Over the past few years, many companies have adopted social media as a platform for online marketing. Companies utilize social media platforms for product promotion, reputation management and profile development. This has made social media an important component of any company’s marketing strategy (Groeger, 2011).
Organizations use social media channels such as “online forums, file sharing, bookmarking, virtual worlds, micro-blogging and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace” to advertise their brands or services to users (Groeger, 2011, Para. 2). Social media channels give firms valuable information for building their brands or services.
They also accord each customer an opportunity to share his or her views about a product or service. Through an SMM strategy, companies can disseminate information about their brands to customers in a creative and fast way.
The proliferation of SMM technologies has increased the need for companies to calculate the ROI for their online marketing activities, including that of brand/service reputation. Most firms are seeking for ways of measuring their SMM return on investment to justify their spending on social media.
However, measuring social media ROI has been often problematic, as the benefits of a social media platform cannot be measured by traditional ROI estimation techniques. This paper explores the different approaches a firm can use to measure and manage its online presence and reputation. It also examines relevant case studies of companies that have successfully implemented the SMM strategy in their operations.
Social Media Metrics
Although SMM is an evolving marketing tool, its ability to facilitate customer feedback has been quite revolutionary. As a result, it has become impossible for marketers to ignore SMM as a strategic marketing tool. The various social media platforms offer ideal conditions for online reputation management (ORM) and brand development (Paine, 2011).
Moreover, sites such as YouTube, Flickr and iTunes, among others, provide companies with opportunities to disseminate pictures, audio messages, and videos to a larger audience. Another revolutionary social media tool is micro-blogging. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook give companies platforms to distribute product information to a larger audience and seek customers’ views about a product or a service.
Effective monitoring and measurement of SMM provide marketers with valuable information to validate or reject the current online marketing strategies. According to Paine (2011), monitoring focuses on the quality aspect of marketing (what customers are saying) while the measurement aspect focuses on quantity (the number of customer views, tweets or likes).
Thus, it is the quality and quantity of customer feedback that constitute the measurement of social media ROI. An SMM strategy can be evaluated on the basis of the quantity and quality of customer feedback. The results of the evaluation can be used to validate the SMM strategy or reject it.
The measurement of SMM has many benefits to a company. The “Alterian” (2011) survey reveals that big firms implement SMM ROI measurements for a number of reasons, including “competitive intelligence, brand reputation development, customer relationship management (CRM), improved product marketing, market research, and competitive intelligence” (Para. 6).
Thus, companies often adopt SMM measurement tools because of the need to improve their brands and position in their target markets. Besides, a measurement program facilitates strategic partnerships, sales/distribution and product development.
What Should Be Measured
As aforementioned, there are several compelling reasons for a firm to implement an ROI measurement plan. However, marketers should know “what” should be measured and “how” to measure it. A number of quantitative measurement criteria exist for tracking a company’s online performance, which, however, depend on the nature of business or industry a company operates in.
For business-to-business (B2B) firms, the ROI can be tracked through online registrations and inquiries while for business-to-consumer (B2C) firms, online sales can be used to measure the effectiveness of a company’s SMM strategy (“BtoB”, 2012). In addition, conversations (online) can be monitored through URLs or offline customer leads.
Moreover, metrics that are specific to particular social networking sites are powerful tools for a quantitative measurement of SMM. Aspects such as the number of views per day, the number of visitors, the visit frequency/duration, and the number of ‘likes’ can be used as SMM metrics. For Facebook and LinkedIn sites, SMM metrics such as the number of friends or followers, the quality of posts, the quantity of ‘quality’ responses, and the quantity of user referrals can be used to measure a company’s online performance (Paine, 2011).
Since sites such as LinkedIn are expert sites, the number of referrals or endorsements is an indicator of a company’s reputation. The number of product ratings as well as the quantity of positive comments/messages indicates a positive public opinion about a company’s brand. To measure these metrics quantitatively, marketers can design a weight scale that uses numbers (e.g., a “1” for a new post, a “2” for a reply, and a “3” for referral/recommendation).
Blogging and micro-blogging is another frontier for social media marketing. Measuring a company’s activities in the blogosphere can be used to assess the effectiveness of its social media marketing strategy. For example, the number of visitors, the quality of posts/opinions, external links and bookmarks can measure a firm’s online performance (Huyse, 2010).
Moreover, the number of customers subscribed to RSS feeds or email alerts can determine a company’s blogosphere performance. However, before creating blogs, a firm should assess its target market to ensure that the information posted reaches a wider audience (Huyse, 2010). In addition, the technology should be adapted to suit the company’s needs and industry.
Search engines such as Google are powerful SMM measurement tools. Marketers who rely on search engine marketing use visibility to measure a company’s SMM performance. Search engine visibility is the appearance of a firm’s SMM site on the search engines (Sterne, 2010). It involves the measurement of ‘key’ words that appear on certain social media sites.
For instance, the number of keywords in Tweets can indicate the traffic in the company’s Twitter account. The search results can be used as an indicator of social media traffic on a company’s site. Thus, social media traffic is an important metric for brand-development and reputation building.
How to Measure ROI and Online Reputation
Measuring ROI and company reputation is an important step in assessing a firm’s SMM strategy. Free applications such as Twitter Search, Technorati, and Google Analytics can be used to measure marketing in various social media platforms. A firm can also subscribe to paid services, which measure traffic on social media at a cost.
To track and manage online conversations on blogs and other sites, companies can use tools such as Techrigy, Radian6, and BuzzMetrics among others (Sterne, 2010). These programs track and measure the content in text, audio, and video messages. The results of the analysis are compared to the costs of SMM strategies to determine the ROI.
Case Study: Starbucks
Starbucks, a leading coffeehouse in the U.S., has effectively used social media marketing to promote its top brands. Starbucks’ SMM strategy involves the company website (My Starbucks) and social networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest (“BtoB”, 2012). The firm has expanded its visibility beyond popular sites to include the company website (My Starbucks), which provides a platform for market research, customer engagement, and customer relationship management.
In 2009, the company launched an online marketing strategy targeting users of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The company recorded 183,000 followers on Twitter and 33 million likes on its Facebook page (“BtoB”, 2012). The website (My Starbucks) has helped the company in brand building and reputation development.
Case Study: General Motors
General Motors (GM) created its online blog, FastLane, to market its brands to its target customers. The blog, which is authored by GM’s top executives, contains responses to customer questions.
It also provides a platform where customers can give their views and feedback about the company’s products. The 2012 measurement of GM’s SMM ROI revealed that the car-manufacturing firm saves $180,000 per year by addressing customer complaints posted on its blog (“BtoB”, 2012). The approach also promotes the company’s reputation and goodwill.
In the current competitive market environment, firms cannot ignore the role played by SMM. SMM measurement helps determine the ROI, which marketers use to make marketing investment decisions. The case studies discussed confirm that SMM, if properly implemented, can cut down costs and improve a firm’s online reputation. Thus, SMM is a cost-effective and revolutionary tool for modern marketing.
Alterian. Alterian’s eighth annual survey: How engaged is your brand? (2011). Web.
BtoB. 2012 B2B social media marketing: A surge in adoption. (2012). Web.
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Huyse, K. (2010). How to use Google Analytics URL Builder to track online campaigns and show value. Web.
Paine, K. D. (2011). Measure what matters: Online tools for understanding customers, social media, engagement, and key relationships. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Sterne, J. (2010). Social media metrics: How to measure and optimize your marketing Investment. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.