid ads on the site have little impact on consumers’ car purchases. To be sure, the move involves only a tiny part of GM’s estimated US $1.8 billion advertising budget and affects only a small fraction of Facebook’s US $3.7 billion (mostly advertising-driven) revenue base.

Still, investors also seem to have some serious doubts about the potential of social media channels, and within three months of its IPO, Facebook’s share price dropped from US $38 to under US $20. None of this indicates the demise of social media channels, but it is a useful reminder that hype alone can’t sustain growth, and more credible research data that enjoys industry-wide confidence and support will play a big part in future developments. As Jonathan Mildenhall, VP of global advertising strategy at Coca-Cola, said at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity: “Data will be king and will become the new soil in which ideas will grow, and data whisperers will become the new messiahs.”