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Measure Twice, Execute Once

What goals are appropriate in social media for a business to set? That is a broad question and in some cases only individual businesses can set them. However, some generic goals for social media activity can be set. The first and most obvious (but for some reason the most commonly missed) is revenue. Why would you engage in a business activity without having some way to tie it back to a revenue goal? That is just bad business practice. Anything you do should ultimately be tied to revenue. However, this is not the first measure that will be applied, nor is it the easiest. Simple metrics can be the number of page views of a specific web page, the number of clicks on a specific link, or the number of requests for information generated by a specific campaign. In fact, most companies are already measuring these same metrics in their other online marketing efforts. The complexity of these metrics can gradually be increased as the social media activity gains complexity (as it moves from simply having a presence through active conversations to running campaigns that are specific to social media).

It is essential that pre-social-media activity in terms of website visits, email addresses acquired, customer conversations, support queue times, free offers accepted, and so on are all base-lined before a social media effort is launched. It's hard to point to success if you don't know where you were as an organization before you started. After the effort is underway, it is likely that the resources won't be available to go back and capture the prior state data, so it is very important to ensure this happens before committing to the social media presence.

One reason that I often hear for "doing" social media is "our competitors are doing it." This is not a reason, unless you have real visibility into your competitors' cost structure, resourcing, and goal setting. It's very easy to confuse real success with what appears to be success. Sometimes this pressure will come from the C-Suite. They will point to the number of "fans" or "likes" a competitor's page has on Facebook, or the number of followers a competitor's Twitter account has and use these as indicators that the competitor has gained a serious advantage. But these numbers can be very misleading. These types of numbers can be "gamed" in many ways, and this is why they are unreliable as indicators of social media success and why they should not be included in the metric set for assessing the efficacy of a social media program.

Words such as "engagement, listening, and conversation" are used a lot in social media, but what do they really mean for a business? Where do they fit into a social media strategy? How do they impact goals?

The answer to these questions is that without them as a basis, it is hard to define a social media strategy that isn't just advertising on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and so on. What these phrases—which have recently become hackneyed and diminished in value because of overuse—mean for any organization is that they have to be prepared for their messaging to be interacted with in a way that has not happened previously. This knowledge will aid the organization in creating a strategy that really demonstrates an understanding of social media. This knowledge also helps better prepare those who are charged with managing a company's social media efforts. It becomes especially valuable as companies start to create content that will ultimately be interacted with by customers, potential customers, competitors, and others in ways that they had not imagined when they created the content. Remember that ownership of content is something that becomes a very gray area in social media. Even though an organization might delete a tweet after someone else has retweeted it, ownership has transferred. The company that made the original tweet no longer owns that content and cannot delete it.

Realizing that this type of activity is measurable will impact the types of goals that an organization decides to measure. For example, a social media strategy might focus on the reduction of phone calls to a support line. The focus might be to empower customers with information that already exists on the Web, and provide that information in a more manageable, accessible, and digestible way.

Knowing that customers will interact with an account or page that has a clearly stated objective—to assist, for example—will allow an organization to measure success very clearly and very quickly. Did the number of phone calls go down? Do customer satisfaction surveys show improvement? Has the number of customer contacts via social media increased? Ultimately, these metrics can be tied back to cost savings, operating expense reduction, and therefore bottom-line improvement.

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